When free comic book day rolls around I tend to pick up whatever full issues are getting offered (thus getting the most bang for my non-dollar) and in particular I try to check out whatever Oni Press is offering. Some of you might remember that they offered the first issue of The Sixth Gun for free a few years ago and picking that up turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made in reading comics. So I was hoping that their newest offering Bad Medicine would sort of have a lightning-striking-twice type situation. Unfortunately FCBD rolled around, I got really busy, and the first issue got thrown on the stack. Cut to earlier last month, and while perusing my shop’s new arrivals I saw that the second issue had dropped, so I figured I would give them both a shot in one go. When I eventually got around to reading them, the two issues gave me a full story. Unfortunately, although the book was very tightly structured it left me very underwhelmed by the end.
Bad Medicine centers on NYPD Detective Joely Huffman being assigned to a homicide concerning a decapitated body. This would be bad enough until, to her shock, she discovers that the head isn’t missing, but rather invisible. Her only lead to what could have caused this is Doctor Randal Horne, a brilliant but disgraced doctor who may have just gone slightly mad after losing a patient and has spent five years learning about some of the stranger and borderline supernatural sciences the world has to offer. Ultimately the two have to work together not just to figure out how a human head could become invisible but also who would do this and for what purpose.
Bad Medicine is written by the team of Nunzio Defilippis and Christina Weir, two writers who started out in television but eventually made their names in comics. I only bring up their television background because it led me to make an odd connection: These two issues read a lot like an early episode of Fringe. Now I don’t want this to be misconstrued, I am in no way saying that this is a rip-off of that show or that the creators made the book feel like that intentionally, but more likely there’s simply some overlap of ideas. However, this overlap does highlight the problem that this book doesn’t necessarily do anything that hasn’t been done elsewhere and better. This is sort of encapsulated in that the twist of these two issues, invisibility, is sort of boring. This isn’t to say that series artist Christopher Mitten doesn’t make it work; he adds several interesting flourishes to make invisibility work in interesting ways but the fact is that comics is a medium where you can literally do anything- recreating something that anyone with a working knowledge of special effects has been able to do since 1933 is a bit of a letdown.
These two issues are practically structured like a one-hour television pilot, which I actually think is one of the books stronger elements. I’ve often thought that for comics using elements of serialized storytelling they should use shorter arcs, especially when they’re brand new franchises. Think about how many comics use long arcs just to set themselves up, when instead they could be using two to three issue bursts to simply set up the universe for the reader, the characters and ultimately what the book is about. Bad Medicine does that very well.
The art of Mitten is to me the strongest aspect of the book. I was only slightly familiar with his work prior to this, and he brings a very unique visual style to the book. He has a style that I can only really describe as craggy, very rough and at times it almost seems like the characters could start crumbling apart. I know that sounds weird, but it works, as a large theme of Bad Medicine is the nature of healing- both of a physical and mental nature. Mitten emphasizes the sadness and borderline madness of many of the characters, his style makes these broken characters look like statues that have taken a few too many swings from a hammer. It works incredibly well in particular with Doctor Horne, who is built up to be a guy who has gone through a serious couple of years of soul searching, and the guy looks haggard, but also hopeful in its own way. It just works very well.
The best way I can describe it is that this book had a rough but competent start. A lot of the overall characterizations of the book are slight, but there are small signs of improvement for the future. I’m just a bit concerned about whether readers will necessarily be hooked by what’s offered here. There’s solid craftsmanship here though, and there is a very good chance this could become a very solid genre book somewhere down the road; it’s unfortunate that isn’t in full display here.
TL;DR: While I don’t think Bad Medicine is the strongest it could be, there are still elements of excellent craftsmanship. Hopefully it will eventually become something that is at least consistently entertaining.
Bad Medicine is written by Nunzio Defilippis and Christina Weir with art by Christopher Mitten. Published by Oni Press, look for it at your local comic book store. Issue #3 will be out THIS Wednesday, July 11th.