Greetings fans of the sequential art medium! If you are interested in or afraid of historical pandemics then we’ve got just the comic for you. Yes friends, today we will be taking a look at Plague Doktor, which is a comic all about the infamous Black Death…kind of. Plague Doktor is written by David M. Brown with art by Dennis Coyle III and it’s a pretty dark story, so leave your well-wishing behind and keep on reading for our relatively spoiler-free review!
For those of you who are too young to remember the Black Death, it was plague that decimated nearly half (or more by some accounts) of the European population over the course of several years. The Black Death is believed to have been carried throughout Europe by flea-infested rats, and the resulting fallout created various socioeconomic issues that have had a lasting impact on European history at large. “But what is a plague doctor?” you might be asking. A plague doctor was more or less an amateur physician (not completely inaccurate) that was employed to treat those suffering from symptoms of the bubonic plague. Chh-yeah, good luck with that! So, now that our little history lesson is out of the way let’s get into Plague Doktor and see what the heck it is all about!
Meet Nils Obsert, plague doctor and all around disturbed individual. Traveling from town to town, Nils witnesses the destruction left in the wake of the Black Plague. Tasked with providing comfort, reassurance and “treatment;” the illusion of hope to those that Nils knows will soon die has left him worn.
On top of Nils’ job related woes he is plagued (see what I did there?) with visions of his deceased mother, while also being constantly stalked and taunted by a figure known as “The Adversary.” The Adversary is essentially death incarnate and possesses deadly supernatural abilities. As such, Nils believes The Adversary is the cause of the Black Death and seeks to destroy it; but wait, there’s more!
Around the time of Nils’ mother’s death she confessed, rather cryptically, that “the owl” gave her “the egg” (an actual egg) and also gave her Nils. Captivated by the egg, Nils takes it in his hands where it hatches; this is the moment when Nils decides to become a plague doctor. Later still, Nils confronts The Adversary where he learns that he may in fact be the offspring of The Adversary. At this point it becomes pretty clear that the owl Nils’ mother was going on about and The Adversary share a distinct connection. Could it be true? Could Nils be the son of such a malevolent force of death and destruction?
After a nice father/son reunion, The Adversary takes control of a bunch of plague victims and sics them on Nils. How nice! Left with no chance but to run, Nils must soon face his own demons and decide if he truly is the savior of humankind or its ultimate destruction.
Let’s talk a bit about judging a book by its cover. At first glance I thought Plague Doktor would hark back to the Golden Age of Comics’ more pulpy nature with taglines such as “one man against unholy terror” and “a town from hell…a cage of blood,” but the book shifts gears immediately once you’ve gotten past the cover artwork. The interior is bleak, hopeless and cruel, and it’s great. The story offers some twists and turns and the mystery surrounding Nils, The Adversary and the Black Death reveals itself in a very interesting way. David Brown offers no sanctuary for the reader; no safe haven to hide from the atrocities of The Adversary or the ravages of the Black Death. Yeah, I like that sort of thing.
The artwork in Plague Doktor is handled by Dennis Coyle III and it compliments Brown’s dire world of death and disease perfectly. The faces of the sick are especially haunting, and Coyle is adept at creating horrifyingly twisted and distorted images. I must also mention that the aforementioned cover, while presenting a tone that is somewhat different from that of the book’s contents, is spectacular. It would make a fantastic poster as well, but that is just my own demented opinion.
So what does this all boil down to? Let’s see here…doom and gloom…disease and death…powerful and evil forces…ah, yes; this book is not happy at all! If you are a fan of dark and twisted stuff, Plague Doktor is absolutely for you. Keep in mind that this book does contain quit a bit of gruesome imagery and graphic violence, as well as nudity (tee hee), so it is most certainly not for children. All that being said, Plague Doktor is also good for fringe readers who like a little history mixed into their stories.