‘Baltimore: The Red Kingdom’ twists the knife

Shrewdly written by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden, artfully illustrated by celebrated award-winning artist Peter Bergting, skillfully coloured by Michelle Madsen and lettered by Clem Robins, this dramatic graphic novel is a horror milestone without precedent.

Mike Mignola, the legendary creator of Hellboy and The New York Times bestselling novelist Christopher Golden have reunited for the epic conclusion to their comic Baltimore with ‘Baltimore: The Red Kingdom,’ a five-part comic book series from Dark Horse Comics co-written by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden, with illustration by award-winning children’s book illustrator Peter Bergting, colours by Michelle Madsen and stunning covers by Ben Stenbeck (known for is magnificent work on ‘Frankenstein Underground’).

The front cover of the first issue introduces The Red King, the supernatural character that has ravaged Baltimore’s existence since he first saw him on the battlefield, who enfolds the Earth, setting it aflame with his hate. This painting by Ben Stenbeck perfectly sums up what this creature’s ultimate goal is for any reader. He looks frightful, scraggy, and utterly inhuman, observing while the world burns.

Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden begin this series by giving an agile summary for fresh readers, yet entertaining those who have succeeded Lord Baltimore’s quest from the beginning. The Prime Minister holds a classified letter from Admiral Sir Hugh Sinclair declaring that something dreadful rose after the end of World War I. He states that: “Our greatest sin was that we did not believe it when the Red King’s worshipers began to wave his banners.” Gradually, his supporters began to take cities, raise militias, and now nations have bowed before him. The admiral goes on to statement: “we will never turn back the tide. We will hold Europe for six months at best. We must find and kill the Red King himself, or fall beneath his boot.”

The narrative then shifts to Switzerland where four members of the New Inquisition struck down a holy man to gain entrance to a monastery to find a “prodigal son.” Whom they seek is no stranger to long-time readers, but even newcomers will become accustomed to this character, who discovers, alongside with the reader, the horrific predicament of the world. The war that men are absorbed in is a nightmare that makes World War I a scattered memory. Well-known figures are on the battlefield striving against all types of creatures, recognising they need “him” to succeed. But “he” is not there, so they make do with what they can, exterminating as many of the “bastards” as possible. The last five pages take a shocking turn, concluding with a bizarre reveal that will make every reader cheer.

The second front cover is the perfect example of how less can definitely be more. The Red King, primarily in silhouette, stands before a white curtain that bears his logo. As the reader’s eye goes from the crimson skull to the individual with likewise crimson eyes, his or her eye will fall upon the bottom of the curtain, stained in rusted reds. This suggests that paint was not applied in the creation of the King’s hallmark, but instead, true blood.

The storyline takes us back to April 18th, 1925. At an undisclosed location, two soldiers arrive transporting books. The man who opens the door for them belittles them, but promptly turns apologetic, “You are frightened, I know. They are all frightened. The guards who took the previous shift abandoned the door an hour ago.” The men are not specifically nervous about what is occurring outside, but more so from being in such close quarters “with him.”

Against a wall, with his back to them, sits a man feverishly writing and reading from a stack of books. When the soldiers assert they should be going back outside to guard the door, the man who is studying the books grows furious, his concentration broken. He waves his arms, scattering the books and papers about. He turns to face the men, revealing he is wearing a plague mask. He proclaims, “I am searching for the secrets of history for every scrap of information on the Red King, to make certain that when the time comes, we can save the bloody world! And you have made me lose my train of thought!” This prompting the soldiers to run out, leaving the researcher with the man who let them in. His final words to the man are not reassuring.

Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden start the issue out with a lot of suspense, but the final line on the fourth page gives it a witty bent that rattles from what was built. This is accompanied by three powerful scenes of the destruction that is befalling between the forces of good and evil, but then it is back to arguing, discussing, and some more verbose. I surmise that there has to be some build up to this final showdown among Baltimore and the Red King, but readers are now two for two in this department. Acquiesced, there is some good back and forth with the Red King and another character, that does exhibit something unusual, it just feels like the opening and closing of this issue do not have any bearing on the outcome.

In the third issue, Baltimore is beset by every type of fright: the undead, witches, monstrosities, werewolves, vampires, and plenty of vicious tentacles. Ben Stenbeck has created a terrific front cover that bestows the reader what the title character is up against in this final saga. The variety of foes is exceptional, and the colouring on this is excellent: Baltimore is painted in different shades of grey, exhibiting much of his characteristics, while the beasts are in different shades of red that liken them to their master, the Red King.

Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden make up for the last issue’s endless dialogues by reactivating the monstrous flame that consumed the first issue with belated actionism. The protagonists are on the move in a caravan of cars and Baltimore and Rigo are in the same vehicle. Rigo is asked by Baltimore if he will “stand firm” in this final battle, to which he responds, “I never wanted to be a pawn. Not the Inquisition’s, not God’s, and certainly not yours.” This has Baltimore get introspective and state, “We are all pawns, you fool. None more so than myself.” That is when a vehicle explodes. The protagonists exit their transports to battle the creatures striking, but Baltimore is held back by Rigo. “No! You can not risk yourself. We can not risk the Red King knowing that you are alive!”

As his allies battle, he resides in his car, furious at not being able to join in the brawl. Meantime, on the Albanian coast, the Red Witch enters the Red King’s room and he shares much with her and the reader. Pages six and seven bring to light one reason why the Red King has not been solely triumphant and reasonably a potential downfall for him. Doctor Rose continues to be an apocalyptic character. Is he an ally or a hidden adversary? His discussion with Rigo is captivating and the masked man’s final words on foreshadow darkness. The toughest scene of the issue is the taking of Vatican City by the Red King and his servants. There is no one to question them; they wander in and take the iconic surroundings. The structures’ reaction to his entrance is unbelievable. The book ends with the heroes continuing to move closer, clandestine, but the final page shows that they may be in over their heads.

On May 17, 2017, the fourth issue of Baltimore: The Red Kingdom will be published by Dark Horse Comics which confirms that those that fasten their fate to Lord Baltimore condemn themselves to be ravished. This was so true in the illustrated prose novel and it couples truly in the comic series — we have certainly seen this time and time again. However, this issue brings the death of Kidd who was so unlike the others we have seen before. Kidd did not undergo the brutality and inhumane methods of the previous killings, in fact, his death was somehow compassionate, he was not brought to ravage before his inevitable death, and his corpse was not desecrated. Kidd was simply shot in cold blood. Certainly, there is not a sole glimpse of mercy for Lord Baltimore, who has to leave his friend’s death unavenged, without been able to even retrieve his corpse.

Strangely and given how calm Baltimore is and how little he is told his companions, it is notably clear he always knew the ambush that lay ahead for Rigo and the other Inquisitors, but he sent them anyway, comprehending that the Red King would need to consider how his manoeuvre would succeed.

The fifth issue will close this eerie, melodramatic and stringent graphic novel, and we are unable to predict how they will bring closure in a mere twenty-two-page storyline that keeps captivating the minds of readers and challenging their comprehension.

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