Baltimore: The Witch of Harju #2
by Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden, Peter Bergting & Dave Stewart
Baltimore continues its mini-series publication format while pushing an overarching universe of stories forward. In this new adventure, Baltimore and his group came upon a woman outside of Estonia as she was being chased by her undead husband. Much of the first issue was setup and, though entertaining, it felt a bit bland as compared to previous arcs.
After losing Mr. Quigley during the attack by the undead Villem, the group traveled to the nearby town to see to it that he would be properly buried. There, the group come upon a red-eyed cat that clearly suggests there is evil nearby. Soon after, the undertaker speaks of a safety coffin and suggests that the recently dead Mr. Quigley may not be dead forever. Mignola and Golden have a smart way of laying in seeds and hints at the places the story could or will go eventually. For that reason, there is a sense of dread throughout the story as readers wait for the real monster to emerge. Mignola and Golden infuse a great bit of comedy as screams erupting from the street set Baltimore in motion, sword at the ready, only to discover that the screams are the sounds of children playing. His admission that he is not used to this scenario in which people play happily is rather entertaining and long-time readers of the series will likely chuckle at the notion of this undead warrior being putt-off by the sounds of play.
Like any good scary story that offers a false jump first, it is only after the sense of calm begins to settle in that the real threat emerges. In some ways, at this point, the issue feels a bit like it is repeating the beats of the first issue of the series, but Mignola and Golden avoid this by building on the story and reaching some new and unexpected territory. After several different attempts to take out Villem, they finally succeed, and yet only to find a new evil emerging. It is handled in a very creative way by Bergting, as the perspective that the panel utilizes makes it appear as though this creature could be gargantuan before it shifts to show the real scale as compared to the people in the town. It is an interesting sequence and Bergting succeeds in how he renders the images. In some ways it feels as if this is the climax of the story. However, there is still a number of things to follow, and this second issue of the current arc succeeds in a number of ways.
Bergting’s art is certainly different than Ben Stenbeck’s style. There is a similar finish, though that is more likely due to the coloring by Dave Stewart. Bergting has a slightly more cartooning tonality and, in some moments, it feels at odds with the book. One moment, as Baltimore is in pursuit of the witch, the image that depicts him chasing it feels almost comical. There are some great art moments in the book, and Bergting’s rendering of the witch, especially as it transforms is well done. The critiques on the art are not to do with craft so much as the style as it does not always align with the story.
While the art has its moments of unevenness, Mignola and Golden seem to have stepped up immensely in this issue. Not only is the tension and suspense better constructed, but there are a number of moments of dialogue that are really fantastic. It is great to see this series when it pops up periodically, and the somewhat subdued opening called into question whether the story of Lord Henry Baltimore had run its course. But, after issue #2 of The Witch of Harju, Mignola and Golden prove that they have compelling stories for this universe. In the final act of the issue, the story expands and the dark magic that appears to be at work, and this evil that has come to the town may truly make for a spectacle next month.