Bad Medicine Volume 1: New Moon by Nunzio deFilippis and Christina Weir is a paranormal police procedural/medical thriller graphic novel (available January 30, 2013).
This graphic novel is split into two parts, following the exploits of a diverse inter-agency team as they investigate the involvement of biological agents in strange deaths reminiscent of classic monster movies. In the first half, a seemingly headless corpse is discovered in Brooklyn. When hard-nosed NYPD Detective Joely Huffman tries to get a closer look at the body, though, she discovers to her surprise that she’s accidentally kicked it in its invisible head.
Despite the lack of a face, the deceased is quickly identified as the lab assistant to a Dr. Keefer, who has suddenly gone missing with all his research notes. The only clue the NYPD has left from the lab is a note mentioning a consultation with a Dr. Randal Horne. Huffman leaves a message with his answering service, but can find only one person who has any idea where Horne might actually be. A former colleague, Dr. James Lucas, is more than happy to brief her on Horne’s background, but she has more immediate concerns:
Huffman: Any idea where Horne is now?
Lucas: Not a clue. He went on some worldwide journey, probably to avoid losing his license to practice.
Huffman: Losing his license? But you said he was brilliant.
Lucas: He was. But even so... he did kill a patient.
While Huffman chases down that lead, her superior calls in for backup from the Centers for Disease Control: in addition to a missing head, the corpse was infected with an unusual retrovirus, and Lieutenant Chiu is unwilling to risk it spreading. The CDC sends a team to assist Huffman, comprising the dour Dr. Teague and his more ebullient (and personable) colleague Dr. Hogarth. Teague thinks this is all an elaborate hoax on the part of the NYPD, especially when they go with Huffman to examine the body and find the head visible again. Somewhat chagrined, Huffman leaves them to their postmortem, as she’s managed to get in touch with Horne and persuade him to fly to NYC and help with the case. She brings him to meet the CDC guys, and he tells them that Keefer had indeed contacted him two years ago for help with the results of an earlier retrovirus trial. Horne believes that Keefer has finally managed to make the retrovirus do what it had been designed for: to achieve the primacy of mind over matter, and in particular over light. Keefer used the retrovirus to isolate and strengthen the parts of his brain that would allow him to bend light around objects, in effect rendering anything he wanted invisible. Teague, of course, scoffs... and then chaos ensues as Keefer makes it very clear that he and his accomplishments are not to be taken lightly.
In the second half of the volume, Horne is called in by the CDC to form a team and investigate the videotaped shooting of a wolf-like creature that, once dead, reverted to the form of a teenage boy. The corpse had traces of an unusual infection, hence the CDC’s interest. Overcoming an initial reluctance to work for the government, Horne is assigned Teague and Hogarth again, then flies to NYC to see if he can persuade Huffman to join their self-described “nerd team.” Huffman, having been advised to take time off due to her awkward handling of teasing regarding the earlier “monster” case, is only too happy to fly off with them to Maine, where the shooting happened. After a misstep with a key witness, a teenager named Jenna Walsh, Horne also recruits Lucas to provide the bedside manner that he sorely lacks. While Horne, Huffman, and the team follow clues to an insular town named Deer Falls, Jenna goes missing. The attending doctor, whom Horne had rudely shoved aside when he’d attempted to interrogate Jenna, feels responsible for the younger woman and teams up with the officer involved in the shooting to track Jenna down. Violence erupts around both sets of investigators, evoking unique responses from each. Huffman, for example, is attacked by a werewolf, but keeps it together. Unfortunately, Horne does not have the same pragmatism. When Huffman realizes that Horne has a deathwish due to his sense of responsibility for the dead, she snaps at him:
“Grow the fuck up, Doc. I mean for God’s sake... cry me a fucking river! We all have our secret pain. I’m sorry you’ve got these dead bodies on your conscience, but you’re about to have one more! I am going to turn into a goddamn werewolf if you don’t find me a cure!”
There are a lot of neat twists in both halves of the volume, resulting in a very satisfying whole. The premise of biological agents being responsible for “monstrous” transformations is fresh and intriguing, as is the central investigatory role of the many doctors and scientists, who are usually sidelined as assistants in popular entertainment (the entirely unrealistic CSI series notwithstanding). I also loved the dialogue. It came as no surprise to me that De Filippis and Weir were both trained in scriptwriting. I only wish that the little cliffhanger they had at the end of the first half hadn’t gone completely unaddressed in the second.
The art is by Christopher Mitten, with Bill Crabtree handling the colors. Mitten’s style is uniquely suited to the monstrous theme: I especially loved his rendering of Huffman’s discovery of the invisible head. His full-page action shots also add greater tension to the proceedings, even if I thought the Deer Falls werewolf’s final transformation a little odd (though I’m inclined to think that more of an issue with the story than the art).
I’m somewhat surprised that this book isn’t coming out in issues, but appreciate the continuity and immediacy that a graphic novel allows. Bad Medicine is definitely a worthy addition to both the criminal and comic genres, and I’m looking forward to reading more... especially if they finally investigate that first half cliffhanger!
Doreen Sheridan is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C. She
microblogs on Twitter @dvaleris.
Read all posts by Doreen Sheridan for Criminal Element.