A Look At...Witchdoctor

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Creator & Artist: Kenji
Publisher: Groit Comics

The Witchdoctor is a three-issue miniseries released by Griot Comics. It follows the struggles of a highly renowned psychiatrist named Dr. Jovan Carrington, who finds himself plagued by visions of mystery figures wearing African tribal masks, who appear and disappear with increasing regularity. Convinced he's going insane, we see his search for a cure is seemingly sidetracked when he's called to the bedside of his dying father. However upon his arrival in Haiti we see Dr. Jovan Carrington becomes the target of a group who appear to practice black magic, as the good doctor finds he's welcomed to the country by an animated corpse. As the mystery deepens we discover that Dr. Jovan Carrington's father has uncovered a dark secret involving the voodoo faith, and that the "spirits" haunting Dr. Jovan Carrington may very well be linked to the mysterious illness which is killing his father. We also learn about the existence of a group that is waiting for a champion to combat the ancient evil that they believe is growing in power every day, and when Dr. Jovan Carrington survives a flaming inferno that engulfs the house where he was staying, this group comes to believe that they've found their champion. If the above story sounds interesting, then ordering information can be found at ... www.griotcomics.com

I must confess that I know precious little about the voodoo culture and/or witchcraft, and most of what I do know comes from the James Bond film "Live and Let Die". So armed with this lack of knowledge, I entered this issue a bit hesitant, and by the end of this first issue I'll admit I was relieved that the material was quite accessible. Now accessible isn't quite the same as engaging, as this first issue didn't really grab my attention until the encounter with the zombie in the airport washroom, but then again I suspect this scene was meant to demonstrate the danger our hero is in, so it's little surprise that I found it exciting. Before we reached that point of the story though, the book spends most of it's energies introducing us to the book's lead character, and in a rather unique twist we see he's a noted psychiatrist who's plagued by almost nightmarish encounters with people wearing African tribal masks. One is left to wonder if these encounters are genuine, or figments of Dr. Jovan Carrington's mind, but I think it's a safe bet that a writer would be able deliver a more interesting story if it was the former, instead of the latter, so this is the one I'm sticking with for the moment.

On the other hand this opening issue does a pretty solid job of placing us into this character's world, as the opening sequence where we see our protagonist's first encounter with one of these tribal masked men is a truly impressive bit of writing. Now this scene does leave us hanging as to what happened next, but given he's alive in the present day, one imagines he escaped with his life. The book also does a nice job establishing the idea that Dr. Jovan Carrington is a highly successful psychiatrist, and as such having him plagued by visions that no one else can see makes for an interesting problem, as one imagines if the truth of his condition became known, his rivals would grasp at this opportunity to pull him off his pedestal. The book also nicely sets up the idea that Dr. Jovan Carrington is not insane, as the encounter he has in the washroom is a fairly good indication that he's dealing with something that is outright bizarre, as when the villains start ripping off their own arms to get at the gun they had hidden inside their body, you know that this isn't a run-of-the-mill encounter. If nothing else this issue succeeds at laying out some interesting groundwork.

The first thing I noticed about this book was the art, as Kenjji has a very sharp looking style, with a great eye for detail, and while there are times when the work isn't as clear as it could be, the panel layouts do a nice job of drawing the eye across the page. From the opening sequence where we see a young Dr. Jovan Carrington encounter his first masked figure, to the closing sequence where our hero has an run-in with a zombie, the art on this book is what impressed me the most. The faces are quite expressive, as the look of happiness on the face of Nadia when she spots Dr. Jovan Carrington is nicely done, as is the bemused look of concern on the stewardess' face when she encounters the vision seeing doctor on the plane. The art also turns in some nice work on the backgrounds, as the opening cityscape shot is fantastic, as is the nine panel grid sequence on page thirteen, as we see Dr. Jovan Carrington flashing back on his past. The art also does some nice work on the tribal masks, as their abrupt appearance in the panels does a good job of suggesting how disruptive their sudden appearance is to Dr. Jovan Carrington. I also have to say that the decayed look of the zombie attacker in this issue is pretty impressive.

