Collecting Baltimore: The Plague Ships #1-5.
If there were any Mike Mignola character that would rival Hellboy in sheer badassery than it would be Lord Henry Baltimore. This isn’t any normal vampire hunter, this is a vampire hunter on a mission. While fighting in the Great War (WWI), his entire troop was wiped out, save him. When he pulled himself out from under a pile of corpses he was confronted by giant vampire bats eating the corpses of his compatriots. Needless to say this pushes Lord Baltimore over the edge, lashing out with his saber he slashes the eye of the the largest of the creatures. They flee but the king of vampires returns to visit with Lord Baltimore as he recovers in the hospital to tell him he has made a grave error.
Once he has recovered he returns home to what he hopes is a semi-normal life, only to have that all shattered by Haigus (the aforementioned king of vampires) who turns Lord Baltimore’s wife into one of his own. Baltimore declares war on the vampire, and his first kill in that war is his own wife. All at once Baltimore becomes a driven and broken man. He survives on the hate and pain, and his only obsession becomes the eradication of the vampire plague and Haigus.
His hunt leads him to a small fishing village where they want to hold him for questioning at the hands of Judge Duvic of the New Inquisition (with all of the sinister connotations that particular organization’s name conjures up). With the aid of the beautiful Vanessa, Baltimore is able to escape the town on a ship. In a storm tossed sea the two end up stranded on an island covered with strange purple plants that reveal their evil secret.
The world that Baltimore occupies is full of dangerous creatures, almost steampunk style contraptions for the elimination of the dead and transportation, but more sinister are the plagues the run rampant in the world. It is implied the the disease that is spreading is somehow a manifestation of the corruption that Haigus brings to the land, and that some how Baltimore’s movements against him exacerbate that manifestation. The island that they are stranded on is no safe haven.
At night the purple fungus open, and the dead rise. Everywhere Baltimore turns there is death.
Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden know their way around this territory, they are more than willing to be brutal and raw with characters. No one is safe, and the hero is no hero, just pure rage and pain. The world that surrounds him is decaying and the people are all haunted by the recent memory of The Great War and the plague and monsters and now ravage the land. All of that is reinforced by Ben Stenbeck’s art. It is dark and black heavy, the decay of the world accentuated by the way every face looks fetid and worn, ready to split open and ooze at any moment.
This comic is amazing looking, and super dark. The hero of the tale is mesmerizing and has a truly stunning origin story. I know that I get a nerd boner with most everything that Mignola has a hand in, but it is because he is consistently at the helm of really, really good books, and Baltimore is no exception.