It's always cool when a writer anticipates my thoughts. I was reading Baltimore: Dr. Leskovar's Remedy, and I couldn't help but think that Lord Baltimore was acting out of character. He's not a do-gooder. He isn't out to help the helpless. But here he was risking his life for a poor village like some silly superhero, instead of the bleak monster he is. And the very next page, Baltimore sheathed his sword and said, "Enough. This is not my fight."
Nicely done, Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden. You officially played me like a piano, and got me to think exactly what you wanted me to think, doubt you at exactly the moment you wanted me to — and then you flipped the tables on me.
After the ultimate-amazing-best-comic-of-2011-you-are-a-bad-person-if-you-haven't-read-Baltimore: The Curse Bells I was pretty damn excited for the follow-up. Mignola and Golden have proven themselves serious about developing the character, and Baltimore has swiftly supplanted the B.P.R.D. and rose up as my second-favorite Mignola character (after Hellboy, naturally). Baltimore is a much darker series than Hellboy, and Lord Baltimore inhabits a harsher world with less opportunities for one-liners and snappy patter mid-fight. He is the epitome of the line "Battle not with monsters, lest you become a monster."
Baltimore: Dr. Leskovar's Remedy is not the heavy hitter of a series that The Curse Bells was. A two-issue series, Dr. Leskovar's Remedy is one of those little Mignola's interludes that he seems fond of, where he gets to play around with characterization in-between advancing the mega-plot. The characterization here is what kind of man is Lord Baltimore? Can he just walk away from a group of children being slaughtered by monsters? Is he that driven on his quest? Or is he a deep-down a decent guy who still stick his wooden leg into the fray no matter how much he grumbles about it? How much of Baltimore's humanity has been lost along with body parts?
The monsters in question — and Dr. Leskovar's titular remedy, are a bunch of vampire-infected villagers that Leskovar is attempting to cure. But his cures are of the mad scientist variety, and that never goes well. Especially not in a Mignola/Golden comic. Oh yes. Giant sea creatures. And scary things in dresses.
Dr. Leskovar makes for an odd antagonist for Lord Baltimore, because of his moral ambiguity. Issue #1 sets him up pretty firmly as a local bad guy, kidnapping healthy children to test his remedies on, then issue #2 we see that all is not what it seems, and that the most evil of monsters might have a role to play on the good-guys team. I noticed the moral complexity is Baltimore is played up more than in Hellboy. If this had been a Hellboy comic, then big red would have just whooped Dr. Leskovar back into the body banks he came from, with a few well-placed one-liners deflating the good doctor's own sense of being the flawed hero of the story.
Ben Stenbeck continues to impress as the artist for Baltimore. He got off to a rocky start with the first miniseries, but every issue shows the value of letting an artist grow with a character. Both Stenbeck and colorist Dave Stewart — may his colors never fade — aren't really on the top of their game here with Dr. Leskovar's Remedy. Stenback is kind of the opposite of B.P.R.D. artist James Harren. Harren does wonderful monsters and giant battles, but isn't as strong on the humans. Stenbeck's forte is the humanity in the characters, and the more human the monsters are the better they look. His nuns from The Curse Bells were terrifying, but his giant lobster men are less so. And while Dave Stewart never does a bad job, he just doesn't seem as inspired here as his work on The Curse Bells.
So, mostly awesome with a hint of meh. Definitely worth reading, and to see that the Baltimore team is going to be putting out some mini-adventures of the Steadfast Tin Soldier. I say keep them coming.
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.