The GeeksverseLeaving Proof 64 | “Rust: Visitor in the Field” and “Baltimore Vol. 1: The Plague Ships” reviewed

Leaving Proof 64 | “Rust: Visitor in the Field” and “Baltimore Vol. 1: The Plague Ships” reviewed
Published on Thursday, January 12, 2012 by

This week, we look at two books that fantastically re-imagine the aftermath of The Great War: Royden Lepp’s debut comics work Rust: Visitor in the Field from Archaia Entertainment and Dark Horse Books’ Baltimore, Vol.1: The Plague Ships, by the veteran team of Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden, and Ben Stenbeck (Full Disclosure: These are reviews of press proof digital copies provided at no cost to the reviewer by their respective publishers).

Rust: Visitor in the Field
  • (Archaia Entertainment, 2011; 192 pages)
  • Written and illustrated by: Royden Lepp
  • List Price: $24.95 (US)/$28.50 (CAN)

From the Back Cover: Young Roman Taylor struggles to keep his family’s small farm afloat as the countryside heals from a devastating world war. When a boy with a jet pack, the mysterious Jet Jones, crash lands into their barn, Roman believes the secrets of Jet’s past may be the key to their survival. But are some secrets best left untold?

Writer and illustrator Royden Lepp’s debut graphic novel is both a nostalgic ode to family and a high-octane adventure for all ages to enjoy.

What Worked: There’s an alluring and dreamlike quality to the sepia-toned world of Rust: Visitor in the Field. Lepp’s tale is set in the years following an alternative reality World War I that seems to have been fought using fuel cell-powered humanoid robots and jet pack-wearing aviators. The line art and storytelling are spare without being simplistic, and similarly, the dialogue is straightforward and clear without being perfunctory or unsophisticated.

What Didn’t: The book works well enough as an introduction to the world and characters of Rust, but as a stand-alone read, it feels rather bereft of rising action or a unifying climax, with the most dramatic scenes front-loaded via an expository device. Because of the plot’s uneven pacing and structure, the volume’s open-ended conclusion felt to me incomplete, drawn-out, and somewhat unsatisfying.

The Verdict: Rust: Visitor in the Field features earnest emotion, solid craft, and a charming aesthetic from a new comics creator in Royden Lepp. As the first book in a new series of original graphic novel volumes however, I do wonder if it’s been priced out of an audience: I might be stating the obvious here, but comics don’t exist in a creative or commercial vacuum, and at $25, an “indie” book—the first in a series featuring a new property and a neophyte comics writer-illustrator—is a tough sell, even more so when the title is ostensibly meant to serve primarily as the introduction to an overarching narrative. Lepp’s work is worth a look, but the original graphic novel format may not be the best way to get people to pay it mind.

Baltimore, Vol. 1: The Plague Ships
  • (Dark Horse Books, 2011; 144 pages; collects Baltimore: The Plague Ships #1–5, originally published in single magazine form)
  • Story by: Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden
  • Art by: Ben Stenbeck
  • Colours by: Dave Stewart
  • Letters by: Clem Robins
  • Cover Art by: Mike Mignola with Dave Stewart
  • List Price: $18.99 (US)

From the Inside Cover: After a devastating plague ends World War I, Europe is suddenly flooded by vampires. Lord Henry Baltimore, a soldier determined to wipe out the monsters, fights his way through bloody battlefields, ruined plague ships, exploding zeppelins, and submarine graveyards, on the hunt for the creature that has become his obsession.

What Worked: Baltimore Vol. 1: The Plague Ships features a setting and characters that first appeared in the illustrated serial novel Baltimore, or The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden, but no prior knowledge of the latter is required to enjoy the former as The Plague Ships offers a concise inline summary of the events that occurred in the 2007 novel.

Fans of the Mignola-illustrated Baltimore serial novel might be disappointed to find out that the Hellboy creator only supplied covers for The Plague Ships, but that disappointment will more likely than not be tempered by the quality of Ben Stenbeck’s interior art: Stenbeck shares Mignola’s reliance on blocks of solid black ink to create a sense of claustrophobia and foreboding, but his rendering style is distinctly his own. Mignola and Stenbeck’s designs for the various creatures of the night that populate the book are memorably creepy, from flowering zombie fungi to giant flying jellyfish and revenant deep-sea divers.

Like many of Mignola’s supernatural-themed comic works, The Plague Ships is infused with just the right amount of tailored historicity and foreign exotica to reinforce the dread and horror in the setting and add narrative layers to the story. The titular plague, for instance, seems to be loosely inspired by the flu pandemic that swept the globe in the aftermath of World War I (the most lethal disease outbreak in recorded history, killing an estimated 50 to 100 million people worldwide) and the vampiric “Red King” and the “Red Death” creeping across the European continent can be interpreted as allusions to the communist revolutionary movements that swept across Russia, Germany, Hungary, the Caucasus region, and other parts of Europe from 1917 to the early 1920s. Still, even when taken at face-value as a simple “vampire hunter story,” the book is definitely entertaining and not wanting of depth.

What Didn’t: Lord Henry Baltimore isn’t the most sympathetic of protagonists, but I imagine his character will be cultivated further as his story develops in future volumes. Also, as I mentioned above, Mignola fans might be disappointed to learn that he only did the covers for this title. Those who pass on this book for that reason would be doing themselves a disservice, though, as Stenbeck is a perfectly capable horror comics artist in his own right.

The Verdict: A solid value as a trade paperback, the volume also includes a gallery of concept art sketches and an entertaining and informative foreword by Locke & Key writer Joe Hill. A thoroughly entertaining horror comics read. Recommended.

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