In the wake of the runaway success of Robert Kirkman's nearly decade-running The Walking Dead (and the critical and ratings success of its bar-raising AMC TV adaptation), a resurgence in horror comics is inevitable. Charging out of hell's gates is Witch Doctor, from Portland writer Brandon Seifert and artist Lukas Ketner (both occasional WW contributors). The medical horror series makes its major-label debut this week. Funny, grotesque, macabre and utterly visceral, Witch Doctor packs enough punch to get Kirkman's seal of approval: It was previewed as a flip book paired with the most recent Walking Dead and is the first title to bear the mark of Kirkman's own Skybound imprint, a division of Image Comics.
In its first issue, Witch Doctor introduces us to Dr. Vincent Morrow, a lab-coated, Sweeney Todd-coiffed cross between House, M.D., Constantine and Jeffrey Combs' deranged Re-Animator Dr. Herbert West. Tasked with exorcising demons from a young boy in rural Oregon, Morrow is aided by his assistant, Penny Dreadful—an impish, red-cloaked necromancer with massive talons that inject patients with sedatives—and the mild-mannered Eric Gast, who serves as a diplomat to smooth ties between the eccentric Morrow and normal folk. It's a simple—and familiar—story, but with its slick dialogue and gorgeous artwork, Witch Doctor is a breezy, creepy blast.
In Morrow, Seifert has created a mad doctor for the ages, a wise-ass genius with a lab full of gadgetry and a nearly indecipherable vocabulary of medical terms ("autosarcaphagym," "diablosis") that are as funny to read as they are useful to word-origin fetishists. Pop-culture references to everything from Batman to Nina Simone abound, and the utter chaos of the insulated story keeps it compelling throughout.
But it's the the art that really makes Witch Doctor pop. Ketner's attention to detail is a revelation. Characters' faces are craggy and covered in shadows, while massive panels of Morrow's lab (housed in a dilapidated insane asylum) and other landscapes are so rich in detail they demand that you pause to examine them. Monsters are rendered down to the last scale; the images of demons emerging from the boil-covered body of a boy are horrifyingly gorgeous.
The first issue ends—as these things tend to do—with hints of a more grandiose story line to come, one in which Morrow and company dive headlong into the apocalypse. If the end of days is indeed nigh, it's nice to have Morrow as a guide, and with Seifert and Ketner at the reins, the familiar trope is once again invigorated.
GO: Witch Doctor release party at Bridge City Comics, 3725 N Mississippi Ave., 282-5484. 6 pm Friday, July 1. Free. Info at witchdoctorcomic.com.