It’s a grim history of a grim parallel world. Or is it our history? Set in 1916, WWI has ended abruptly with the coming of The Plague, a plague that turns innocents into vampires. The story opens on the windswept French coastline, a fishing port where the German soldiers continue to occupy the town, to the disgust of the locals. It’s a world overrun with horror and the book follows Lord Henry Baltimore, a soldier with but one thing on his mind: kill Kaigus, the king of the vampires. Yes, there are vampires, but these are not the sparkly vampires of modern teen romances, this is a horror story with a world that’s dark, bloody and oft-alarming. No-one smiles. There aren’t flowers on tables or clouds that look like unicorns. You got the wrong story for that stuff, bub.
Instead, Baltimore: The Plague Ships is a gritty hero’s journey where Baltimore, armed with a surprising variety of different weapons, slogs through the French countryside seeking, seeking the slippery Kaigus. His quest is marked by death at every step as he leaves an ever growing pile of bodies in his wake. Vampire bats with German military uniforms, soldiers with skulls for faces, even a zeppelin, a plague ship and a submarine graveyard.
Early on, Baltimore meets the lovely gypsy girl Vanessa when she helps him out of a bind, but is she all she seems, this curvaceous young witch eager to boast about her dark talents? She sees Baltimore as a savior of the little fishing village and her ticket out of “this dead place”, but the other townspeople fear him as the devil and call on the ominous Judge Duvic to judge Baltimore. He’s to either find Baltimore a warlock, deserving of being hanged, or, perhaps, someone who has indeed saved the town from having been overrun with the Plague that turns innocents into vampires.
The story continues from there, including an extended backstory segment where Baltimore tells of being in the trenches, fighting the Hessians. And it’s great storytelling, propelled forward by Mike Mignola’s usual splendid storytelling and in particular by the sepia palette and excellent artwork of Christopher Golden. The entire series serves as a reminder of the visceral pleasure of a dark, moody horror series. It’s a great read.