Baltimore Volume 1: The Plague Ships
written by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden
illustrated by Ben Stenbeck
Dark Horse Books (2011)
Available via: Amazon
I am a fan of the Hellboy movies, Mike Mignola wrote the comic books. I'm also a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Christopher Golden has written a few novels based in that universe I've read and enjoyed. So for these two storytellers to collaborate on a historical action/horror comic, set in Europe after the Great War, littered with vampires and zombies no less, I figured I ought to check it out.
Lord Henry Baltimore is a soldier with more scars than any man should have to bear. Not only is he battle-worn from his time in World War 1, but he watched his fellow soldiers ambushed on the battlefield or devoured by giant bats, had his leg amputated and replaced by a mechanical peg leg, lost his family, and found himself in a personal war and on the manhunt for a vampire who may be responsible for all of it.
Mignola and Golden have tapped into a swashbuckling adventure steeped in European history and myth, with plenty of horror and suspense on each page. Stenbeck's illustrations offer a slightly different style from what I'm used to seeing in more conventional comic books, namely the superhero genre. There is a storybook quality to many of the pages that offer a sense of antiquity, which seems well suited to the time period of the story. The dialogue comes off a bit grandiose at times, but I didn't find it too much of a deterrent.
My main criticism would have to be the lack of empathy I felt towards Baltimore's companion in this ordeal with the Plague Ships. Vanessa Kalderas, the daughter of a witch, who escapes a ravaged village for a chance at a better life is rather compelling in the beginning of the novel. But as the story progressed, she seemed to become less an actual character than a sounding board to Baltimore's reminiscences. Had it gone on much longer than it had, I'd have become annoyed with the book as a whole, but a great set piece towards the end of the book involving zombies, a strange fungus, and a seaside graveyard of battleships, felt quite rewarding.
There was even a hint of steampunk, with an airship in the first act, and some cool looking submariners in the third act.
It's some pretty good stuff, and despite some trouble for me to really rally behind Lord Baltimore at certain points in the book, I think this could be a good place to go for comic book fans looking for something that doesn't involve a caped crusader of some kind.