In Review: Baltimore: The Cult of the Red King #2

Period piece thrills that won't fail to frighten. Scary fun.

The cover: A huge image of the Red King stands behind Lord Baltimore as he is flanked by his followers, all obscured by shadows. Before each of this team stands a wooden carving. These can’t be good, because whenever a doll is made of a person in a supernatural story it involves unwelcome control by an evil force. Seeing as how they’re all searching for the Red King to destroy him, this can’t bode well for any of the characters. This is an okay image by Ben Stenbeck, with colors by Dave Stewart, but it doesn’t pack the punch of the previous cover as the Red King doesn’t look as frightening on this cover. Overall grade: B-

The story: Baltimore and his followers are walking to St. Petersburg, over the Gulf of Finland–it’s so cold the waters have frozen. Sofia walks next to Baltimore and expresses her concerns about Childress, who seems to have fallen under an unhealthy influence from Zoya. He says he’s also concerned, and they stop for a moment for the pair to catch up with them. A few yards away, Zoya mutters something to Childress, who blows off Baltimore who asks for this thoughts on something. “Not now, old friend. Not now.” As they walk past Baltimore and Sofia, Zoya smiles at the Lord, which causes the title character’s face to grow hard. Father Rigo catches up Sofia, and states that he believes she’s been rather intimate with Lord Baltimore of late. “Your implication offends me, father. I’m driven by ghosts of my own.” The scene then transitions to the Port of Carthage in Tunisia, where Captain Aischros, Dr. Lemuel Rose, Mr. Kidd, and Simon Hodge believe the original altar of the Red King is located and they are there to destroy it. Kidd believes the evil to have moved on because the people have left, however there are makings on doors of a white skull and crossbones, capped by a crown. Claw marks are also on doors. “We’re not quite as alone as we thought,” says Kidd spying something. There’s a nice surprise on Page 6 that leads to a large threat on 8, with one character enduring an injury. The dangers this group encounters are more numerous than the trouble the others find in St. Petersburg, though it is just as deadly. Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden have already divided their characters onto two continents, but now divisions are beginning within the groups. It will be more difficult to fight the Red King and his cult if they cannot work together, and these heroes are fracturing as a unit. I’m loving the building tension, the scares, and that ominous tease on the last page. Overall grade: A 

The art: The march across the Gulf is a wonderful visual for Peter Bergting to use for the first three pages. Every character looks tired and cold, save Childress, who looks like a man possessed. Zoya is an obvious problem with her silent look to Baltimore, and his glare after her is just as chilling as the cold. Having these two panels with no dialogue shows the confidence that Mignola and Golden have in Bergting, and it’s deserved. He makes a character’s glance hold information that goes beyond the dialogue. For example, look at the second panel on Page 2: Sofia’s glance at Rigo is fantastic. Any reader can see how much distrust she has of him with her expression. The incident that starts at the bottom of Page 6 is a classic horror moment brought to life (pun intended) perfectly by the character’s stance. The threat that this group encounters is illustrated as a suggestion, rather than a fully formed horror. This is exactly the right artistic choice to take, for rendering this group as solid masses would only limit how readers think of the danger they pose. The settings of the book are also excellent, from a frozen over passage, an abandoned port, to a hotel and the streets of St. Petersburg. The interiors of the hotel are exactly how I’d pictured them. As excellent as these are, nothing prepared me for the interior shown on the final page. It’s a major “Uh, oh…” moment and foreshadows a cast of thousands for the conclusion of this tale. Overall grade: A

The colors: Colors create the temperature of the locations. Blues and grey comprise the opening three pages, with characters colored in faded browns and greys to show that they are being cooled by the weather. In Tunisia, the colors warm up, as the ship they’ve traveled on is a bright rust and the lantern and its light create a warm glow. But when trouble is first suspected, the glow is forgotten in that fantastic final panel on Page 5. I also love the watercolor background behind that character as he gives his ominous dialogue. When the horror appears on 8 the background goes dark green, reinforcing the supernatural forces at work. Within the hotel at St. Petersburg the colors are an aged yellow (superiorly done in the fourth panel on Page 14) or tan and brown. This ages the story, putting the book in the early twentieth century. And blood is so, so red. Another excellent job from mater colorist Dave Stewart. Overall grade: A+

The letters: Clem Robins has created scene settings, whispers, dialogue, sounds, and yells. It’s a cheesy joy, but I love sound effects in comics and I’m really happy with Robins’ contributions in this book, with THWAK being my favorite. Overall grade: A

The final line: In the best tradition of classic horror, the scares are building to something big. After reading the last page, it’s going to really bad for the heroes. Period piece thrills that won’t fail to frighten. Scary fun. 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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