Pick of the Week
What did the
Artist: Ben Stenbeck
Colorist: Dave Stewart
Cover Artist: Ben Stenbeck
Size: 32 pages
You’ve heard me talk about Baltimore before, and I’m not talking about The Wire. It’s one of the side universes concocted by Christopher Golden and Mike Mignola when he’s not in Hellboy land. It tells the story of the incredibly grizzled Lord Baltimore, the most able-bodied disabled slayer of vampires ever, and his quest to destroy Haigus, the daddy of the current plague of vampires. We’ve seen a few mini-series and you sort of always get what you want out of it, and it’s a good time every time.
So, when picking up Baltimore: The Play, I expected more of the same, and I was cool with that. The story opens with Baltimore wandering some plague (vampire plague) ravaged small European town, as always. Yet this story is not a story about Baltimore, but rather his prey, Haigus, who, for some reason, has decided to put on a play. The cast is all vampire, except for the leading lady, Isabella, and Haigus is the man putting on the show. He’s the producer. Having read this series before, he’s a bad dude. He’s killed many, many people, and done many horrible things, hence Baltimore devoting his life to hunting and killing him. So why would he put on a play? Obviously that question gets answered, but I’m not going to ruin it for you here. They add a twist by adding in some other mythology, and casting an entirely different light on the main villain, which I didn’t see coming for a single second. As we keep delving further into what’s going on in this macabre situation, we learn more and more, and ultimately, we end up with a really satisfying and fun one-shot that comes at the Baltimore formula just a little left of center from where it normally goes.
Also, Edgar Allan Poe’s head in a jar plays a major part. Love will do strange things to a man’s head.
One of the cool things about the Mignola-verse method of putting out comics is that now and then you get a chance to read stories of different lengths. There are wonderful short Hellboy stories, and wonderful one-shots like Hellyboy in Mexico, and it’s really fun to see Mignola bring that kind of sensibility to Baltimore. It’s the perfect amount of space for a story that didn’t merit multiple issues, but would have been lost otherwise. Too often in comics, we’re subjected to the opposite, where a story really only needs to be 5 pages, and it’s stretched into a 20 page story, or even worse, multiple issues. Baltimore: The Play was just right, and it stood out from most of my other comics.
Ben Stenbeck is a fine artist. I’ve written about him before, and all those truths continue to be. In fact, he’s remarkably consistent, from the earliest work to this one. Further, as soon as I saw Poe’s head in a jar, I thought, “I think that’s Edgar Allan Poe,” which is fairly remarkable. The artist makes wonderful choices in terms of what lines need to be there and which don’t. He’s drawing vast swathes of turn of the century Europe, and he’s got it down, at least in terms of mood. He’s from New Zealand, so it’s not like he grew up looking at the villages of Austria. His vampires don’t look like any other vampires I’ve seen, and like the rest of the work, they’re greatly understated. Stenbeck is also a very deft hand with the body language, from the haugty indolence of Haigus to the rocky resolution of Baltimore himself.
There’s also the granddaddy of digital coloring to lavish with praise. There do not seem to be bad Dave Stewart comic books. As he learned on Hellboy, a little red can go a long way, from Haigus’ eyes to the one lead actor dressed all in red, the color of blood is constantly reminding us of the danger in a world that is otherwise utterly grey. Stenbeck doesn’t take too much advantage of the fact that he’s working with a colorist who can make up for any lack of backgrounds, and that’s one of the reasons it works so well. Plus, the moody lighting in this book is perfect for the spooky intent. It’s like everything is happening just after dusk, and it makes me want to keep my lights on.
There is no doubt a lot of textural referencing going right over my head with this one, but like a comic where you don’t need to know the backstory, it works anyway. Is this great for anyone? No. Is it great for people who like this kind of thing? It sure is. Then again, if you’ve never tried, how would you know the difference? You can also take away the lesson that it’s a bad idea to upset a vampire lord who is a little heartsick and rages as a giant bat.
“Sing to me dearest. Speak your love to me… forever.”