Monday, 26 November 2012

Mike Mignola's Baltimore

I first got into Baltimore partly through the excellent Mike Mignola covers, and partly because of the free comic provided on Free Comic Book Day 2011, which was one of the first strips I downloaded onto my iPad using the Dark Horse comics app. Mike Mignola also wrote that stand alone episode, entitled A Passing Stranger, which really set the scene for Lord Baltimore's future exploits.

In A Passing Stranger we learn very little about Baltimore himself, but it does give you an idea of the kind of story you can expect with this superb series. The tale begins in 1916, where a plague of undead has swept across Europe and brought hostilities to an end. The armies of the great powers have dissolved, and bands of soldiers are wandering across the devastated continent. One such is Baltimore, a lone British army officer on the trail of a vampire. In A Passing Stranger we meet him for the first time, in Tulingart, Germany. Here we get a measure of the plight Europe is facing as well as the Central European background against which this bloody epic is enacted.

For me much of the appeal of Baltimore is the art. I've recently been heard to criticise the Conan graphic novel Free Companions for its so-so art, which I felt really detracted from the story and had me in two minds about continuing to follow this series. You can still tell a good story if your art is less than sumptuous - check out From Hell or Queen & Country to see what I mean - but somehow the art in the recent Conan stories has been...struggling...particularly with such a rich and colourful setting at Robert E. Howard's Hyboria.

Baltimore, on the other hand, is in the capable hands of Ben Stenbeck, who seems to have taken a lot of his inspiration from Mignola's work on Hellboy. I could be wrong here, but the shadowy setting he evokes with his work does justice to the gloomy plot and reminds me a little of some of Hellboy's early missions in Europe - The Wolves of St August, for example.

Baltimore as a character has something of the Clint Eastwood about him, particularly the Man With No Name. A combat veteran of the trenches, a British aristocrat, an officer with his own code of honour, but also a man equipped to fight the undead and ready to take on enormous odds to reach his goal. He is very handy in a fight, and always being underestimated by the opposition, and I kinda like that. He is generally a solo warrior (although in the more recent The Curse Bells, he is teamed up with an American journalist), a mysterious wanderer with no attachments and few sympathies for the ordinary mortals he comes across in his travels.

Mignola certainly encourages this with the script. Early in the first series, The Plague Ships, he is ambushed by a vampire in a French sea port during a thunderstorm:

Max (vampire): "Max doesn't hide. Max doesn't run! You don't hunt us...we hunt you!"

BAMM! [Max takes a .45 bullet between the eyes]

Baltimore: "Max should've run."

So far I've read the first series, The Plague Ships, and now I'm onto the second, which is similarly excellent. I'm also mulling over whether the setting can sustain a Savage Worlds RPG campaign. Let's hope Mignola and Stenbeck can keep this up! Full marks guys.

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