*Edited by Kaitlin Campos
In the sea of mediocrity and change that can be reviewing comic books, it’s nice to have constants to keep you grounded, and it’s hard to think of any stronger a constant than Lord Baltimore. This series is one of the only comics I can think of that is consistently great (also on that list anything written by Mark Waid). The series has enjoyed stupendously gothic artwork, with high-intensity action sequences that really capture the skill of our protagonist, the visceral fun of monster fighting, and the dark menace of his foes.
The world Mignola and Golden have formed is an intensely enjoyable one to play around in, blending Lovecraftian and Poe-inspired horrors, with the tones and visuals of post-World War 1 Europe, and Baltimore himself is a very likable protagonist; powerful and destructive, driven by an identifiable purpose but with a code of ethics that binds him— he’s an oncoming storm aware enough to guide itself to where it will do the most good. All of this is wrapped around a great pace that keeps the series moving and never bogs things down, and it is driven forward by Baltimore’s quest for vengeance against Haigus, the vampire who killed his family. This acts as an omnipresent engine to give any new story a grounding stake.
Speaking of which, this new story, Baltimore: Chapel of Bones, happens to deal almost directly with that particular conflict, as Lord Baltimore makes his way to London to confront his longtime prey and seek some measure of resolution to his quest for vengeance. Meanwhile, he’s marshaled a handful of allies together in London from his previous adventure Baltimore, or The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire (the novel that inspired the character and his world.) Gathered together in a small pub in London are Demetrius, a Greek captain who ferried Baltimore home to England after the war, Mr. Childress, a fellow English aristocrat whose family is closely tied with Baltimore’s, and finally Dr. Rose, the man who amputated Baltimore’s leg. Most of the issue focuses around them in the pub as they reminisce about Lord Baltimore, before they are befriended by a local artist and head upstairs to his studio to wait for Baltimore to meet them.
Unsurprisingly, their newfound friend is not all that he seems. Things go horribly wrong for Baltimore’s friends and they find themselves fighting to stay alive long enough for the good Lord to reach them. For such a simple story, and one that really doesn’t have much of Lord Baltimore in it, Baltimore: Chapel of Bones is still a really enjoyable issue. Part of that is that Baltimore’s past has remained a serious cipher for most of the series and we really haven’t seen much of his past beyond his encounter with Haigus in the trenches of the first world war, so seeing these people he encountered paints him in an interesting new light— especially the way they refer to him as if he’s a ghost, which really drives home the idea that Henry Baltimore is dead and Lord Baltimore is a whole different man.
At the same time, it’s nice that his friends aren’t completely useless when things inevitably get hairy for them, and they are shown as not just being able to fight, but being able to hold their own against demonic shadow skeletons. You get the sense that these are the kind of people who would be legitimately helpful to Lord Baltimore. There’s also a lot of Baltimore: Chapel of Bones dedicated to our villain of the piece, Haigus (that’s not a spoiler considering his face is literally on the cover of Baltimore: Chapel of Bones). He spends most of Baltimore: Chapel of Bones #1 monologuing about his struggle with Baltimore, but in this case, I think it works. He comes off legitimately haggard and wearied by Baltimore’s long chase, as if he is legitimately seeking an end to their conflict with one another, which I think is coming in issue 2 of Baltimore: Chapel of Bones. In the previous series, Baltimore: The Infernal Train, Mignola and Golden introduced a new sort of antagonist in the form of this big, ancient, red unknown God who ruled the Earth before the coming of man and created the vampire race, and it’s been established he’s the one Haigus has been trying to contact in his own travels outside of fleeing Baltimore, so I could easily see the writing team deciding to off Haigus in favor of bringing in this new, bigger and badder enemy as the one to drive the series. Another key piece of evidence for that possibility is that the red god makes a brief cameo in this issue— in a painting in the artist’s apartment, which seems to be doubling as our chapel of bones, so I don’t think that’s an unfair bit of speculation.
Overall, Baltimore: Chapel of Bones #1 has the feeling of finality about it. The ground work has been laid for new villains to arise and hound Lord Baltimore, while at the same time his own conspicuous absence from this issue feels legitimately telling; this is not Lord Baltimore’s story so much as a story in which he is simply the ending, the last distinguished and destructive thing— hence the air of mystery that surrounds him in the early pages of Baltimore: Chapel of Bones. I described him earlier as the oncoming storm, and that’s honestly what he feels like in this story, and with all the callbacks to beginnings and first meetings, it’s hard not to interpret that as set-up for this series to finally close the book on Baltimore’s longstanding story with Haigus. All of this adds up to a very enjoyable read, with an enrapturing atmosphere and enjoyable characters, all helped by a seriously great pace that keeps Baltimore: Chapel of Bones moving and leaves you wanting more by the time it’s over; recommended.