Contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t just Hellboy that made Hellboy popular. All right. It was mostly Hellboy, but Mignola pitted him against no mean foe. Hellboy threw his iron fist at none other than Rasputin, the Mad Monk. In Baltimore: The Curse Bells, Mignola and Golden toss in another allusion.”Blavatsky.“
Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky was a Victorian charlatan who balked against Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection by consolidating mystical and magical philosophies into what became The Theosophical Society. The organization believed that humankind was at heart a supernatural “species.” However, Blavatsky was not a proponent of Christian dogma, the ultimate enemy of Darwinism at the time. The ambitious Blavatsky wrote up a pair of phony documents called The Secret Doctrine and the hit sequel Isis Unveiled. In these frauds she began the mythology of the Aryan.
In Baltimore: The Curse Bells, Blavatsky is the witch that a certain soldier wishes to reincarnate from an innocent woman nourished through vampire blood. It didn’t hit me until I heard that name. Blavatsky. The woman who inadvertently will create the Thule Socity, which a certain German solider will infiltrate and use to his own ends. Looking at Ben Stenbeck’s illustration of the soldier, his haircut, his eyebrows and eyes, that almost but not quite final mustache, you begin to see the plan behind The Curse Bells, and it pumps Baltimore up to 11.
In real life, this particular soldier was not a proponent of the occult. He saw the credulous’ faith in it as a weapon, but Baltimore posits an alternate universe where the supernatural is real: vampires the size of buses prey on the dead, zombies walk, weird monkey-spiders inhabit the trees. So, perhaps this soldier would indeed embrace the litany, his alternate merely exploited as a tool, as truth. If so, this makes him an even more dangerous foe than Haigus, the scarred vampire that declared war on our hero Lord Baltimore.
Baltimore is in good form this issue. Before he learns of the ultimate evil, he encounters the writer Hodge, a comedic Jack London type who at first Baltimore sees as a nuisance but then realizes his value as an enlightener to the people who might not know how to kill say, a horribly cross-burned bitch of a vampire. Now, this is a variation of a vampire I can get behind. The vampire acclimated to being burnt by the cross, and that gives her what she thinks is an edge. Of course, there’s more than one way to kill a vampire, and Baltimore’s personal loss transmutes into a ruthlessness that surprises even the hellspawn.
Next, Baltimore runs into a latin speaking snake that claims to be a god. Its words translate roughly to. “Do not come into my church unless you wish to worship me.” It’s such a gorgeous creation by Stenbeck, that you wish Baltimore wouldn’t dispatch it so readily. Alas, there is a drawback to efficiency. It’s dying words read approximately. “I damn you if you have not already been damned.” Très cool.
The idea behind the snake intertwines with the post war climate. The people prayed, but God did not hear them. A cuckoo invaded their holy nest, and it listened to their prayers and gave them what they wanted. In other words, these creatures took advantage of the despair caused by the horrors of war. This hearkens back to the very first Baltimore series in which we learn the vampires scavenged the bodies dying in No Man’s Land.
Mignola and Golden release a bizarre semi-historical drama. Drop by drop it pools in the mind until it forms something that in hindsight should have been obvious. Baltimore could prevent World War II in this alternate universe, and he wouldn’t even care. His obsession lies in destroying the blood-sucking bastard that murdered his family.
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.