The one element that I have noticed in this issue is that there doesn't really seem to be an evil plan for our hero to try and defeat. I mean yes there was the zombie attack at the end of the previous issue, and one imagines that the mystery people in the African tribal masks are up to no good, given Dr. Jovan Carrington launched himself at one of them, believing it was harming a child. However, in the final sequence of this issue we see Dr. Jovan Carrington is confronted by an entire army of these mystery people, and the material is still rather vague regarding what it is exactly these people are looking to do. Now I recognize that part of the appeal these mystery attackers have going for them is that we don't know what they're up to, and as such the reader joins Dr. Jovan Carrington in his confused state, as he tries to put the pieces together. However, I've always been of the mind that a hero is only as good as his villains, and at the moment this inaccessible quality of the villains makes it a bit hard to really get into the story. The attack in the final pages makes it clear that they're villains, and that they've targeted Dr. Jovan Carrington, but just when you think you'll be getting an answer, the material suddenly takes a surreal turn, and we're left knowing less then we did before.

There are several ideas that are brought into play in this issue, with the most important element being that Dr. Jovan Carrington looks to have hooked up with a group who believe he's the "one", and while this scene has shades of the "Matrix" to it, that movie was hardly the first narrative to use the idea of a group seeking out a prophetical champion, and this issue make pretty good use of the idea. There's also a pretty solid mystery regarding what Dr. Jovan Carrington's father has uncovered, as it does seem to have earned him the attention of a fairly powerful group, who look to be able to appear & disappear at will, and they also make use of zombies, who as any good horror fan will be able to tell you are unstoppable unless you target the brain. Now the book has yet to really show us what Dr. Jovan Carrington can do, as except for his ability to see them, and a demonstration that he's pretty good at hand to hand combat, I haven't really seen any suggestion that he's capable of putting down this threat. Then again I'm a big fan of the stories that place the ordinary hero up against the extraordinary threat, so I'll admit I'm not adverse to the idea that Dr. Jovan Carrington is little more than a vision seeing doctor who knows how to throw a punch.

While the art on the first issue impressed me, the second issue is even more so, as the work seems to have gotten even more detailed. The backgrounds are far more elaborate, the building designs are eye-catching, and the panel layouts are even more imaginative. The art displays a great sense that one can experiment with the way the art appears on the page, as while it does make some of the scenes a little hard to follow, the art does a wonderful job of simply thinking outside the box with it's panel placements. I also enjoyed the way the art worked the sound effects into the art itself, as it's a clever art trick that I never grow tired of. The storytelling ability of the art is also quite strong, as the scene where the zombie is removed from the city morgue is a great little bit of action, that is quite easy to follow in spite of the fact that the text that accompanies it doesn't really detail the action on the page. There also some wonderful big moment shots in this issue, with page twenty-two's reveal shot of the room full of masked figures being a wonderfully chilling moment. The final struggle between Dr. Jovan Carrington & his masked attacker also has a nice sense of urgency to it.

Final Word:
Based of the first two issues of this miniseries I'd have to say that Kenji is a name to be keeping an eye out for, as his art shows a wonderful eye for detail, and his design sense is better than most artists working on the mainstream, attention garnering titles. As for his writing, he has created an interesting situation with the introduction of a protagonist who finds his normal life being thrown into turmoil by the appearance of some truly bizarre, and decidedly terrifying elements. With this said, while the characterization on the book's lead character is quite strong, the development of the villains & the supporting cast was a bit weak, as it's never really clear what the villains are trying to accomplish in this story (though to be fair, this information could be revealed in the final issue). The supporting players are also ill-defined, as they're pretty much interchangeable from one another, and one is left with the sense that they know far more about what's going on then the reader. It's an admirable effort, and the lovely art more than makes it worth tracking down, but truth be told the story hasn't quite grabbed me.

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