In our last foray into the Outerverse for 2021, “Lady Baltimore: The Witch Queens” #5 gives us an issue that casts what we know so far in a different light, and paints an intriguing premise for the future. As this is the final issue, there will be major spoilers ahead, including discussion about the final scene.
Written by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden
Illustrated by Bridgit Connell
Colored by Michelle Madsen
Lettered by Clem Robins
The Hexencorps trap has been sprung on Sofia Baltimore and her party. But as they try to make their desperate escape from a remote village, they may have more in their favor than any of them realized!
Mark Tweedale: So Kate, the last time we spoke about this series was for our review of “Lady Baltimore: The Witch Queens” #3. At the time you mentioned you were largely new to the Outerverse; some “Joe Golem” and a few snippets from “Baltimore.” Since then we’ve had a bunch of other stories in this universe too, “Cojacaru the Skinner,” “Imogen of the Wyrding Way,” and “The Golem Walks Among Us!” all set after the end of ‘The Witch Queens.’ Have you been reading these?
Kate Kosturski: On your suggestion, I went back and read “Imogen of the Wyrding Way” before coming back to this series. It certainly shed a lot more light on Imogen and Sofia’s relationship, particularly in the final two pages. As I recall from your review, the publication schedule did it no favors since it came out in between the fourth and fifth issues of “Lady Baltimore” and seems to set up something that fits in more at the very end of this series than where it appeared in the publication schedule as a one-shot. Perhaps the collected edition of this story will allow it to be placed in its proper context.
Mark: Yes, it sort of functions like an epilogue to ‘The Witch Queens.’
Kate: Non-linear storytelling aside, this one-shot showed me that Imogen and Sofia are a lot more alike than what I thought when we read “Lady Baltimore” #3 together. She has seen darkness just like Sofia, but where Sofia seems to let it consume her heart and her whole being. Imogen does less so—it’s part of her, but not all of her. And what keeps it from being all of her is that she has love to fight for: Sofia.
Mark: There is still a striking difference between the two in that Imogen comes from a supportive background, whereas Sofia had been on her own from a young age, married to a much older, physically abusive husband with no other family. When she joined Lord Baltimore, it was with the sense that she had nothing else. There was no one from her village that would miss her, and when she was fighting, it was with anger and frustration, with hardly a thought for her own safety, at times as if she hoped to die.
Imogen’s influence has changed Sofia massively in this regard.
Kate: Exactly. It allows Sofia to have someone to live for, to support her. It’s a new experience for her, so it comes with fits and starts. But she’s learning.
Reading “Imogen of the Wyrding Way” also enlightened me of a clear influence on the character of Imogen: Josephine Baker. It’s obvious in her look and style, but recall that Josephine Baker was also a member of the Resistance during World War II, though a bit of a different kind than Imogen.
I love how she stands out on the page during the battle in her floral dress and cape. It’s not practical for combat, but boy is it gorgeous. The Witch Queen also has an interesting look to her—white but not a very bright white. It almost looks like newsprint on the page, and stands out in contrast to the brighter colors of the real world. (Which aren’t that bright in comparison, so that says a lot!)
Mark: That’s a good point about Baker. I think there’s a good chance you’re right.Continued below
As for Imogen and her costuming, it feels like an appropriate way to visualise what the character represents in the narrative. As a Wyrder, Imogen was raised to fight the Outer Dark. If that is all we knew about her, then it’s easy to conjure up an image of a character that is all about fighting. This is what Lord Baltimore was, a character kitted up with weapons to an inhuman degree. But Imogen is about fighting for something, so it makes sense to adorn her in imagery connected to life. But this doesn’t make her any less formidable—time and time again in this arc we’re seen that Imogen knows how to fight.
Kate: And boy, does she have to fight. When we left everyone at the end of issue #4, the Golem was out of the village, leaving it vulnerable, something that Rigo seems to have known, turning on the women. Surprise, surprise, he’s a Nazi—which you certainly saw coming in issue #4 with Sofia’s suspicions, even with everything else going on.
That also ties the action taking place at the Baltimore Estate with the Czech adventures together, which I was wondering how they were going to do. The reveals remind me a lot of Sherlock Holmes stories, where nothing seems to make sense until the very end, when character explanations give you that “ah-ha” moment.
It’s similar to a common storytelling vehicle in television that Game of Thrones made popular: using the penultimate episode to showcase the action (which is what issue #4 did), then use the final episode (or in this case, the final issue) to explore that aftermath, and perhaps set up stories that could come next. (We’ll get to that in a bit.) There’s still a fair share of action going on here as everyone has to get rid of the witches in the village, but the main mystery of how we got to this point has been resolved.
Mark: There’s definitely that structure at play here. It’s unfortunate the scheduling delay created such a gulf between issues #4 and #5, as it hurts the moment a bit. However, this highlights a major way in which “Lady Baltimore” is different from “Baltimore.” Lord Baltimore was an unkillable force of nature. He could throw himself into situations with reckless abandon and come out alive. He made plans still, but for the mostpart he could wing it.
Sofia can’t wing it. If she isn’t smart about how she approaches conflict, she or her friends will end up dead. And that’s what I really get out of this last issue. It’s not just an, “ah-ha” moment; it’s also a moment that reveals character. Lots of character, actually.
Sofia always saw Judge Rigo more plainly than anyone else in “Baltimore,” so when his betrayal comes, it makes a lot of sense that she saw it coming. I had hoped he would’ve overcome his flaws—I’ve definitely got a soft spot for stories about cowards finding their courage—but Rigo’s cowardice leading Nazism makes a whole lot of sense. And considering that Christopher Golden referred to Lord Baltimore’s followers as his apostles, it makes sense that one of them be a Judas-like figure.
