In Review: Baltimore: The Cult of the Red King #1

You'll quickly be turning pages to see what horror lies waiting. Recommended.

The cover: The Red King looks ready to destroy a ship crossing the Baltic Sea. The waves will devour this ship if the creature that Lord Baltimore seeks doesn’t first. Strong imagery from Ben Stenbeck with Dave Stewart. The Red King is gigantic, skeletal, and aflame–it doesn’t get any creepier than that. The colors by Stewart highlight the absolute evil of this being by using satanic red. Overall grade: A

The story: Rome. May 27, 1920. Simon Hodge, Dr. Lemuel Rose, and Mr. Kidd enter the remains of church looking for something. Their search comes up empty until Hodge realizes the original site of the church is elsewhere. The three go to a man’s house, bursting with heavy bookshelves, and Mr. Kidd uses his sledgehammer to break down a case after Hodge discovers a draft. Behind it is a cavernous deposit: “The secret apocrypha. All the grimoires and histories the Vatican owns but won’t allow within their walls.” The man whose house they’ve entered calmly lights a cigarette, telling them that their search for Manetho’s writings will only tell the name of city the Cult of the Red King began. The three gentlemen go stone faced. “…that’s precisely what we’re looking for,” says Dr. Rose. This is a terrific beginning to this series by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden. The settings are established, three of leads are seen in action, and a tremendous secret revealed. Most movies wish they opened this well. Baltimore is looking for the Red King, and he’s got some allies going with him. Each has a strong, unique personality and look, and their conversations reveal their hopes and fears of what they’ll encounter. Away from his friends, Baltimore makes a poor decision that starts to appear on Page 10. Page 16 has one of the most beautiful and disturbing things I’ve seen in a comic. This is going to be a wonderful story. Overall grade: A

The art: I always wonder what goes through a writer’s head whenever he or she illustrates the Mignolaverse. One cannot be a one trick pony on any of these books, Baltimore especially. Peter Bergting has to create realistic cities, both modern and ancient, animals, creatures, period clothing and vehicles, supernatural terrors, and anything the writers can think of. With such a multitude of requirements Bergting has created an amazing, eclectic looking book that wonderfully creates a gothic mood no matter where the story goes. The opening panel had me hearing John Williams’s travel music for Indiana Jones. The second and third panels take the exotic nature of their location into sinister backstreets, which lead to a residence drowning in books. The revealed apocryha is amazing. If the rest of the book had stayed there, I would have completely engrossed by the visuals. But it moves to many other locations, past and present, with outstanding work being found on Pages 10, 12, 13, 16, 18, 21, and 22. The looks the characters give each other are great. Baltimore is the master of the knowing stare, giving it beautifully on Pages 7, 21, and 22. Every page contains something hidden just beyond the reader’s view or the characters’ comprehension, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. Overall grade: A 

The colors: The colors put the punctuation into the art of this book. The book begins in the dark of Rome, only gaining color from a creature infected with a red growth. Browns, yellows, and tans dominate a man’s personal library, making him and his tomes seem old. Baltimore’s introduction is preceded and enveloped by an orange sunset, that is so close to crimson as to foreshadow what is to come. The flashback panels are drowning in red, making the savagery of the images all the more graphic. Dave Stewart is accentuating the uncertainty of each panel with his colors. Note must also be taken of a technique he’s using for empty backgrounds. It’s first done in the final panel on Page 4; he’s filling the space with a watercolor effect that colors, but doesn’t fill, the space. When it’s done in this panel it’s a sickly yellow that matches the character’s skin and the smoke from his cigarette. It also appears on 8 and 13, though only on the later does it create a pleasant feeling. It’s really cool, as is Stewart’s work on this book. Overall grade: A

The letters: Clem Robins provides scene settings, dialogue, and sounds, of which there are many in the final pages. He makes the book easy to read and the sounds terrific. Most comics seem to be moving away from sounds in books, but thankfully that’s not the case here and Robins makes them powerful. Overall grade: A

The final line: A perfect entry point for new readers as the embodiment of evil is being sought. Creepy and cool in a sensational time period. You’ll quickly be turning pages to see what horror lies waiting. 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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