What I like best about Baltimore as an ongoing series is the underlying question of What is evil?. To completely unravel that question in a compartmentalized way , however, will require some deeper inquiry which will need to be done at a later time. For the purposes of this review, specifically this installment in the series, “The Inquisitor,” one can use that question of what is evil to look at Judge Duvic, who has pursued Baltimore for some time. Duvic is a member of the church, functioning as an early 20th century (pre-WWI) incarnation of the inquisition.
Judge Duvic is the focus of this one-shot installment, and his story is just as compelling, and strangely empathetic, as Lord Baltimore’s own origin. Duvic as a man driven by devotion (a counterpoint/mirror to Baltimore’s own quest), is unraveled in this solo story by Mignola and Golden for a closer examination of ideology, specifically those ideologies/philosophies driven by organized religion. Whenever religion is questioned in stories, especially when the portrayal plops a reader down in the middle of the grey area of the question What is evil?, I enjoy that a challenge is made to the reader to think a bit more about who these characters are, even outside of all the information that can be revealed. These types of interstitials in narratives (and you need to think about Baltimore as one large epic story) are important in establishing character and motivation, and when done well, as “The Inquisitor” accomplishes, the characters and the story are able to move just past being generic or stereotypical and find a foothold that is compelling. Achieving strong character driven stories is difficult in most serialized comics, and as a reader of much weaker ones, sadly I admit for this job, this one grabbed me and actually redeemed me for hopes of the next installment after the take it or leave it story found in the previous two installments, The Play or The Widow & The Tank. It wasn’t those were bad stories, they actually stand fine as examples of one and done, but they didn’t feel that they gave the reader any new insight into any of the principal players. “The Inquisitor” feels necessary, and catapults the reader towards the perhaps final showdown of Duvic and Baltimore in the next installment.
Is “The Inquisitor” a jumping on point for the series? Yes. In fact,I think the real coup of how Baltimore has been rolled out is that these one-shot chapters comprising the third volume, or third part, of the larger story (something that Mignola is also doing with John Arcudi with Lobster Johnson) create an accessibility. Ben Stenbeck, Dave Stewart, and Clem Robins return in this chapter to keep the sequential art consistent within the fabricated world, providing little frills and instead continuing to work on mastering pace and tone. While some may find that boring in the comics world, I would actually be upset if the series got overly flashy with splash pages,etc.
Fans of the series, or of Mike Mignola’s world, will pick up “The Inquisitor” if not out of love for the story then for completion-ist reasons. For those looking for a way in or are curious, and may feel a bit intimidated by the Hellboy/B.P.R.D series, “The Inquisitor” should satisfy.