Baltimore (Vol. 1): The Plague Ships by Mike Mignola (writer), Christopher Golden (writer), Ben Stenbeck (artist), Dave Stewart (colors), & Clem Robins (letters)
In volume one of Baltimore, we meet a tough, rugged man with a wooden leg. At the beginning of the book, we witness Lord Baltimore’s chasing vampires in a coastal town in France in 1916. The town has been struck by the plague as well as vampires. The night is dark, and Baltimore is in the midst of hunting a hoard of them. Though he will kill any of them he can, he is set on tracking down and killing one particular old vampire with a scar on his face and a missing right eye. Therefore, he plans on keeping one vampire alive long enough to get some information.
This plan, however, does not work out: He is helped in an unusual way by a witch and is frustrated that all the vampires die before he can get that information. After being knocked unconscious, he is taken in by Vanessa, the granddaughter of the witch, and Baltimore loses more time in tracking down his enemy. Accustomed to traveling alone, he refuses to take Vanessa with him when he leaves town, even though she begs him to after helping him by telling him of a boat that can take him further on his journey. Baltimore doesn’t get far, however. As soon as he leaves the witch’s house, he is captured and accused of being an evil presence in town. He is imprisoned and told that he will have to stay in jail until the representative of the inquisition arrives to decide if Baltimore, an odd-looking stranger in town, is of the devil or not.
Baltimore’s fate, however, takes a positive turn when Vanessa manages to talk the guard into giving her the keys to the cell. Again, she insists on going with him. This time he has no choice. The young woman has found passage for them, but she won’t release him from his cell until Baltimore promises to take her with him and pay for her passage across the sea. Though Vanessa gets her way, the reader feels apprehensive for her since her grandmother has a prophecy about Lord Baltimore: “Death sits upon his shoulder, not for him, but for those who ally themselves with him. His quest will cost the lives and souls of everyone he loves.” Vanessa does not heed her advice, so the future seems dark for her.
All of this happens in the first issue of the volume, which sets up the rest of the story: We travel aboard the ship with Vanessa and Lord Baltimore, and we get his “origin” story — what happened to him in the war, how he first encountered vampires, how he lost his leg, and why he hunts one particular vampire. We even find out the source of the plague. As they journey, Baltimore continues his story, and we find out about his family and why he travels alone. Much of the final section of the comic effectively shifts back and forth between the present and the past, sometimes from one panel to the next to show parallel events as the present echoes the past. Overall, it is an excellent story within a story and a fitting opening to the Baltimore series. If you are a Mignola fan or a fan of vampire stories, you will want to read this one.