In Review: Baltimore: Empty Graves #1

Creepy, classic horror that festers under your skin long after you’ve finished. Recommended.

The cover: Baltimore stands before three graves that contain no bodies. They were created to honor the memory of three allies who have died; they are assumed to be dead because there are no bodies. They have died/disappeared in Baltimore’s quest to kill the Red King, who symbolically sits on the middle marker. This evil being seems to be taunting the title character, telling him his quest is worthless and will only result in more friends that fall. Good imagery by Ben Stenbeck with Dave Stewart doing the colors; the location and color of the supernatural foe make him an instant eye catcher. Overall grade: A

The story: “St. Petersburg, Russia. June 3, 1920.” A witch is on her back, her face distorted by the battle that ended in the previous series. She tells Baltimore, who has a blade in her chest, the Blood-Red Witch that recently caused all his sorrows may be found through her mother, Princess Rukiye, who is Constantinople. The creature then begs for the release she was promised and Baltimore is more than willing to oblige: he cuts her head off. The deed done, he drops his sword and walks away from his friends that have joined him in his quest. Judge Rigo says to his companions, “He’s not even human now, is he?” Baltimore’s moment of emotional release is broken by his friends’ arrival behind him. He tells them they are going to Constantinople, after they go to Odessa “to meet Dr. Rose and the others as planned.” Once there, they dig graves for the departed where thoughts and a story are made known. Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden are responsible for this issue and it’s one of simmering horror. This series begins immediately after the events of Baltimore: The Cult of the Red King, but no reading of that series is needed to enjoy this book (Though that series is really good!). The characters nicely bring the reader up to speed, while advancing their plight as they seek to aid Baltimore in destroying his foe. Personalities come to life vividly in this issue as individuals state their opinions about their current state and why they do what they do. Harish’s motivation is given in this issue and it’s one hell of a story. The book is worth the price alone for this tale, whose solution to surviving the evil is just creepy; I think that sound has been ruined for me forever. When this tale ends both writers remind readers in the final two panels that the horror is still thriving elsewhere. The dread and horror builds thrillingly. Overall grade: A

The art: Peter Bergting really brings the unspeakable to life in this book. It’s one thing to hear or read a horror story, but it’s another thing entirely to see it. He captures the grotesque wonderfully. Case in point, panel one on Page 1: it’s the close up of one of the witches that was in league with the Red King. Her face is barely human; the skin has receded due to the flames – her lipless mouth displays gums and teeth, her nose is almost unrecognizable, and one eye is completely exposed, while the other is almost swollen shut. She is a disgusting thing, and Baltimore, rightfully, shows no pity in the fifth panel. This action is not seen, but Bergting makes it perfectly understood. The third panel on Page 3 is a magnificent scene of the title character letting his emotions out. It is a rare moment that humanizes him, but when his allies come close, the emotion is gone, only his resolve remains. Page 7 is a particularly gruesome scene that foreshadows bigger things to come. Harish’s story is gorgeous looking, with its second panel on Page 12 beautiful. The insects in the third panel is terrific foreshadowing of unmistakable evil. When the true demons of the location are revealed on Page 20 it’s an epic scale I hadn’t expected. The soldiers’ reactions to what they are witnessing are perfection. The group’s silent reaction on 21 to Harish’s coda is brilliant; there is no dialogue, so Bergting must get each character’s reaction in one panel and he does so smashingly. Bergting creates excellent exotic settings and delightfully macabre horrors. Overall grade: A

The colors: The first three pages use red in every panel to remind reader that the Red King is the one to blame for all the misfortunes encountered by the heroes: the witch, a sound effect, the sky, and the blood on a blade. All of these are woven into the visuals by Dave Stewart, and he continues to use colors superbly throughout. A red cross, muted colors for sounds that match the silent setting, a red hand of an unseen character, and the sensational colors of Tanganyika; that second panel on Page 12 instantly transports the reader to another time and place. Stewart uses colors to enhance this tale’s tone of dread. Overall grade: A

The letters: Clem Robins creates scene settings, dialogue, sounds, and an editorial note. This might seem like the accepted minimum any letterer would do for a book, but here’s what Robins does outstandingly: the placement of the sounds and dialogue. With a book like this, every millimeter of the visuals could contain a horror or clue to the reader. Placement of the text could lessen or enhance a scene; for example, Page 18: the sound effects are absolutely essential to the story, but must be placed precisely so that a reader can see the visual reaction to the sound. Robin places them in just the right location. That’s not luck, that’s skill. Overall grade: A

The final line: Who will next be the recipient of an empty grave? There’s only way to find out: pick up this book. Creepy, classic horror that festers under your skin long after you’ve finished. Recommended. Overall grade: A

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer’s Guide for several years with “It’s Bound to Happen!” and he’s reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He’s taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.

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