Lady Sofia Baltimore and Imogen return in a new one shot that takes them on a journey through a frightening house of horrors: the nightmares of the past that come alive in the subconscious mind. And there’s no better time for these ladies to take on the Outerverse than the present.
Do note there are spoilers throughout this review, from the first page of this book to the last.
Written by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden
Illustrated by Bridgit Connell
Colored by Michelle Madsen
Lettered by Clem Robins
Lady Sofia Baltimore, accompanied by an array of formidable companions, continues her war against the Nazis in an occult alternate Outerverse. High in the frozen Italian alps, a mercenary sorcerer has revealed a dangerous magical artifact. German forces will use it to obliterate Allied forces who stand against them. . . unless Sofia and Imogen can take possession of it first.
Horror genius writing team Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden reunite, with stellar art by Bridgit Connell and colors by Michelle Madsen in a brand-new one-shot story!
Mark Tweedale: If you’ve only read up to “Lady Baltimore: The Witch Queens,” but not “Imogen of the Wyrding Way,” I strongly recommend you go track down that one-shot. It’s not because it’s an essential read before ‘The Dream of Ikelos’ (quite the opposite actually, since ‘The Dream of Ikelos’ stands alone rather well), but because it’s an important step in the relationship between Imogen and Sofia.
In “Baltimore,” Sofia would do anything she could to save the world, but she didn’t have any hope left for herself. In ‘The Witch Queens,’ we saw that change. She opened herself up to the idea of being happy again. In “Imogen of the Wyrding Way,” any remaining reservations were cast aside and she wholeheartedly leaps into a relationship with Imogen.
This story picks up a mere month later, so the two are very much in the “new lovers” phase of their relationship. Sofia is happier than we’ve ever seen her. And considering that both “Baltimore” and “Joe Golem” were heavy on the gloom, this is a very different flavor for an Outerverse story.
Kate Kosturski: And you need that balance. Light cannot exist without dark, and dark cannot exist without light.
That said, there’s still plenty of gloom with this tale of an artifact that kills people through the power of their nightmares. Showing that it massacred an entire encampment of French soldiers just through the power of their nightmares brings up themes of PTSD (in this case, in the military) in a story set long before this concept was spoken about openly adds some depth and timelessness to the script.
But the focus here is on Imogen and Sofia, and while we see them both at their happiest in the present, we also see them at their darkest in their past, revealed when they find themselves trapped in the nightmare world of the artifact. For Imogen, it’s her mother denying her love. For Sofia, it’s a past marriage fraught with domestic violence—and without the power within herself to leave it. These are parts of their past I want to explore more (particularly Imogen’s since it’s very new to us), so I hope this isn’t the last of our favorite couple.
One particular quote stuck with me, and it was Sofia’s comment to Imogen at the end, “The real nightmare was being trapped in the past.” Our past is what makes us, but it is not what defines us.
Mark: Yes, I particularly liked that Sofia’s fear was not her former husband, but rather the person she was when she was with him. And it introduced an interesting moment when Solomon activated the curse while he wasn’t protected from it, since clearly he’d have to fight off his own worst nightmares too and clearly believed himself capable of it. And so it makes total sense that Sofia was the first to push past it, since we’ve already seen her tackle her worst fears in “Baltimore.” They still haunt her, and it’s not easy, but it clearly doesn’t have anywhere near the power over her that it once did.Continued below
And you’re right, while this issue is about both Sofia and Imogen, we’re really learning about Imogen more here. Learning that she’s the child of an abusive Ur Witch certainly casts her in a new light, especially since the Imogen we’ve come to know up to this point has been such a warm character. The only relative we’ve seen of hers up to this point was her Uncle Einar, who likewise was very warm—but he’s not a blood relative, but rather an adoptive uncle. And clearly he played a big part in raising her, so he’s more like an adoptive father than an uncle. It makes me wonder if we’ll be seeing themes of found family explored more as the series progresses.
Kate: Found family is a theme I see in a lot of Mignola books. Also out this week is “Hellboy in Love” #4, and we touch on this idea of found family (although not directly) in our review of that issue.
