American Vampire Vol. 1 (DC/Vertigo)

Tired of the whiny, emo, dewey-eyed Euro-trash vampires saturating the market? Then try American Vampire, a new kind of vamp tale from Scott Snyder and Stephen King (yes, that Stephen King) that’ll put hair on your chest—after taking a few limbs.

 

 

 

158 pgs. full color; $24.99 hardcover
(W: Scott Snyder and Stephen King; A: Rafael Albuquerque)
 
Scott Snyder (Voodoo Heart) teams up with der Horrormeister Stephen King (The Stand, The Dark Tower) for a fresh foray into the comics stand. Everyone knows about vampires; they drink blood, have questionable accents, have an aversion to pointy wood objects, have a tendency to sunburn, etc. etc. It’s rather blasé fare simply because it’s old. But what if there were new vampires, tailor-made for a new world? The American world, to be more precise.
 
The West was won by a hard breed of folk, who had to fight against outlaws meaner than rattlesnakes in order to scratch out a living. In the 1880s, Skinner Sweet is one of those outlaws, cunning and ruthless enough to make a pack of rattlers turn tail by winking at them. Hunted by lawmen and determined to take the world to Hell with him, Sweet dies after crossing a group of old-school vamps…but only a little. When he wakes up he feels darn good for being undead, and discovers that being the first American vampire comes with some pretty nice perks—like being powered by the sun, for instance.
 
Forty-five years later in 1920s Los Angeles, he’s determined to get back at the European vampires who ruined his good time. But the old-schoolers haven’t been idle over the years, and they’ve turned themselves into businessmen and movie moguls, busy having “dinner” with some of Hollywood’s hopeful young actresses. Pearl Jones is one of those young hopefuls, and she finds out how much showbiz can suck after she gets eaten up (literally) and spit out by some of those fiends. It’s Skinner Sweet who gives her a new role to play in life, and a new way to get revenge. It may be a bit messy, but you do what you gotta do to make it in Hollywood.
 
American Vampire Vol. 1 is an interesting collaboration between Snyder and King, and this hardcover edition nicely lumps the first five individual comics together. This is helpful, because there is a lot of crossover between the “modern-day” storyline starring Pearl (written by Snyder) and Sweet’s debut back in the 1880s (written by King). If one were to get the issues individually, it may be difficult to follow these parallel stories if the reader has to wait a couple weeks between issues.
 
Marketed as a new take on the traditional vampire story which stars a new “type” of vampire (think something like “The Six Million Dollar Vampire”), the concept is entirely welcome. The notion of tracing the evolution of America through the eyes and actions of its own kind of monster who has the can-do energy of a young nation is lively and creative. Skinner Sweet is, quite frankly, an ass, and it is enjoyable to see him behaving perfectly badly. For once there seems to be a villain who can be enjoyed in his bad acts. Sweet’s foil, Pearl is sweetly naïve, a hard worker in the beginning, but not to the point of becoming boring. I had high hopes when she discovered Sweet had “turned” her, and I was not disappointed when she used her new talents to get revenge in a way that would make Dirty Harry blush. My only concern is that after the first few issues Sweet seems to be losing a bit of his edge. By the end of the fifth issue I got the feeling he’s turning too quickly into the “redeemable villain” character-type, but perhaps that’s what Snyder and King want the reader to think. Too, while I applaud Pearl’s fairly quick acceptance of her radical transformation and the rage she feels (no moping here, boys and girls!), I found it sort of off-putting that she’s able to confront her attackers with what seems to be the same speed, strength and fighting ability as Sweet, who’s had nearly a half century to hone his skill. As for Henry, Pearl’s love interest, he too accepts her vampiric nature far too easily to be believed, especially given that Albuquerque’s portrayal of the American vampire is rather gruesome.
 
Speaking of Rafael Albuquerque, the artist for American Vampire, the man does a wonderful job. His issue covers are gorgeous in their simplicity and stark three-color palette (black, white, and red), and he excellently renders the style of the 1920s alongside the 1880s with great ease. Albuquerque also isn’t afraid to show what happens as a consequence of the many fights in this series, which gives laudable realism. He has an elegant sketchy style which lends a gritty feeling to the panels, helped in no small part by colorist Dave McCaig. The color of the “modern” panels were more pop-art and clean, and had bright, stark colors and solid shadows. When the story shifts to Sweet and the 1880s, it’s given a softer airbrush or paint quality, with lots of spatters and gradations of color, so you almost feel as though you’re looking at an old sepia picture.
 
In all, this story has promise, and I would recommend picking it up. If Snyder (who, following this first volume, will be writing the book solo) continues with the evolution of America alongside Sweet and Pearl’s exploration of their new powers, I believe the series will be very strong and indeed deliver on its promise of being a “new” kind of vampire story. As Skinner Sweet says, “I’m talking about evolution, dolly…” I hope that American Vampire will continue to evolve, and keep up the strong story this first volume introduces. | Elizabeth Schweitzer

 

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