Thursday, 26 April 2012


Baltimore: The Plague Ships is a vampire tale based on a conceit richer than most: a resurgence of vampires, and a plague fungus that seems to create more of them, have been the result of World War I. It is as if the metaphor of vampirism from Stoker's original Dracula (which of course began upon a plague ship of sorts), for the pent-up repressions of the Victorian era, with whose end seemed to begin the inevitable spiralling Malaise culminating in the Great War, has been released on a grand scale. Henry, Lord Baltimore's post-battlefield encounter with a king-Vampire named Haigus sparks the destruction of all he loves, and begins a revenge quest, but it is not the quest itself that makes this story interesting, but the world in which it takes place.

In fact, a series of scenes in which Baltimore, heavily armed, triumphs over huge numbers of zombies, vampires, or whatever, becomes repetitive relatively quickly. But what is fascinating is the milieu itself—the world of the Great War and its newly-minted killing machines, the effects of the plague on so-called civilisation. There are obvious metaphors here, and parallels with our modern world—war as plague, plague as threat—which are far more challenging than the current fascination with vampires as a way to work out adolescent fears/fantasies about sexuality in an overly-sexed civilisation.

This comic is a sequel of sorts to an illustrated novel published a year before by Mike Mignola (Hellboy) and Christopher Golden, who have combined to write this.The comic art is by Ben Stenbeck, some of whose preliminary sketches are appended. It's a combination of very basic horror motifs with a sort of early-sf view of the Great War; in his introduction Joe (King) Hill mentions Alan Moore's League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and that is apt, because a good way to look at Baltimore might be as the fantasy of Victorian war meeting the fantasy of Victorian horror. I've talked about Dracula, but Mignola himself dedicates the book to William Hope Hodgson who, as he says, had a lot to say about wrecked ships and fungus (you'll see the connection). In a modern world. While in itself it's not the most satisfying story, The Plague Ships is good enough to make me want to seek out the novel, Baltimore, or The Steadfast Tin Solider and the Vampire.

Baltimore: The Plague Ships by Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden, Ben Stenbeck

Dark Horse, 2011,  $18.99, ISBN 9781595826770

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