“BALTIMORE: THE WITCH OF HARJU” #1 (Comic Review)
Thanks to the enduring popularity of HELLBOY, creator Mike Mignola has become a staple in the comics industry. With his unique take of Victorian ghost stories mixed with modern monsters, he has crafted go-to reads for newbies and old-time screamers. But despite his overwhelming success, the writer still has some low flying works. Most notably: BALTIMORE, the tale of one man and his war against a world taken over by vampires.
Though it may not be as well-known as Mignola’s other titles, BALTIMORE consistently boasts as much imagination and innovation as anything the author has done. Written together with collaborator and author Christopher Golden (the two penned the original 2007 novel upon which the comic is based), the latest arc is titled “The Witch of Harju,” and follows the Captain on his quest to kill all vampires as he makes a brief stop in the terrorized town of Harju, Estonia.
For those unfamiliar, Captain Henry Lord Baltimore, originally a soldier on the fields of WWI, finds himself left for dead after an attack. Waking up to a giant bat feeding on his wounds, Baltimore slashes at the creature that, unbeknownst to him, is an incredibly powerful vampire. So angered at being blinded, the vampire brings a plague upon humankind. After a series of horrific events that this author doesn’t wish to spoil, Baltimore begins a one-man crusade against the vile bloodsucking creatures while attempting to find the vampire that had spread the disease in the first place.
“The Witch of Harju” continues his journey across blood-scarred Europe, where he now finds himself at the edge of a wheat field watching a woman run screaming and scared from another undead abomination. With quick work, Baltimore blasts the monstrosity’s head off, but not without losing a companion. Turning to the woman for answers, she reveals that the monster was her dead husband and he would stop at nothing to kill her. As it’s his mission to protect all civilians from plague, he sticks around to investigate, learning the town’s dark secrets in the process.
Unlike a lot of plague-centric works, the most interesting thing about BALTIMORE is that society tends to function as normally as would be expected. There is no panic-induced mania, no roaming gangs of gun-wielding maniacs, but a simple continuation of life despite rampaging virus. Thanks to such, the comic avoids the tropes that others fall prey to; like spending issue after issue of people screaming at each other while scavenging while attempting to build a new society centered on pumped-up trucks and sword-trained wild women. BALTIMORE, for the most part, side steps that and instead treats the story as an old fantasy tale; a place where things like vampire viruses and the walking undead exist side by side with people. Granted, it also helps that the series is set during a time where the human race didn’t depend on electricity or cars as much, an advantage to its tone and atmosphere.
Together, Mignola and Golden create a beautiful landscape of dark lore, ancient blood and unquenchable vengeance that’s managed to make the long-running series comparable with Mignola’s big-fisted counterpart. “Witch of Harju” rolls smoothly along with the previous story arc and blends seamlessly into the over-all world, as Peter Bergting’s inks help realize the vision with fantastic horror-tinged artwork. The creeping scenery is covered with dark shadows and lurking terrors, and the entire artistic lineup renders this series a step up from the current trend of smash-and-dash virus horror. It’s more satisfied to scare you in the alleyways than destroy the world, and is all the better for it.