Kate: Sofia is a smart, logical person. Which makes her a great complement to Imogen, who is full of life and passion. They balance each other so well.
Mark: It’s interesting to me seeing how this all fits together. I remember starting issue #1 and thinking Charlie Kidd was let off far too easily by Sofia when she rescued him. He seemed careless and she seemed blinded by her admiration and friendship with Charlie’s father. In retrospect, knowing Charlie’s real purpose in the story, we can see what a tremendous risk he’d taken. He was every bit as brave and sacrificing as his father. And it backs up that “Sofia fights smart” story point.
Also given the way Kidd was killed off early (and how the “Baltimore” series usually has high body counts), I was surprised how many survivors there were in ‘The Witch Queens.’ Charlotte, for example, was a character I had no hope of seeing live through to the end.
Kate: But she did, which has me thinking there is a greater purpose for her, or that we will see her again.Continued below
Mark: There’s so much going on in these issues, I routinely run out of space to talk about Imogen’s Uncle Einar. Time and time again he’s framed as powerful, but also seems a bit careless and overly cocky. In retrospect, this is very much a performance to learn more about his enemies’ plans. He’s also one of the people that were chosen somehow to fight against the Outer Dark, just like Lord Baltimore, Cojacaru the Skinner, and Josef the Golem. I get the feeling we’ll be seeing much more of him in future.
Kate: The fact that we both want more stories with the supporting characters is a testament to how rich this world is, how well developed Mignola and company make it, but never at the risk of leaving their main character undeveloped. There’s been many properties where a supporting character, often a villain, ends up being more complex and interesting than the headliner. Mignola does not do that. He gives us fully-fleshed out characters that are worthy of their own stories.
Mark: Before we wrap up, I wanted to take a moment to talk about the final scene in which Lord Baltimore returns. Generally, I’m not a big fan of resurrecting characters as it’s rarely done well. I do, however, love Gandalf’s resurrection in The Lord of the Rings, and part of that is that it isn’t a clean resurrection—Gandalf the Grey is still dead, instead we have Gandalf the White. Gandalf the White is still Gandalf, but there are certain character traits of Gandalf the Grey that didn’t return with him. Death has irrevocably changed him.
Which brings me to Lord Baltimore. This is something that’s already happened to the character. He was a young man who was wounded by a vampire in No Man’s Land and had his family turned into monsters—he had to hunt and kill his parents, sister, and wife. The person that he was at the end of this ordeal, the “Steadfast Tin Soldier” version of Baltimore, is a world away from the young man he had been.
Throughout the first half of the Baltimore series, all he had wanted was retribution against Haigus for his wife’s death, but in killing Haigus, Baltimore discovered that he could not die, that he had been transformed by some power into a weapon against the Outer Dark. From then on, he tries to stop the Red King simply so that he could be allowed to die. All that he wanted was death. At the end of the “Baltimore” series, we were left with the notion that he could finally rest, that he was at peace.
So, theoretically, bringing Baltimore back to life would be a cruel perversion.
Except that’s not what happened. There is one other crucial part of Lord Baltimore’s identity that I skipped over, and it’s an element showcased in the story ‘Dr. Leskovar’s Remedy.’ In the tale, Baltimore is still on the trail of Haigus and he comes across a village in need of help. Lord Baltimore’s reaction to this is basically, “I don’t have time for this. You deal with it on your own,” and he continues on after Haigus. But he cannot ignore these people, even though helping them will take him further away from his goal. With extreme reluctance, he helps them, though he considers this a cruel torture. Why can’t he just be a soulless tool? Why does this spark that still cares about people remain when it’s such a hindrance to his quest?
And this is why I’m interested in Lord Baltimore’s return, because it is this spark, the one that cares for other people, that drew him back. He is still a tool of some greater power to fight against the Outer Dark, but it’s no longer a duty he accepts reluctantly. And I must say, this tranquil Lord Baltimore that embraces the part of himself that cares, seems far more at peace than the one that died fighting the Red King.
Kate: A resurrection of a character has to be done right to be effective, otherwise it comes off as fanservice or a cameo just for the sake of having a cameo. I’m glad it sounds like Lord Baltimore’s return is in service to a future story (and yes, do I want more of these stories!) and that he’s a changed being. So is Sofia as well, having found something else to fight for, and like her deceased husband, moving towards acceptance of her role in this world, rather than running from it. Both choose their paths now, instead of having it be chosen for them. That adds a new dynamic to this reunion, one I certainly want to explore.Continued below
Mark: The way things are set up, it certainly looks like we’ll be seeing some interesting developments with these characters in future stories. Shall we move on to grading?
Kate: I’m going to give this a 8. It pulled everything together beautifully and sets the stage for more to come. I’m hoping readers have not lost their interest thanks to the long delay in publication—it’s worth the wait.
Mark: It’s a 7.5 for me. As an issue, it ends up having so much to explain, there’s not much room for anything else, which is fine when previous issues are still fresh in the reader’s mind, but in this case the delays hurt the impact of certain beats.
But as you say, it’s worth the wait. And considering the way Bridgit Connell handled the character-focused scenes, I’m looking forward to seeing her dig more into that aspect in future stories.
Final Verdict: 7.75 – Publishing delays dragged down the momentum of the series, but there’s so much here in character and story development that make it worth the wait.