Writers Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden build on the mythology of Baltimore. The vampires, huge monstrous bat things, scavenged the near dead on the battle-scarred fields of No Man’s Land during World War I on an alternate earth. Vampire grand poobah Haigus promised the extermination of humanity when the heavily wounded Baltimore refused to be the beast’s supper. Lord Baltimore’s crusade though was inevitable. There’s no way these gargantuan blood suckers would have settled for just the dying doughboy or the husk of the Hun. Besides, evil lies.
Mignola and Golden apply a theory of horror quite literally. Many believe that the zombie film of the sixties is a collective zeitgeist response to Vietnam. The current zombie jamboree that shows no signs of waning is a result on the so-called War on Terror. I don’t hold these theories very dearly, but in Baltimore: The Curse Bells, war catalyzes the rise of the monsters. In addition to vampires, a plague turns humans into ghouls. A new monster, a combination of spider, monkey and bat arises in the arbor.
This chapter of Baltimore however plays a little lighter than the previous series and certainly more so than the current period of Hellboy. A pair of vampirically corrupted Hansel and Gretel archetypes lead Lord Baltimore astray. Baltimore finds a hamlet decimated by vampires, demonstrated in a splash page that lives up to its sobriquet, albeit with more shocking crimson courtesy of Dave Stewart.
Baltimore battles the vampires and sends them back to their grave, but sometimes Mignola, Golden and Stenbeck keep the action bottled in the reader’s imagination and opt for comic timing. This occurs when the duplicitous Hansel and Gretel appeared to have led Baltimore into the maw of death only for him to revisit the venomous pair on the next page and demand answers. Haigus’ gift of a vampire brothel is politely turned down through a nearby window, and let the reader be assured none of these blood drinkers will be honeymooning in Hawaii for a sparklefest. These bastards burn in sunlight.
Baltimore’s next lead takes him to Innsbruck where he wets his whistle in a tavern. There he meets a man who claims to have witnessed much, an expert on vampires if you please. Here as well, Mignola, Golden and Stenbeck feed from a humorous vein.
Simon R. Hodge, a writer and likely a reference to Weird Tales alum William Hope Hodgeson, is well known to the patrons and ignored. Baltimore lets him prattle on until a monster hiding behind the face of beauty forces the vampire destroyer to deal. Deal he does.
Baltimore disposes of the exquisite creature in a deliciously violent manner that’s a stunning set piece recalling the best moments from Hammer’s vampire movies. In a reversal of the expected, it turns out the Van Helsing poseur does indeed know something about one particular vampire, and that’s what sets up the next issue, giving the reader a teasing taste of the nunsploitation to come.
Tristram Taylor also reviewed Baltimore: The Curse Bells #1. Read his thoughts, too!
Ray Tate’s first online work appeared in 1994 for Knotted. He has had a short story, “Spider Without a Web,” published in 1995 for the magazine evernight and earned a degree in biology from the University of Pittsburgh. Since 1995, Ray self-published The Pick of the Brown Bag on various usenet groups. In the POBB, as it was affectionately known, Ray reviewed comic books, Doctor Who novels, movies and occasionally music. Circa 2000, he contributed his reviews to Silver Bullet Comic Books (later Comics Bulletin) and became its senior reviewer. Ray Tate would like to think that he’s young at heart. Of course, we all know better.