Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden are at it again, collaborating once more to bring us another adventurous story in the life of their deadly vampire hunter, Captain Lord Henry Baltimore. First of a three-issue mini-series, but number twenty-one in the full series, Baltimore: The Witch Of Harju #1 begins as many tales do, in the middle. Why, you ask? Because that’s where the action is and this comic is loaded to the top with death and mystery.
Our story is set in rural Estonia in the year 1920. Regardless of when and where, though, running in mud is difficult. However, you’d be surprised what you can accomplish when your life is threatened. Such is the case for the young woman who very nearly runs into Lord Baltimore and his men. The hunting party realizes she is in danger, but don’t recognize how much until the life of one of their number is lost. Upon discovering the assailant is of unnatural strength and vitality, the hunters change tactics and successfully rout the creature.
We flash back to the beginnings of this story as the woman relates the events that brought this situation to bear. An evil omen in the form of a demonic familiar is the one key point that Baltimore focuses in upon hearing the woman’s tale of woe. Taking her to the relative safety of a nearby village, they are able to hear the locals recounting similar stories that provide them with more information as to who might be to blame for these atrocities. Narrowing the suspects down is easy, since the villagers are sure it’s the Witch of Harju. Unfortunately, no one knows, or is willing to share, the whereabouts of said Witch.
Later that same night, the aforementioned demonic familiar returns and makes its way to the frightened survivor. Fleeing her room, the young woman solicits the help of Lord Baltimore, who, in turn, spends the rest of the night watching over this terrified and exhausted woman as she sleeps. Upon waking the next day, the hunters begin their search for the Witch and find the locals to be resistant to assist them. It isn’t until they return to the body of their fallen comrade that they receive their first lead. Much to my chagrin, however, this is also where the first issue ends…forcing me to wait until next month for another installment.
Mignola and Golden do a great job of building characters and concepts that create a story that makes the reader feel invested in what’s going on. The fear of the peasants is very nearly palpable as the story progresses. This is a combination of the wordplay and the excellent artwork provided by Peter Bergting. Unlike the writers, this is his first work on this series, though you couldn’t tell that from how well everything meshes together. I was amazed by how expressive the facial features were on even the background characters.
While there isn’t any background information on Lord Baltimore in the comic, you can still tell that he is a man with whom you shouldn’t trifle. The focus of this issue is, obviously, to set up the story. Little things that new readers will notice, like Baltimore’s wooden leg, go unanswered. But that’s a great teaser for previous issues and doesn’t affect the plot or story of this comic. This is a must-read for any Mignola fan and a decent jumping-on point for new readers, as well. It’s not for everyone and can be a bit bloody, but that’s typical for the horror/mystery genre that Dark Horse Comics is so skilled at producing. If you dig that sort of thing, this is for you. Personally, I’m beginning to prefer Mignola’s non-Hellboy work. But maybe that’s just me.