Medical dramas are a genre of stories that do extremely well. Shows like Casualty, ER, and Greys Anatomy go on for literal decades, with just those three shows alone having nearly 2,000 episodes between them. Folks who couldn’t tell you what the difference between an EEG and an EKG, or what it means when a patient is in tachycardia, love watching capable, competent medical professionals rush around, shouting out instructions, and saving lives. There’s something about watching medics at work, literally saving lives, that feels bigger than life and awe inspiring. So it’s something of a surprise that the genre has never really made much headway into the realm of comics.
This gap in the market seems to have been filled, however, with the release of the graphic novel The Ward: Welcome To The Madhouse, which collects together each of the four-issue limited series into one book. But, this isn’t just a book about an ordinary emergency room – as the cover makes clear. This is the story of St. Lilith’s, a hospital hidden away from the prying eyes of the general public, where monsters, mythical creatures, and the supernatural go to get themselves patched up.
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The book begins by introducing us to the hospital in the most appropriate way: with an emergency. Natalie Reeves works in insurance, and has a nice normal life until she finds her neighbour at her doorstep with a bleeding woman. The woman, who Nat knows, was knocking on her door looking for help when she collapsed. This drags Nat back into a world that she thought she’d left behind, as she’s forced to use her medical training to stabilise the woman whilst a special ambulance arrives to take them to St. Lilith’s. Going with the injured woman, Nat finds herself back in the hospital she once worked in, helping to save lives, and realises that she made a mistake in having walked away from it before.
The first issue of the book introduces readers to St. Lilith’s, and the existence of supernatural beings, through Nat’s neighbour, Wilfred. Despite Nat being our main character, and Wilfred not being in the book past this first issue, he’s the audience cipher. He, like us, knows nothing about Nat’s secret life, he’s not aware of the secret world beneath the carefully maintained facade, and he doesn’t know squat about medicine. As such, when he’s taken into St Lilith’s and shown the barely contained chaos there, he’s us. And much like most medical dramas, it’s chaotic, complex, and awe inspiring to see it all play out. Cavan Scott does an amazing job at capturing the feel and the drama of what we’ve come to expect from these kinds of stories, and has translated it incredibly well to the written page.
Over the course of the book we get to see the St. Lilith’s staff dealing with stabbings, overdoses, births, building collapses, and a plague sweeping through the city. There’s a lot going on at all times, and it feels like there’s very little time to stand still and take stock of things because one emergency is quickly followed by another (though sometimes they happen at the same time). Despite the fast paced nature of the book, Scott manages to squeeze some character focused stories into the mix too, and we get to know Nat quite well over the course of the book, and get to discover her past, and watch fraught family drama unfold.
The cast of The Ward: Welcome To The Madhouse is fairly small, focusing on several core characters, but all of them manage to have something to do across the book, and most of them have interesting character traits that would be easily explorable in future instalments of the series, if they ever decide to make more. The head physician for the hospital is Dr Kumasaka, a faceless ghost woman from Japan, who seems to be an interesting choice for a doctor as she doesn’t seem able to touch much. Lydia Black is the main nurse for the ward, and thanks to her abilities is able to split herself into multiple people (each with their own fancy hair colour), which makes her a pretty handy person to have in a busy emergency room. There’s also Luis Cervantes, a hot shot new doctor who, like Nat, is a human, and much like Nat he gets a pretty interesting personal journey throughout the book. There’s a wisecracking ambulance driver who’s also a Welsh swan nymph, and a troll security guard named Earl who make a few appearances.
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Despite only being four issues long the book seems to really pack in the drama; there’s always something happening and the result is a book that feels a lot denser than most four issue runs. And the artwork plays a part in this too. Drawn and coloured by Andres Ponce, The Ward: Welcome To The Madhouse is a book where there are very few panels that aren’t filled to the brim. Whether it’s the ward itself filled with rushing doctors and injured patients, or close-up shots of the doctors working their hardest to save a life, almost every part of the book is packed with energy and drama. It’s so easy to get caught up in the drama that you’ll find yourself rushing through the book along with the characters, almost glossing over everything else that’s going on, so it’s worth going back and looking through everything a second time. It’s worth the time to just sit and look at the pages where you can see the emergency room filled with amazing creatures, and just spend some time taking it all in and seeing how much effort Ponce put into creating a fully realised world.
Whether you’re a fan of fast paced medical dramas, or of urban fantasy stories of hidden worlds filled with supernatural creatures, The Ward: Welcome To The Madhouse will tick your boxes. It’s a wonderful mixture of genres that hasn’t really been seen in comics before, and one that immediately stands out as a series that not only works fantastically well, but deserves to have a lot more than just four issues. If you’re looking for something a little different to the normal comic fare, this book is one that you definitely need to have on your radar.
The Ward: Welcome To The Madhouse is out in comic shops on 4th January from Dark Horse.