One of the biggest pieces of news to come from Comic-Con was the announcement that Robert Kirkman is starting a new imprint at Image. The first title announced for the Skybound imprint is Witchdoctor by Brandon Seifert and Lukas Ketner. Both are Stumpton locals and have been seen around the comics culture of Portland for quite a while.
Witchdoctor has also been seen around Portland. The book made its first appearance at the Stumptown Comics Fest back in 2009, and has been making sporadic appearances at local comic shops ever since. Now, with the announcement of it being the introductory title in a high profile Image book, we thought we would take a look at one of its earliest incarnations: Witchdoctor, New Strains.
To be fair, New Strains is an 8 page comic that tries to do several things all at once. It attempts to give us five characters, a full story (complete with fight scene), and work in a unique genre. To say that it is ambitious is an understatement.
The story opens in a gothic style room at a mental hospital. A group of people are examining a large, clay statue. Apparently the statue is actually a golem and it is being ravaged by a growth of some sort (potentially sinister, of course). It is up to the Witchdoctor to figure out what is wrong with the golem and to fix the problem before things get out of control.
The main character is Dr. Vincent Morrow, a steampunk Dr. Strange who blends the scientific and the mystic to defend the earth against…well, that part is not clear. Apparently there are larger forces at work than what we see in this issue. The Doctor has shows a lot of potential. He has the disinterested attitude that comes with having seen it all. But, at the same time, there is much more here that could and should be explored in the character. I can see how he has potential and could be a compelling character.
The real character with potential is Eric Gast. Gast is the new-on-the-job EMT who serves as Morrow’s assistant. He is the human perspective on the situation and gives us the emotional response that most of us would have in a situation where a Golem comes to life and rampages through the examination room. He has witty remarks, is quick on the draw, and could be a great foil for the too full of himself Morrow.
The remaining characters are really more annoying than helpful. With cliche names such as Absinthe O’riley (the sexy museum curator), and Penny Dreadful (the undead assistant), they are introduced more to serve as placeholders for further adventures where they may actually do something important (although, to be fair, Absinthe’s role in this story is fairly important even if she is under-utilized).
The art is far better that one expects from a self-published endeavor. The pencil lines are tight and the sense of perspective is solid. What really stands out is the character design of the Witchdoctor. It is clear very early on that he straddles the line between the mystic and the scientific. Whereas characters such as Dr. Strange could never be believed to operate in a scientific world, I would have no problem believing Morrow sitting in front of a microscope analyzing an alien spore before bulling out a mystic object to deal with it.
Apparently the Doctor has also undergone several incarnations in his short existence. He first appeared as more of a mad scientist before evolving in to more of the medical professional we see in this issue. While I have only seen one page of the interior art for the new series, it appears the the character of the Witchdoctor may have undergone another transformation.
Overall the book shows potential. Where it falls flat is in the tone. In the eight pages the tone of the book flips between being serious and being light-hearted. I never felt like I should take the book seriously. I believe the creators were going for something along the lines of Warren Ellis’ Aetheric Mechanics, but instead they created something far less.
There is potential here. The creators are quick to note in the back-matter that this is a work in progress. It has evolved from its earliest incarnation, and, I believe, will continue to evolve as it prepares for its Image debut. I will be back to check up on this book and see how it has changed. There is definitely room for these characters in the comic book world, just as there is room for improvement in this book.