Themed reads are a regular thing for me. Sometimes they are planned, other times they present themselves. Unforeseen. Fated. Each year around All Hallows Eve I dive into my backlog of unread books/series to gather up anything horror in tone. As I did thus it became apparent that the majority of the tales before me featured characters who make the witch hunt their livelihood. Is it also a coincidence that Vin Diesel’s film Witch Hunter is now in theaters and spawned a player character class for 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons? There was no denying it. The witch hunter was this year’s theme. Here now are tales of such men. Men (and women) who stalk the dark when others cower.
The Witcher is a video game series featuring Geralt, a monster hunter for hire, who possess supernatural powers gained through ritualistic training. Maybe you’re familiar? In this horror fantasy tale, Geralt meets a widowed fisherman, haunted by the spirit of his dead wife. As they begin their travels together through the Black Forest the pair discover (or were they lead to) the House of Glass. An eerie mansion with seemingly endless rooms of stained glass, hallways and doors all of which seem to have life on their own. But they are not alone. The house has permanent guests in the form of an immortal succubus (hungry for company) and the specter of the aforementioned fisherman’s wife. Also, forest dwellers surrounding the mansion prevent anyone from leaving easily. A forest spirit, a Leshen, and its wolf pack attacks if one wanders too far from the mansion and a grave hag makes periodic visits to cull the corpses of unfortunate travelers who find their journey’s end within the mansion. The house seems intent on keeping its guests. But to what purpose? Truths will be told as the mystical stained glass windows begin to reveal secrets and mysteries to its visitors.
Having not played the Witcher games, something I plan to correct, this was my first foray into Gerald’s world. I was immediately taken with this dark fantasy tale and once I completed it, went right back to the first page and started it again. Not knowing exactly what some of the monsters were I did visit a wiki page to get more detail and flavor text. But Paul Tobin does a good job of giving the reader enough to get through the story and world. It’s really not necessary to be familiar with the world and its monsters to enjoy this series. Joe Querio, having done work for other Dark Horse horror series, is a solid choice for Witcher. At times his pencil work reminded me of James Harren and his panel layouts of Mike Mignola. I am looking forward to getting the second volume of this series and hopefully it continues beyond that.
In this “What If” type of story, Scotland’s most famous poet is cast as a witch hunter. A natural born one at that. With a hidden and unknown talent for such. A talent that is revealed when young Robbie comes face to face with witches, fey creatures and a devil who has marked his soul. The story begins with Burns as a youth in Ayrshire. Nothing more than a poetic drunkard and plough share. One night, while wandering home from a nights carousing, Burns runs afoul of a coven of witches calling up demons. He is saved from what would have been a most fatal encounter by a pair of witch hunters. The grizzled and tough old MacKay and his ward, the lovely redheaded Maggie. Sensing something more within the aloof poet the pair set out to training him in the art of witch hunting. Where the pair of witch hunters excel at using weapons and tools of the arcane, Burns is able to add to their arsenal with his poetic words. Together they set out to defeat the devils and witches that plague the Scottish countryside and that have marked Burns as their own.
Truth be told, I had no idea who Robbie Burns was. I merely saw the cover and some preview art and ordered the book based solely on that. Little did I know he was one of the most recognized and celebrated poets in history. The Bard of Ayrshire, who had written “Auld Lang Syne” and other widely recognized poems. Fortunately for readers there is a nice biography on burns and a selection of his more famous poems (some of which are quoted throughout the story) in the back of the book. The story itself is an enjoyable adventure which makes great use of Scotland and its creatures of myth and dark magics. The arcane tools and tricks the witch hunters use are varied and creative. Scottish dialect is used heavily and at times it felt overdone. But it fits here once you get over that hurdle. The artwork is gorgeous and has a Duncan Fegredo feel with moody coloring. Having picked this one up on a whim, it turned out to be a real gem.
Victorian London’s Sir Edward Grey, paranormal investigating agent of the queen, is on the case again. This time he is sent to Hallam to investigate the mysterious death of a Crown-appointed official. During his exploration of the town Grey hears rumors about the surrounding wetlands, the Unland as they’re called, and the creatures supposedly inhabiting it. Always the skeptic, Grey pays it all little mind. That is until he encounters the creatures of Unland himself. The secrets of Hallam begin to revel themselves cas Grey goes deeper into the lives and history of the locals. Why do the local officials act as if nothings wrong? What role does the dying founder of the town and the elixir he created really play? Why is the town so fascinated with eels? Seriously, what’s with all these eels?
In this third volume of Witchfinder, writing chores leave Mike Mignola’s hands and are passed onto horror author Kim Newman and short fiction writer Maura McHugh. They definitely bring the strange and creepy to this tale. If Mr. Mignola intends to hand over the reigns to these two going forward, I’m fine with it. The story is well paced as the secrets of Unland and the history of Hallam unfold nicely, keeping you guessing and on edge. As the story reaches its climax and Sir Edward faces the final showdown things ramp up and do not slow until the final curtain drops. Which brings us to Tyler Crook. When he first stepped into the Mignolaverse I didn’t really take to it. Then his work started to show up in The Sixth Gun as well and I wondered if I would ever escape this guy. But after becoming more exposed to his work I began to really enjoy it. For as simple as his line work is, somehow it makes a great fit for horror. He has only gotten better over time. Here he changes his style for flashback scenes, which really sets the mood and tone in a masterful way. If this is series would be your first exposure to Witchfinder you won’t have much explained to you when it comes to Sir Edward. The character is just as mysterious as the dark things he hunts down. And holy crap, the closing scene to the series is a special treat to those who read other titles in Mignola’s stable.
Lord Henry Baltimore continues his crusade against evil. No longer alone, Lord Baltimore now travels with his own Justice League of sorts. Others who have aligned with him despite the fact that death follows and seems linked to the man. On the trail of a great evil known as the Red King, Baltimore divides his forces to the Baltic Sea and Northern Russia. He discovers more than he bargained for on the streets of St. Petersburg. Evil lurks in every corner and shadow. Witches prowl the streets. Witchcraft is all around him and has even infiltrated his own ranks. But nothing stops Baltimore when he gets his mad on and none will escape his wrath. Not even those closest to him. Baltimore and his allies discover the origins of the Cult of the Red King, but at what cost?
Baltimore continues to be my favorite title of the Mignolaverse. The dude is such a hard-ass. Not having a heart (literally) makes Lord B. emotionless but that’s what is needed to get the job done. The job of hunting down and facing ancient evils that is. Baltimore’s quest against the dark has been brilliant from the start. Although solicitations claim this is a good starting point for new readers you are doing yourself a disfavor if you start here. Peter Berting has now become the regular artist on the title. When he first slid into he saddle I found the change rather jarring. It distracted me as I really missed Ben Steinbeck’s pencil. I still miss Steinbeck’s pencils on this title. But Baltimore is worth the read no matter who is drawing it.
Hey. Did you notice that three titles I’ve reviewed are Dark Horse titles? Dark Horse horror offers solid reads. One would think I favor that comic company or something. Anyways, aren’t you glad you’ve got me to read such scary stories for you? Put down the tights and pick up some frights. See you next year for another round of horror comics.
Wooly Toots is just a man. A man like any other. Although there is not a corner of geekdom that has escaped his eye, he doesn’t always like what he sees. He is uncomfortable with the term “love slave.”