If, like me, you’ve ever been overwhelmed by the massive world of the Mignolaverse—a series of stories quickly nearing one hundred individual trade paperbacks in length—I’ve got some good news. The first is that Mignola’s impressive reign of creative ideas has sprouted a number of separate, delightful outlets that live alongside that main universe without quite intersecting with it.
The second is that the way these stories work—whether it be a Hellboy or a Baltimore story—is that every story serves as a neatly self-contained narrative, more doorway to the larger world than plot-blockaded by up to twenty-odd years of continuity. These are stories meant to be read, regardless of your familiarity.
Lady Baltimore: The Witch Queens is a book that, as both the title and creative team might signify, springs from the aforementioned Baltimore, a novel written by Christopher Golden from one of Mignola’s distinctive concepts and then, of course, adapted into an ever-expanding universe of comic books. At least two 500+ page omnibuses precede this volume, but go ahead and forget that. This is your entry point, right here.
In LB, we’re thrown immediately into the messy, hyper-complex mythology of the universe, sure, but by crafting an instantly identifiable, compelling, and varied cast, Golden establishes the reader’s place among the crew, allowing for the amazing in media res witch battles to serve as their own introductions to the world.
Alongside this, Bridgit Connell’s expressive character designs hammer home an instant reaction in the reader, whether it connects us to Lady Baltimore’s wryly funny, action-hero tomboy aesthetic or the unnerving offness of the witches, whose proportions and features—even at their most powerful and beautiful—never quite align with the solid, healthy frames of our protagonists.
Being so firmly grounded in the humanity and inhumanity of the narrative, right from the get-go, means the reader doesn’t feel at a disadvantage for not knowing the larger context of these characters. We’re ready to go even as Lady Baltimore does battle with floating eyeballs using a literally magic bullet.
Sofia Baltimore feels custom-made to be a beloved action hero, begrudgingly shouldering legacy and purpose with an Indiana Jones grimace, brandishing her sword in the face of a supernaturally enhanced Nazi presence. What makes her even more compelling, however, is her ability to be blindsided by the tenderness of magical powerhouse and budding love interest Imogen. Molded by her former relationship, teetering on the edge of another, Sofia is a character mid-growth.
With an increasingly complex rise to climax, the story progresses in a way that continually introduces, sans painfully exhausting exposition, the moving parts and players of the larger world, going so far as to incorporate two characters with their own titular miniseries. Rather than creating a wall of lore (and the anxiety of missing out on something), it inspires only an earnest curiosity, a desire to poke around in this world.
If this is your first dip into this world, Sofia Baltimore is likely to be your North Star, the starting point from which you dive into further journeys, and you might very well miss her and hers as you go farther afield. But that sort of longing is inherent in any exploration; embrace it. Because, as driven and whole this story feels, it’s merely a jumping-on point to a larger, weirder world.
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