Thursday, May 19, 2011

Book Review: Baltimore Volume 1: The Plague Ships by Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden, and Ben Stenbeck

No, I do not read solely for the sake of research - I also read for the pleasure of reading, to appease my longing for a carefully crafted and eloquently told story. That desire was certainly met when I read Mignola and Golden's illustrated novel, Baltimore: Or, The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire in 2007, and once again by the most recent installment of the story, The Plague Ships.

The novel introduced Lord Henry Baltimore, a member of the British aristocracy who had left his family behind to serve his country in the battlefields of France during World War I. While in the trenches, he discovered something far more terrifying than the Hessian savagery he had expected. Injured and nearly delirious, Baltimore witnessed an ancient evil feeding on the dead and dying, and then he fought back against it. His out-lash and determination to survive ignited another war, one much worse than the battle between nations - a war between humanity and a vampire horde.

The Plague caused by the vampires infested Europe in waves, bringing WWI to an end. Years have passed, and people in every town and village live in fear of strangers, the dark, and the dead who do not always stay dead. It is at this point where we step into Baltimore Volume 1: The Plague Ships, a graphic novel that introduces the next turn in the title character's fate.

Baltimore, on a quest to destroy the leader of the vampires, finds himself with an unlikely companion during one leg of his journey, and the two fight together against the undead and find an astonishing clue about the origins and perpetuation of the vampire plague. The images during these scenes pull no punches, and have most certainly pushed (maybe even distorted) the boundaries of horror comics. There is no gore simply for gore's sake, mind you, every frame adds another tiny glimpse of Baltimore's inner struggle.

Mignola and Golden truly shine in their storytelling, while Ben Stenbeck (of Living With the Dead) does a stunning job of adapting Mignola's artwork for this action-filled graphic novel. This is the first up-close look the reader really has of Lord Baltimore, and he is every bit the scarred and stoic action hero one hopes him to be.

While the horror comics of decades past were heavily plot-driven, Baltimore Volume 1: The Plague Ships draws the reader in and propels him forward with the instant allure of the book's title character. This dark and moody story is reminiscent of Mignola's earlier Hellboy volumes, but seems to delve much deeper into the shadows without the safety of Hellboy's wisecracks and comic relief.

I fell in love with the beautiful balance of action and emotion in this graphic novel. Because of that, I give it two thumbs up. If you're a fan of the horror genre but have never crossed the borders into the realm of comics or graphic novels, I urge to you dive in with Lord Baltimore!

Baltimore Volume 1: The Plague Ships is scheduled for release from Dark Horse Comics on June 28, 2011.

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