Lord Henry Baltimore returns in a beautifully somber issue that promises to be one the series’s best.
Written by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden
Illustrated by Peter Bergting
Colored by Dave Stewart
Lettered by Clem Robins
With no bodies to bury, Baltimore lays to rest the memories of good friends, while the strange worshipers of the Red King make use of the corpses of his fallen allies.
My first introduction to Lord Baltimore was the original novel. That book still heavily informs how I feel about this world, about what feels like a Baltimore story and what doesn’t. Keep that in mind when I say that Empty Graves feels more like the original novel than any of the other Baltimore stories, and that includes the moments when the comics were directly retelling sections of the novel.
Part of this feeling-like-the-novel comes from the story within a story format. The original novel is set almost completely in a pub with Dr. Rose, Captain Aischros, and Childress exchanging stories. Most of my favorite moments in the comic share this format. The Inquisitor, for example, was about Lord Baltimore reading a letter from Simon Hodge, in which the journalist told of his capture by a Holy Inquisitor… which in turn featured the Inquisitor’s story as told to Hodge.
Empty Graves has that same stillness to it. In the present very little is happening, but there’s this weight of the past on the characters’ shoulders, and an air of dread in the immediate future. But it’s heightened here. It evokes the memories and feels from past stories about Aischros, Childress, and Hodge, but all three of them are dead now. The funereal quality of this story is beautifully done.
Strangely, even though this story is heavily connected to the past, this issue feels very accessible to new readers. Hell, this issue literally picks up where The Cult of the Red King left off, something the series has never done before. There’s always been a passage of time between stories. This time the passage of time is no more than a few seconds. And yet I think a new reader could pick this up and catch all the important beats.
It certainly helps that despite this being a story about the deaths of three major characters, the focus is on those that are still alive. Lord Baltimore in particular is more frail than we’ve seen him (other than the flashbacks in the first arc when he lost his wife and family). He didn’t think he could lose any more, and he seems almost terrified of how much the death of Childress has affected him, especially after he had been so callous toward his friend while he was still alive.
But the highlight for me was delving into Harish’s story. Harish has been around since the final pages of Chapel of Bones and, though we’ve certainly learnt much about his character, his past and how he came to join Lord Baltimore has remained a mystery. Here, the mystery is put to rest. Harish is one of my favorite characters in Baltimore, so by this point the comic almost seemed to be checking off a list of practically everything I wanted in a Baltimore story.
And this is only the first issue of five. Looking at the cover for the next issue, I assume Mr. Kidd’s story will come in the next issue. In a way, this reminds me of B.P.R.D.: The Universal Machine, a story in which the characters exchange stories in the wake of a character’s death. In both The Universal Machine and Empty Graves, there’s a meditative quality I enjoy. Death exposes people, revealing a side of them we usually don’t see, and I like watching the characters see each other differently, and dealing with their own exposure. Some weather it better than others.
Peter Bergting continues to do stellar work on this book. He can do the grand fantasy elements and then switch to intimate character moments with apparent ease. Several moments stuck in my head long after I finished this issue. One was certain corpse with cobwebs and spiders all over it. My skin crawls when I think of it. Another was the expression on Baltimore’s face when he realizes Childress is dead and there’s nothing he can do. He captured perfectly that frailty of a man on the brink of falling apart. And the last was a quiet moment of Baltimore and Sofia looking out at the sea while sharing a cigarette (a moment further heightened by a weight of blue courtesy of Dave Stewart).Continued below
Spoiler time. Jump ahead to the verdict if you want to avoid them.
OK, I’m saying it: Judge Rigo is an asshole. I mean, it’s like he goes out of his way to show contempt for Lord Baltimore, and for fighting alongside a woman. But he’s not an asshole in a way that diminishes the story. He’s a necessary asshole, and a constant reminder of the uneasy alliance he and Baltimore are in.
He’s also an asshole that makes some good points. I mean, if you look at things unemotionally, they are wasting time with this funeral when they could be going after the Red Witch. But then Rigo never had a strong connection to Baltimore’s companions. This isn’t a cathartic and necessary experience for him like it is for the others. As much as the funeral is about honoring the dead, it’s more about those left pulling themselves together after such a savage blow.
Rigo may be quick to point out how little there is keeping Baltimore human, but Rigo’s also blind to how far he has drifted from his own humanity.
Don’t get me wrong, Rigo’s done some good and I like that he’s a part of this team. He’s a flawed person, and his flaws make him compelling. And also, he has a way of stirring up the other characters, making them more interesting. He’s a useful catalyst for revealing character.
Meanwhile Marchand has stepped from the supporting cast to the main group now as I suspected he would. After losing three characters at once, I guess they needed to bolster their number and he was ready and waiting in the wings. I’ll be watching him to see what he brings to the series.
End of spoilers.
This was an excellent issue, much quieter than usual, both beautiful and sad. Using storytelling devices from the original novel, it was a pleasure to read, and one that I shall no doubt enjoy reading again. Ben Stenbeck’s cover is perfectly matched to the interior, with Baltimore lost in a sea of black as he struggles with the deaths of his friends.
I am very impatient for more, and not just the next issue, but the next four issues.
Final Verdict: 9.