I imagine Imogen’s warmth comes a lot from that upbringing and a desire not to be like her mother. Casting out the darkness within her with a lot of light. Like Sofia, her nightmare could be the person she was growing up into, not the Ur Witch itself. And that bonds her more to Sofia—they both know what they were, and that they do not want to be that again.
I want to talk about color for a moment here, because Michelle Madsen uses colorwork beautifully for tone and symbolism. Most of this issue is in browns and grays since the action takes place at nighttime and in basements and catacombs, but it’s not monochrome. There’s a variety of tones within that color palette that bring depth and life to the pages.
But what it really does is make the final two pages stand out. With the artifact destroyed and Solomon defeated, Imogen and Sofia encounter the Swiss sunrise is an explosion of soft pinks, blues, lilacs, and oranges. It’s the dawn of a new day, but not just in the literal sense. It’s the dawn of a new day for Sofia and Imogen, both in their understanding of themselves and of their relationship.
Mark: I love the way Bridgit Connell drew Sofia and Imogen in that panel. And I’m glad you mentioned Madsen’s coloring. It’s an element of the comic that immediately jumped out at me and such a critical part of navigating the story. If you look at the whole issue laid out as thumbnails, even at this scale you can clearly make out each location. The deep blues in the beginning are out in the night, the soft peach colors are back home on Sofia’s island, the steely grays are inside the Monastero de San Benedetto, shifting to oranges as Sofia and Imogen get closer to Solomon. And then at the end of it all, there’s those beautiful sunrise colors you mentioned.
Even the locations used for a single panel cutaway have their own identities. The colors orient us in the comic’s world, and the palette of each scene evolves as it progresses. At first, Solomon is introduced with yellows and oranges, but as he becomes more dangerous, the oranges take on more reds until he activates the Dream of Ikelos and the reds take over the palette.
So now that we’ve covered the basics, I want to point out the really cool stuff Madsen is doing, because in any story with Imogen in it, there’s magic at play, which means a character can be influencing a scene that they aren’t physically present in. For Solomon, Madsen uses red as his magical color, which is reflected in both his environment and the power of the Dream of Ikelos itself. For Imogen, her magic is represented by green, which we can see when she’s using it on the rats. . .
. . .but also we can see it through the rat when she’s not present too.
In the story, Solomon is defeated by Imogen, so you’d expect greens to take over the palette in the end, but they don’t. Instead, red dominates, and green is used for key points of change in the conflict. Madsen is taking a pair of lines from Golden’s script, “Why do men always have to beat their chests like that?” and “The same reason little dogs bark loudest. . . to make them feel bigger than they are,” and she’s expressing them through color. The red dominating the palette is Solomon beating his chest. The surgical use of green is Imogen just doing what needs to be done, only using as much energy as she needs.Continued below
Which brings me to those two green pages in the thumbnail strip above that I didn’t mention. Those two pages are Imogen’s nightmare—her mother. That two-page scene is really green too, unnaturally so. Even the sky is green. And that make s a lot of sense; Imogen has magical power because her mother is an Ur Witch, so of course her magic and her nightmare share colors. Her strength and weakness are entwined. This is powerful storytelling from Madsen here. And it makes Bridgit Connell’s final panel all the more chilling.
Kate: The dual uses of green is such a fascinating storytelling vehicle. In color psychology, green has associations of tranquility and calm. And in Imogen’s nightmare, green provides anything but calm. It’s a brilliant subversion of expectations.
Overall, I’m giving this one-shot an 8. I love the exploration of both Sofia and Imogen’s pasts. The story itself is self-contained enough for new readers or those not caught up on previous “Lady Baltimore” adventures, but as with any of Mignola’s books, subtext abounds to take things to a deeper level.
Mark: Aye, this is an 8 from me too, and it’s left me eagerly anticipating what else Christopher Golden and Bridgit Connell have got in store for us this year. ‘The Witch Queens’ introduced a host of new characters I want to see explored in their own one-shot stories.
Final Verdict: 8 – It’s great to have “Lady Baltimore” back. Though ‘The Dream of Ikelos’ is a standalone story, no doubt its shadow will be felt in future installments of the series. It is a critical part of the series.