Book Of The Month – February 2012
Baltimore: The Plague Ships
Art by Ben Stenbeck
When the name Mike Mignola comes to mind, one automatically associates him with the Hellboy / B.P.R.D. universe that he brought to life over at Dark Horse. Just upon reading a Mignola-penned comic, you’re transported to a gloomier cesspit of a world where monstrous machinations roam wild and free, and Armageddon is constantly creeping up around every corner. Mignola sets a certain tone with his stories, that even if two different works of his aren’t connected in the same universe, somehow in the back of your mind you know they are. It doesn’t hurt that Mignola has access to the best artists in the business, with each of them bringing their own style paired with that natural Mignola-feel to the characters. Throw in colorist Dave Stewart on every project, and it’s a comic book hit waiting to happen.
When I first heard of the character Lord Henry Baltimore, it was at Comic-Con International a few years ago. There was a poster of the first issue at the Dark Horse booth, and I instantly recognized Mignola as the artist. While everyone would love to see more Mignola art on his own stories, the man is obviously extremely busy building universes that he simply wouldn’t be able to keep to a schedule if he were illustrating as well. So the next best thing for us comic fans is to have him at least produce the covers of the comics he’s writing, and that’s the natural conclusion I came to when looking at the cover to Baltimore: The Plague Ships. Sure enough, he and Christopher Golden were the authors, and this guy I wasn’t that familiar with, Ben Stenbeck, was on art. It’s Mignola, it looks creepy, what have I got to lose?
Upon further research of this series, I discovered that Mignola and Golden originally wrote an illustrated novel about Lord Baltimore a few years earlier called Baltimore, or The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire. While I still have not read it to this day, it’s not considered required reading if you were to dive-in to Baltimore: The Plague Ships, for the authors give his entire history within the miniseries. Lobster Johnson has a similar type of novel (The Satan Factory), so perhaps it’s just a thing for some comic writers to explore and experiment with their characters in different mediums.
In a nutshell, Lord Henry Baltimore is a veteran of World War I and was gravely wounded in battle. His entire company was slaughtered on the field, and when he awakes he discovers monstrous bat creatures feeding on his fallen brothers. Lashing out with a bayonet, he strikes and wounds one of the bats in the right eye, blinding him for the rest of its days. For that, the bat infects Baltimore’s wounded leg with gangrene and releases a plague onto all of Europe. Turns out these bats are actually ancient vampires, and the one that Baltimore wounded was an older and more powerful one named Haigus. Haigus has his revenge as he destroys everything Baltimore has ever loved, and after having his fun continues to plunder and kill across Europe. Losing the leg and replacing it with a wooden peg leg, Baltimore’s only mission in life is to get even with Haigus, and only then will he be able to rest.
Already finishing a second miniseries (The Curse Bells), this first volume really examines the effects of the plague across Europe, and shows Baltimore going to the extremes to hunt down and kill his winged foe. He gets sidetracked onto an island in this volume, filled with sunken plague ships and German submarines. The plague and vampires are connected, and whatever dead beings the plague touches can be brought back to life. This hardcover has page after page of action sequences, weapons galore (Baltimore is a one-man armory), and gruesome creatures aplenty. Even if not directly connected to the Mignolaverse, it certainly is a nice pairing for any horror comic fan.
Before Baltimore, I recognized the art team of Ben Stenbeck and Dave Stewart from another Mignola miniseries Sir Edward Grey: Witchfinder. Instantly I was hooked by Stenbeck’s smooth finishes, and uniquely dark and gloomy style. Stewart’s coloring choices were superb as well; setting the tone with dated, muted colors to fit the feel of that period. I was so happy to see both gentlemen back for the second volume The Curse Bells, for I cannot imagine a different art team for Baltimore now.
So if you like Hellboy and want something in that same vein from Mignola, I highly recommend checking out Baltimore: The Plague Ships. You’ll worship the art, fall head-over-heels in love with the story, and quickly choose Lord Henry Baltimore as the subject of your next commission at a convention.