Thursday, November 06, 2014

Lord Baltimore: A Confessional [Guest Post]

Mike Mignola
By GW Thomas

They say confession is good for the soul. I suppose it is not customary to admit when you are jealous. We like to pretend we aren't that fallible. But all you have to say is, "Mike Mignola" and I'm there. Mike is about three years older than me. Just three years. And look at all he has accomplished with Hellboy and the other comics of his "Mignolaverse." Three years. And I remember the early Mignola. Most people don't. If you dig through your old copies (of course you have them nicely stacked in mylar bags) of Different Worlds (1979-1981), an obscure gaming magazine, you'll find early illos done by Mignola. And you'll look at them and think, "Sheesh, pretty bad, eh? That kid'll never come to much."

But people improve. (Well, some do. The rest just get jealous, I suppose.) But it's more than that. Mike Mignola isn't just damn entertaining. He's all that, plus he writes and draws about men and women who face monsters. That's what I like to think I do, too. More jealousy.

All this emotional baggage is simply to show you that when it comes to Mike Mignola I am tettering on the brink. That's important because like Dickens says, "This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate." For I am going to break one of my own tenets. I am constantly saying, "I don't have favorites." What's your favorite genre? Depends on my mood. "What's your favorite superhero?" Depends on the franchise. "Who's your favorite homicidal alien dictator in a 1930s serial?" Depends on the moustache. If nothing else, I am a waffler. Or honest about the variability of sense data. You decide.

Enter Mike Mignola. (Teeth clenches in jealousy.) Damn, if he doesn't break me out of my indecisiveness and make me pick. Because I can say that my favorite Mignola character is... no waffling... Lord Baltimore. Look at that. An absolute in a universe that twists and turns and leaves us constantly re-evaluating everything.

Lord Baltimore is a man who has suffered much in his pursuit of the vampire (Really? Vampire? In this day of sparkly teen idol vamps? Really. You bet!) whom he met on the battlefields of WWI, who returned to kill his wife and torment him relentlessly. The story of how they met is an illustrated novel written by Mignola and Christopher Golden in 2007. This was followed by comics that show Baltimore, in the best Solomon Kane fashion, seeking revenge; cleansing the world of evil. Not since Robert E Howard have I seen a character who hits that high water mark like Baltimore. Like the best comics today, the series is broken up into episodes. These include "The Plague Ships," "The Curse Bells," "The Infernal Train," "The Witch of Harju," and several shorter pieces in and around these tales.

One of the aspects that really make this series work for me is that Lord Baltimore is alone. He has associates, but his burning desire to seek revenge, to destroy the creatures of the night, has terrible consequences for those around him. To use a quote from Lady Caroline Lamb first applied to Lord Byron: "Mad, bad, and dangerous to know." This sums up Lord Baltimore pretty well, and like Byron, despite this affliction, he fascinates us. In "The Witch of Harju," Baltimore seems to be gathering a team about him. I hope not. This would reduce that element that I enjoy in the strip. If I want a team, there are plenty out there, from Mignola's own Hellboy and BPRD to Justice League Dark.

Another aspect of the strip that sells it for me is the setting. If Mignola was lazy he would have set the story in the 18th or 19th Century as so many ghostbreakers films have done, like Van Helsing, Sleepy Hollow and The Brothers Grimm (gasp, Hansel and Gretel, Witch Hunters), even the excellent TV show Penny Dreadful. The Black Forest of Germany is an easy locale for dark fairy tales. But Baltimore challenges with an Edwardian setting, post World War I, quite as fascinating, especially when you start to play with history. The authors have ended WWI not with an Armistice but by a plague that kills millions. The surreal version of 1918 on is intriguing and clever.

I've prattled on about Mignola, but I think I must give credit also to the artists of Baltimore. Ben Stenbeck and Dave Stewart provide images that, while similar to Mignola's own shadow-filled style, is their own. These are panels that intrigue but are simple. Like the best of later Moebius' art, it appears easy until you really look at it. An over-blown, Victorian style would only hamper what is a fast-moving and exciting tale. Peter Bergting replaced Stenbeck with "The Witch of Harju," but his style is similar and equally efficient as Stenbock's.

So there you are. Mike Mignola (teeth less tightly clenched). Lord Baltimore, a character who goes on in his search to purge the world of evil. And like Solomon Kane before him, let's hope he never quite arrives at that final destination. Denizens of the dark, beware!

GW Thomas has appeared in over 400 different books, magazines and ezines including The Writer, Writer's Digest, Black October Magazine and Contact. His website is He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.

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