Baltimore: The Curse Bells Volume 2 blends the Gothic horror of Bram Stoker’s Dracula with the fantastical supernatural stories of the modern day. Taking place in the years following World War I where a man named Lord Henry Baltimore is hunting the vampire Haigus who not only maimed Baltimore, but killed his family. During his quest for vengeance, Baltimore stumbles across many different evils and, being one of the few with a knowledge about how to fight them (and being armed to the teeth), he takes care of these monsters before picking up Haigus’ trail again.
My favorite thing in this volume was the handling of the characters who are all so very gray. Except for the journalist Simon Hodge, the characters can all be viewed as monsters in their own way. Lord Baltimore goes out of his way to help people, but when his good intentions are tested against his desire for revenge, Baltimore is unable to choose between them. The inquisitor commits the most evil acts in the name of God and fails to see the irony that he is the sort of monster he seeks to hunt down. The warlock is just plain selfish, willing to torture and maim his way to success. Rather ironically, it’s the out and out monsters who have the most human qualities such as the vampire nuns (yes, there are vampire nuns, and yes, they’re as awesome as the concept sounds) who only commit evil in the hopes of redemption.
As you might have guessed given the rather gray stance of many of the characters, Baltimore is a dark book. The world is dark and gritty and there are no deus ex machinas or miraculous last-minute saves. Characters get exactly what they’ve earned and no more. There is little humor to be found in The Curse Bells, though some of the absurd situations or conversations may lead to an uncomfortable chuckle now and then.
I wasn’t impressed by the way Ben Stenbeck draws characters. They’re without much detail or expression, though his art gets the point across and works great for action scenes. What Stenbeck draws amazingly well are settings. Whether a Switzerland town decimated by vampires, a small Austrian bar, or a cathedral, Stenbeck nails these set pieces, getting the right feeling of grit, horror, or place of respite for each scene. And, no talk about the art of Baltimore would be complete without complementing Dave Stewart’s coloring. Baltimore is largely shaded in dull colors, browns, grays, and blacks, which give the series that perfect Gothic/early 20th century feel, but then Stewart will add a dash of red when appropriate for blood or magic, which stands out on the page and enhances every scene this trick is used in.
If you’re a fan of Mike Mignola’s monster comics, of Gothic horror, or supernatural adventures, then Baltimore is worth a look. I know I intend to go back and check out the first volume, The Plague Ships, to get the full backstory on Haigus, Lord Baltimore, and their twisted tale of tragedy and revenge.