ADVANCE REVIEW! Baltimore: The Curse Bells #5 will go on sale Wednesday, December 14, 2011.
Oh my. Baltimore: The Curse Bells #5 is a seriously good comic. I am actually a little stunned by how good it is. I already thought that The Curse Bells was a good series, but this last issue has officially catapulted it up into the ranks of the great.
I wish I could go into just why this issue is so cool, but that would involve some serious spoilers, and everyone deserves to read this last issue spoiler free. That way you can get the full effect of the story smacking you in the face like I did. Just leave it to say that there are quite a few surprises waiting for you.
So what can I tell you about the fifth and final issue in this series? There is resolution. But not quite. And not for everyone. Because the story of Baltimore is not really the story of the Curse Bells. The dedicated vampire hunter was only lured into this small village while hunting for his enemy Haigus. With Haigus as the bait, Baltimore was enmeshed in a game he never wanted to play, and brought in opposition to a crazed magician, a convent of the damned filed with vampire nuns, and a small, red dwarf of unholy birth that is the reborn theosophist Madame Blavatsky. And it is a game he has no intention to continue to be a pawn in.
Always lurking in the background of The Curse Bells is the Inquisitor that hunts Baltimore. While Batimore hunted Haigus, he was in turn unknowingly hunted by the Inquisitor. And then there is the Journalist. Like I said, resolution for some, but not for others. For some only a false promise. And for some a bloody, bloody death.
The art in Baltimore: The Curse Bells is as stunning as the story. I have long complained about Ben Stenbeck's representation of Baltimore being too pretty, to good looking for a weary man who has seen so much suffering. But in this issue Stenbeck draws Baltimore with harder features. Baltimore is finally looking like the kind of guy who can condemn an entire village to unending torment just to further his single-minded pursuit of his foe. Whoops! Spoilers!
And Dave Stewart is doing some of the best work of his career here, and that is really saying something for a career as marked by excellence as Dave Stewart's. The contrast of the grey world of Baltimore with the bright-red horror of Madame Blavatsky raises the level of horror beyond what mere pencils can do. Seriously, this issue of Baltimore should become a textbook for future colorists to show them how much impact their work can have on a book.
I used to think of characters in the In the Mignola-verse (can we say that now? Or is that too "Josh Weedon.") as having a sort of Erdos number. The closer their connection to Hellboy, the cooler they were. Hellboy being ground zero, that made Abe Sapien and Liz a one, random members of the B.P.R.D. a two, and someone like Sir Edward Grey, Witchfinder a three. Even though I liked Baltimore, I never thought of him as little more than a side-project, a C- or D-character at best.
I was wrong. Baltimore: The Curse Bells shows that the Right Honourable the Lord Henry Richard Baltimore, 13th Baron Baltimore, of Boscastle in County Durham. Is as interesting a character in his own right as Hellboy. This is no side-project, and I can't wait for the next issue.
Zack Davisson is a freelance writer and life-long comics fan. He owned a comic shop in Seattle during the '90s, during which time he had the glorious (and unpaid) gig as pop-culture expert for NPR. He has lived in three countries, has degrees in Fine Art and Japanese Studies, and has been a contributing writer to magazines like Japanzine and Kansai Time-Out. He currently lives in Seattle, WA with his wife Miyuki. You can catch more of Zack's reviews on his blog Japan Reviewed or read his translations of Japanese ghost stories on Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai.