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Joe Casey and Andy Suriano collaborated a few years ago on Charlatan Ball, which wasn’t the best comic around. It wasn’t bad, but it lacked … something, and I could never quite figure out what it was. That series fell by the wayside, but Casey had another idea bouncing around his brain, and after a few years percolating, Image has released this nice hardcover graphic novel featuring the adventures of Doc Bizarre, general practitioner to the unusual creatures around the world. Casey and Suriano (joined by Rus Wooton on letters) have a lot of fun with this idea, and I’m surprised it’s just a standalone graphic novel instead of something more – this feels like something that could have a long shelf life. It will set you back $17.99, which is a bit much for the actual story, but the book is packed with a lot of extras, so there you have it.
Doc Bizarre, it appears, began life as a Cartoon Network pitch, and I’m a bit surprised that it didn’t get made into a cartoon, because it seems like it would work pretty well as one. It’s a fairly simple story – Doc is the handsome front man, not terribly bright but full of confidence, while Epoch, his sullen sidekick, is the one with all the knowledge. Doc takes Epoch’s advice but passes it off as his own, and occasionally actually comes up with a solution to medical problems – mostly by accident. They make house calls and get into various wacky adventures. This comic only gives us one of those, but, as I mentioned, the potential for many more is there, which is why it’s unusual that this isn’t a series. I imagine there’s some reason behind it – perhaps Casey is overworked, perhaps Suriano works too slowly – but it’s still odd.
In this particular comic, Doc is called to Romania to help Dr. Offensteiner with his monster problem. Offensteiner built a “Frankenstein’s” monster, but his creature is depressed. Offensteiner wants his creature to mate, but the creature has no interest in it. So Doc and Epoch head to the Carpathians, where Epoch diagnoses the creature as impotent. Doc gives him some monster Viagra, but that just leads to … well, unpleasant results when the “Bride of Frankenstein” shows up. Meanwhile, Epoch starts seeing ghosts in the castle, and it appears they want him to do something for them. What it is ties into why the creature is impotent and a bit psychotic in the first place.
Casey throws all sorts of monster movie clichés in the script, enjoying the heck out of writing this, and while the solution isn’t all that clever, Casey can’t help but make the comic more interesting than the actual plot warrants, because his dialogue is nice and crisp. Epoch and Doc are stereotypes (so are Offensteiner and his assistant, Alvin, to be fair), but Casey has been making a living subverting stereotypes for some time, so Epoch, at least, is constantly commenting on how clichéd they are. This can be off-putting, but Casey knows that no one will take this seriously if played straight, so why should he? He’s just out to tell a fun, bizarre yarn. It’s really up to you if you’re willing to go along with him.
Suriano matches Casey’s energy nicely. He did good work on Charlatan Ball (it wasn’t his fault the book didn’t work all that well), and in this book, he has a bit more command of his line work even though he still keeps the pages nice and messy. He also works in all the clichés of monster movies, from the Teutonic mad scientist to the creepy village, from the buxom barmaid to the spooky ghosts. Suriano colors the book with almost day-glo recklessness, too – red skies streaked with yellow lightning; green liquids bubbling in blue rooms; red demons battling green ghosts – and the effect is insane but wildly fun. We can almost see the animation working, and again, why this isn’t a cartoon is mystifying. Suriano’s exaggerated figure work and off-putting but bright coloring make this a roller coaster of a comic and would work very well as animation.
Doc Bizarre isn’t on par with Casey’s best work, because it doesn’t quite have enough on its mind. Casey wants to tell a story of a dim-witted doctor who treats monsters, and that’s pretty much all there is to it. It’s a fun enough read, though, aided well by Suriano’s psychedelic artwork. I can’t recommend it too highly, but I did enjoy reading it. Perhaps that’s enough for you!
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