The story begins with Baltimore riding into town. He is looking for someone named Haigus. The townspeople told him that he was in town some time ago, but left. After this exchange, the real story begins. Haigus is funding a stage adaptation of the Red Death, doubly ironic because of the sudden plague hitting the town. Isabella is the star and Gnecco is the playwright. There are hints of a love triangle between Isabella, Gnecco and Haigus, but the latter assumes he’s under some sort of spell. On the play’s opening night, a fight causes a fire to burn the theater down. The action returns to the present and Baltimore wanders in the past.
The artwork is somewhat pleasant. I normally don’t pay attention to the artwork because to me it only services the plot of the book. This time, I could not help myself. It feels inspired by Mike Mignola’s signature art style but is more restrained. The touches of color around panels add to the story, giving it a worn and weathered look. It makes me feel like I’m peering into a separate universe.
The story itself works. For a done-in-one story, it is simple enough to follow without too many issues. I got the general storyline in the first few pages. I got a good sense of the characters, their motivations, and their reactions. Not knowing the overall story did not get in the way.
However, I feel that there is a wall between existing readers and potential new ones. I am a new reader to this series and not encouraged to go back and read more. I have too many unanswered questions: What is the overall storyline? Why is Baltimore chasing Haigus? Why does this plague cause vampirism? What little I know about the universe I had to infer from the story, and I don’t like that. I feel that a paragraph or two discussing the general storyline and the characters is beneficial, especially since Baltimore is already 12 issues in.
I guess the story’s organization is the biggest weakness. For this story, the Haigus parts in the past are more important than the Baltimore parts in the present. Having them as a wrap around feels pointless and might have worked better as an epilogue. I get that Baltimore is the main character, but he is not in this one. He is a tacked-on part that detracts from the flow of the narrative.
Final Verdict: Positive.
Despite the flaws in the story, it is still a fine read. As a one-off, it is a simple enough introduction for new readers. The artwork enhances the experience and does not get in the way of it, and the characters are compelling and entertaining enough to continue reading.
Images obtained from Dark Horse.com.