If Baltimore were a Marvel comic, this issue would have big, bright banners cluttering up the cover, declaring "Special One-Shot Origin Issue Collector's Item! From Whence Comes… The Inquisitor!!!" — or something gaudy like that. The splash page would be some dramatic reveal, and we would spend the comic working back towards that shocking reveal. But this isn't Marvel. This is Dark Horse. And Baltimore deals in subtlety and brutality. And tragedy.
Baltimore: The Inquisitor is indeed a one-shot origin story. Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden's Inspector Javert avatar, the Holy Inquisitor Andre Duvic, finally gets his story told. Duvic has long haunted the series — a shadowy human menace that pushes Lord Baltimore forward in dogged, unrelenting pursuit even while the vampire hunter himself quarries after his ultimate goal, Lord Haigus.
And while Holy Inquisitor Duvic may be an analogue for Inspector Javert, he is one suited to the gray world of Baltimore. We haven't seen him since Baltimore: The Curse Bells where he tortured to death two young children in order to gain information. He is that special breed of evil, one so stuffed with self-righteousness and self-purity that he thinks he can bathe in rivers of blood and never be stained. He is all the more horrific because — out of all the monsters in Baltimore; witches, vampires, werewolves, and goblins — only Duvic is the kind of evil that is real.
Duvic's origin is also realistic. And something I loved about Baltimore: The Inquisitor. There was no "one bad day" situation, no single event that turned him down his dark path. Mignola and Golden are too clever for that; they didn't take the easy way out. Instead Duvic is an outcast orphan, raised from a young age by the priest Father Corin. Duvic learns early on to associate pain and punishment with righteousness and purification. He armors his soul to become a spiritual warrior, one who can move freely amongst the tainted and vile without becoming infected.
The art team of Ben Stenbeck and the King of Colors Dave Stewart carry the weight of much of the story. They have been working on Baltimore for long enough that they are in perfect synch. There are some great scenes here — the juxtaposition of a young Duvic's joyous face next to a boy who is being beaten by a priestly hand; the red blood on Duvic's hands as a grown man, and the silent moment when he acknowledges that not all of his sins will wash away clean; even the calm scenes of Lord Baltimore sitting in his hotel, a rare moment of rest for the wondering hunter. Great stuff.
The only real flaw with Baltimore: The Inquisitor is that it doesn't feel like a complete story. While it's a great comic, it does the job of filling in some of the background to the Epic of Baltimore and doesn't stand on its own. Some writers can pull this off — Kurt Busiek can whip out a one-shot origin story for a character you have never heard of in Astro City and leave the reader perfectly satisfied. But that doesn't happen here. New readers picking up Baltimore for the first time are going to be lost, and this reads almost intentionally like a chapter in the inevitable collected edition. (Still got my fingers crossed for a Baltimore: Library Edition to sit on my shelf … )
Baltimore: The Inquisitor drops June 19, 2013.
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.