By Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden, Peter Bergting and Michelle Madsen
Just looking at artist Ben Stenbeck’s cover image to this first issue let’s you know things are getting bad for Lord Henry Baltimore. After fighting a lifetime’s worth of vampires and other monsters, Baltimore has met his match in a force of pure evil known as the Red King. Though he does not fight alone, Baltimore has taken a beating over the years, which puts it mildly. As of the first issue to the latest arc, Baltimore: The Red Kingdom, years have gone by since anyone last saw Lord Baltimore. He had formed a team of sorts to take on the Cult of the Red King and despite success, things went poorly, and as a result the world is at war with the Red Kingdom.
The issue opens with a welcomed and informative recap. Readers can get right up to speed, which happens to make this “The Red Kingdom” a perfect jumping on point. Regular readers can tell you how much the comic series has progressed since co-creators Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden’s novel. The challenges are only getting bigger, and so this newest chapter is appropriately dire, if not without some very cool, militarized upgrades. Each arc has felt a little different from the previous one and somehow more advanced each time. The irony is the evolution, though steadily more modern, acts as a sort of curse, leaving Baltimore and company emotionally and physically wounded. The only silver lining may be they are, as a result, that much more galvanized and willing to fight on.
Mignola and Golden continue to craft a more linear story that feels closer to an ending than ever. Baltimore typically spends these individual arcs building up to a confrontation, but don’t think of it as a plot vehicle. These are chapters in the man’s life as he takes the fight to the enemy at any cost. Baltimore carries the “frontlines” around with him, so it makes sense that those following him aren’t the same after each mini series concludes. It’s what makes these books so heavy, but the upside is that we’ve come to know these characters very well, and we want to see what they’ll do next and not just witness what will happen to them. Thanks to a dedicated method of storytelling, readers care about what happens, and each issues makes that intense need to watch it unfold even greater.
Regular Baltimore illustrator Peter Bergting pulls out all of the stops in this comic. This is a horror book at its core, but it’s also a wartime comic now, still utilizing deep gothic undertones. So, Bergting is really flexing his artistic muscles as he covers all the bases — and that’s just in the first two pages! The artwork is flawlessly consistent, depicting an all-new version of a world we’ve come to know very well from previous issues. In short, it feels like a Baltimore comic, which means you should always expect the unexpected. Bergting has a delicate sensibility in his line work that only adds to the horror when the action increases, and in a book like this, it feels like every other page is pure action. Whereas the characters may appear vulnerable or fragile at first, they prove to be resilient and capable in the end.
Colorist Michelle Madsen goes beyond just coloring the comic — which is beautiful, by the way — and uses light for emotional effect. In a dark world, both literally and figuratively speaking, Madsen creates a true sense of warmth whether it’s a lit doorway or a burning battlefield. Maybe it was in the script that way, but the world-on-fire theme from the cover seems to genuinely infect the interior pages. There is a balance struck between the typically de-saturated palettes used in Baltimore. And this new sense of burning and unwanted, toxic heat is all thanks to Madsen’s ability to render the final product as another layer of storytelling.
Baltimore is such a unique comic in the first place, picking up where the original novel left off, but this creative team deserves a lot of credit for keeping the story alive. The adventure itself is almost never pretty, but it’s artful nonetheless. If you’ve been reading along, then you’ll be glad to hear this may be the best arc yet. Baltimore: The Red Kingdom is the real deal.