Wednesday, December 14, 2011

GN Review -- Baltimore: The Plague Ships / Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden, and Ben Stenbeck

Be careful which vampires you slash in the face in self-defense; they may take it personally, curse you, and make it their mission to cause you hellish pain and unending personal torment. That's the basic premise of this dark and grisly tale, which features plenty of undead to hack and slash. There are also plenty of one-liners, lots of action, and tales told in flashback. The authors and artists have collaborated to create a tale not unfamiliar to comic book readers, that of the dark avenger cursed to fight alone, lest his allies die for being aligned with him.

Set just after World War I, the plague has virtually ended the war, providing ample cover for vampires to feed on the dead and dying without being seen. In the aftermath of a battle in which the protagonist, Lord Henry Baltimore, is lying wounded among the dead, the vampires, in the forms of giant, multi-jointed bats, descend to take their meals. One, named Haigus, sees and goes after Baltimore, who grabs a bayonet and manages to slash the beast across the face, invoking Haigus's wrath and ensuring he would be spared no pain from the vampire's retaliation.

Upon his return home, he finds his parents and sister have been killed by Haigus, who then finishes with his wife only when he's home to witness it. Vowing vengeance, Baltimore now pursues the vampire with a single-minded determination, caring little about anything else but destroying the thing that destroyed his life. In pursuing Haigus, Baltimore begrudgingly enlists the help of a young woman who wishes to leave Villefranche, the town he finds himself stranded in. He relays these tales to her in between a harrowing storm at sea, their washing up on an island full of haunted submarines, and a battle with the undead from those submarines.

The writing really helped make this a fairly entertaining read, as well as a good introduction for me to Mike Mignola's storytelling. He seems to have a good grasp of the dark hero, and sets up an epic that works well as a foray into the horror genre. Christopher Golden isn't an unknown variable to me, and I can feel his fingers on the buttons of creepiness that pervade this story. The weird looking lotus blossoms that sprout to life on the zombies just before they reanimate? That totally felt like Golden.

The artwork by Ben Stenbeck was noteworthy as well. The style is fairly reminiscent of the horror comics from decades ago, particularly the facial close-ups, but he also demonstrates adeptness at bringing the undead back to life. From giant vampire bats (or are they bat vampires?) to fungus-scaled zombies to family-turned-vampires, he clearly has fun drawing them in a cartoony-yet-dark fashion that fits well with the action-horror epic the authors have crafted.

Overall, this was an enjoyable start to a dark saga that could go on for some time. Baltimore has a vampire to hunt, and who knows how long it will take him to reach him. While it didn't feel particularly fresh, it was nonetheless well handled, deftly plotted, and rendered in horrifically beautiful drawings. This would likely be of interest to horror enthusiasts, lovers of revenge stories, and anyone left who still digs vampires in their comics. Highly recommended.

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