Baltimore The Plague Ships #1: Review
What happens when you take a liberally used concept, put it in a setting which is unusual, and add a character's who sole mission is to stop the infection from spreading and consuming the rest of Europe?
You get Baltimore: The Plague Ships #1, whose post-apocalyptic setting places itself in the Summer of 1916, just six months after the end of “The Great War.” However, as everyone knows, the War didn't end until the Mid-Fall of 1918, which raises the question of what could have happened for the war to end so early?
That's where the concept of this book comes in. Apparently a virus has turned most of Europe (if not the world) into Vampire-like Zombies, with an insatiable need to feed on human flesh. To add to the bleakness of the situation, people can be infected with this virus, eventually becoming Zombies themselves. The result is a world that lives in fear of every passing moment, due to the fact that this sickness can either claim, or kill them.
Now, when I first heard about this concept, I was immediately interested in seeing how it played out. On the surface, we have a fresher take on something that has permeated pop-culture for nearly 60 years, and has been the subject of many pieces of literature, cinema and video games, just to name a few of the mediums that it has been featured in. On that same level, this new twist is a welcomed take on the genre, overall. Still, was the creative team able to take the promise, and weave it into an instant winner?
The answer, sad to say, has this book coming out slightly on the losing end.
On one hand, this book features an excellent art. Ben Stenbeck literally goes to town, and gives us an amazing image of a world in extremely dark times. Every image and color works extremely well in transporting us into a place that's had most of, if not all of its hope sucked out of it. Everything we see from the gray days, to the hallowing rainy night, to the people living in extreme paranoia is only enhanced due to the great care each panel is drawn with. It's a credit to the artist, and to the book itself. It sets the mood in the best way possible.
However, the art is not able to save the most disappointing thing about this book, and that's the main character, itself. From the beginning of this book, we see that's there's one character who is able to stand up to this menace, and that is the Titular character, himself. It's established that he can easily take care off most of the flunkey riffraff that we see in this book. We also learn that he's out to take out each one in hopes to contain the virus. However, that is all we learn. At no point, do we learn anything significant about the character's motivations for what he is doing, and as such, he comes off as a generic zombie hunter, that one can see in almost every story like this. In fact, since we don't learn anything about those motivations, it takes away from the interactions he has with the other characters. It just makes it harder to care about him, and the rest of his supporting cast.
Thanks to some more informed people, I learned that 'Baltimore', is actually 'Lord Baltimore', the main character of a series that Mike Mingnola co-writes. This knowledge puts things into perspective, as one can safely ascertain that we're dropped right into the story (if not the middle of an already on-going story), and that most of the readers would already be familiar with the concepts presented. Something that leaves new readers out in the cold.
Still, the book isn't a total loss. Even with the disappointment of the character work, the story still worked, and it still held my interest in the whole entire world that the creators were giving us to chew on. It even makes me want to find out more about the novel itself, and at least read the 2nd Issue to see if they can actually make us care about the characters. But, it still seems like an opportunity was missed , by not giving more attention to 'Lord Baltimore' himself.
Art: ****1/4 (8.5 on a scale of 10) - The Art establishes the mood and the setting. It works almost perfectly.
Story: **1/4 (4.5 on a Scale of 10) - The story itself works, it's the main character that doesn't stand out, which in turn helps everyone stand out less.
Accessibility: *** (6 on a Scale of 10) – This book is definitely readable by itself, but once you learn where it's from, odds are, you're going to be a bit confused, and you might not want to find out more
Final Breakdown (Cumulative Score of the Three Scales, plus personal intangibles): *** (6 on a Scale of 10): This book scores extra points on its potential, and fresher outtake, but the inadequate character work bars if from scoring any higher.