Thursday, November 29, 2012

Pull List Review: Witch Doctor: Mal Practice #1

A sequel to last year's Witch Doctor series, Mal Practice doesn't miss a beat. It kicks off right away with a fun, funny, disgusting procedure to defeat one of numerous demons possessing a child, showing us Dr. Vincent Morrow's bizarre tools and tactics as a magical medical practitioner. We're also reintroduced to Eric Gast, Morrow's paramedic, and Penny Dreadful, the strange and horrifying creature who acts as a sort of assistant to Morrow. And, it turns out, as his bodyguard.
     Brandon Seifert is very at ease writing these characters and this world, which allows Morrow to be similarly comfortable. He has a wealth of knowledge and experience and power, so he's able to face unthinkable threats with a smile on his face. But here we also see Morrow become rattled, panicked even, when forced to deal with the unknown. Waking up alone with a woman's bra beside him after a night he can't remember sends the doctor into a tailspin, assuming he's been drugged, poisoned, both, or worse. Seifert gets a lot of humor out of the situation, because Morrow is already a pretty manic guy, but once the fear of something mysterious grips him, he becomes full-on hysterical. It's a subtle but important difference in his personality, and I enjoyed seeing an already intense character be heightened even further. Yet Seifert never lets things go off the rails completely. After all, Morrow is still an arguably brilliant man, and quite resourceful, so he does start to get to the bottom of things, even if the answers only lead to more questions thus far.
     Artist Lukas Ketner is also back for this new series, and arguably stronger than ever. Though there is a stray panel or two where his style becomes overly rough, in general he nails it, able to capture the horror elements just as proficiently as the comedy.There were several small artistic touches that I really dug in this issue, like the Strigoi parasite, which itself was pretending to be a woman's tongue, having a pig's snout instead of a tongue in its own mouth. Or Penny's crazed look and unsettling smile when she declares to Morrow that she's hungry. Lots of stunning single panels like that, which come together to form an impressive whole.
     Speaking of Penny's craziness, my favorite part of Witch Doctor: Mal Practice #1 was easily the small but significant change in Morrow and Penny's dynamic. Because she immediately figures out more about what has happened than he does, she refuses to take an order from him, instead hiding herself outside his room so she can protect him from an attack later on. (Sidebar: the fight scene between Penny and the Strigoi-infected woman is Ketner's best work in the issue by far. Particularly at the end when Penny drags and then lifts the woman by her head and face. Hilariously gruesome stuff). Obviously Morrow is grateful for this, but as he points out, it is also a bit of a power play on Penny's part. Disobeying his command, proving to him that he needs her...these are the kinds of behaviors that indicate a forthcoming shift in their relationship where Penny may position herself to be the one who's more in charge. This might well never happen, but the danger of it is very real, and I'm excited to see how that plays out long-term. Penny is my favorite character in this world, so seeing her take control of her life is absolutely something I'm for.
     A solid showing all around. Glad to have Witch Doctor back in action.

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