When it came out in 2011, I was not as impressed with Witch Doctor as many people seemed to be. It was a ton of fun and had some solid artwork, but for whatever reason, most likely my own tastes, it never quite jived with me in full. Still, it was good enough to being me back for this follow-up series, and I am so glad that I did. Because Witch Doctor: Mal Practice #3 represents a whole new level of fun and excitement for this story.
There is, first of all, the sheer amount of action in this issue. We've seen Dr. Morrow and his assistants have some big-time fights before, but it's never been quite this straightforward or overwhelming. Faced with a surprise army of golems, Morrow, Penny, and Eric atypically cut their chatter and dive in weapons first, and we get some unadulterated comicbook violence that really sings. Artist Lukas Ketner crams a lot of fighting into only a few pages, but it's never cramped or unclear, just efficient. And it doesn't end there, because even once the golems settle down, the more powerful and intelligent villains have several tricks left up their sleeves. By the end, both Penny and Morrow have been taken out of the fight (though neither is dead as of yet) and Eric is like a split second away from his own probably-fatal encounter. Sure, these guys are always on the ropes, but I'm not sure Morrow has ever been so scared or things have ever seemed so hopeless before. I always want my heroes to be challenged, and not only is that the case here, but it seems the challenge might have been too much for them to handle. Do I honestly believe they won't turn it around in the latter half of the series? Of course not, but because this is a creator-owned title I suppose all bets are off. Penny, Eric, even Morrow might very well die or be permanently affected by these new and horrifying enemies. Whatever happens, victory is far off, and will it doubtlessly take incredible effort and strain to get there.
I'd like to be able to put my finger on a single element that made me love Witch Doctor: Mal Practice so deeply, but I'm not sure I can. It just felt like it was firing on all cylinders. Everything that happened in the first two issues came to a head here, and the results were as surprising as they were satisfactory. I think it is that sense of surprise that I liked the most. Brandon Seifert had his villains so well-prepared that every new beat of their battle with Morrow brought something unexpected. Not just the golem swarm that appeared from nowhere, either. I was as shocked by Penny's capture as Morrow, for example, and once she was collared I figured the bad guys were all set, but then they had to rip Morrow's chakras right out of his body, too. Even when they had the upper hand, our antagonists kept piling on, and it brought about some excellent twists.
Seifert has always brought a lot of humor and energy to this project, as well as a lovely blend of medical and mystical jargon. None of that is sacrificed here, but Seifert slips it into what is primarily a high-powered magical street brawl, and everything is a bit more enjoyable for it. The story is now in a place where the villains have everything they want and the heroes aren't even standing, so it's a significant and fascinating spot on the narrative timeline. Just trying to imagine not only how Morrow and company will regroup but what hope they have against these new opponents in another face-off has me buzzing with anticipation. I don't know that Witch Doctor has ever before left me so impressed, surprised, and anxious for its next issue. Fingers crossed that it stays at this level through the end.