Best Shots Review: WITCHFINDER - CITY OF THE DEAD #1

"Witchfinder: City of the Dead #1" preview
Credit: Ben Stenbeck (Dark Horse Comics)
Credit: Ben Stenbeck (Dark Horse Comics)

Witchfinder: City of the Dead #1
Written by Mike Mignola and Chris Roberson
Art by Ben Stenbeck and Michelle Madsen
Lettering by Clem Robbins
Published by Dark Horse Comics
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Credit: Ben Stenbeck (Dark Horse Comics)

Though the works and mythos of Mike Mignola are vast and complex, the Witchfinder franchise succeeds due to its accessibility. The latest adventure starring the Queen’s occult advisor, Sir Edward Grey, is no different.

City of the Dead finds Grey butting heads with his sworn rivals the Heliopic Brotherhood of Ra as well as a rash of walking dead that are plaguing a local cemetery, both of which could possibly be connected with a recently-discovered church like cavern under the Tower of London.

Credit: Ben Stenbeck (Dark Horse Comics)

Writers Mike Mignola and Chris Roberson provide plenty of penny dreadful like mystery in this first issue, as well a more harder-edged Grey than we are used to seeing in the series. However, Witchfinder: City of the Dead’s real strength is its continued commitment to being new reader friendly. Couple that with the moody, Mignola-inspired pencils of Ben Stenbeck and the darkened colors of Michelle Madsen and you have another great first issue from a consistently entertaining series.

Credit: Ben Stenbeck (Dark Horse Comics)

After a lengthy and trying case, Sir Edward Grey is in no mood for nonsense. Though his mood is darkened, that doesn’t stop him from responding to a request for his assistance in the matter of a dead graverobber who claimed he was attacked by the very person in the grave he was robbing. While zombies might seem a mundane enemy for someone like Sir Grey, Mignola and Roberson put an inspired spin on the now passe walking dead.

As Grey and his associates quickly find out, these zombies aren’t the usual gory ghouls that readers are used to seeing. Instead they are hale and hearty sorts, every bit as strong as they are hungry and starting to rise in increasing numbers. Could these risen dead be connected to Grey’s enemies in the Brotherhood or perhaps the newly discovered cavern? Mignola and Roberson aren’t telling in this first issue, but the hook is well and truly baited with plenty of biting dialogue from Grey and first act intrigue.

Credit: Ben Stenbeck (Dark Horse Comics)

But while Mignola and Robetson present a solid first entry into this new macabre tale, the real selling point of Witchfinder: City of the Dead #1 quickly becomes apparent, it’s a tremendous jumping-on point to the franchise. While titles like B.P.R.D. revel in in their long-standing continuity, the Witchfinder series comes to the table with no such baggage and City of the Dead is no different. Of course readers that are familiar with Grey and his occult exploits can appreciate certain call backs to previous cases, but new readers simply looking for a new character to follow or vintage horror fans seeking a new fix can appreciate the series just as well. The Mignola-verse may look intimidating from the outside, but Witchfinder continues to offer well produced in roads to one of its many compelling leading characters.

Credit: Ben Stenbeck (Dark Horse Comics)

Keeping in tone with Mignola and Roberson’s Victorian horror yarn is artist Ben Stenbeck and colorist Michelle Madsen. Stenbeck, who returns to the series for the first time since the very first Witchfinder miniseries, evokes a clear Mignola influence with his blocky character models, stark backgrounds and intimate scene-blocking. But while Stenbeck’s return to Witchfinder is a welcome one, it is colorist Michelle Madsen who steals the show. Madsen’s tones shift effortlessly throughout this debut, keeping each scene exactly where it needs to be in terms of mood. From the rusted browns and reds of the London Underground to the foggy, almost sickly greens and grays of Grey’s chambers and the city morgue, Madsen keeps City of the Dead locked firmly in the visuals of Victorian horror with a diverse and engaging color palette.

Steeped in Hammer horror style and offering an intriguing plot, Witchfinder: City of the Dead #1 is a strong opening for one of Mike Mignola’s enduringly interesting leading men. Along with his consistently wry co-writer Chris Roberson, Mignola presents a fresh take on zombies while also providing readers yet another easy entry point into Grey’s exploits. The pair’s script, bolstered by the classically inspired pencils of Ben Stenbeck and the strongly in tone colors of Michelle Madsen, culminates in an experience tailor made for comic fans of all stripe. If it’s your first Mignola-verse comic or even your hundredth, Witchfinder: City of the Dead #1 is a ghoulishly fun read.

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