Does this series bring fresh blood to vampire lore, or is it the final nail in the coffin?
I’m going to be honest here. The only reason I ever discovered the Vertigo franchise American Vampire was because of Stephen King. In 2010, when the first volume came out, I was on a Stephen King binge, and thought it would be worth my while. I knew little about creator and co-writer Scott Snyder and that the only reason Stephen King was attached to it was becuase Snyder had asked him. Little did I know that I was about to discover some of the best writers and artists in the industry today, along with one of the most enthralling vampire tales out there.
American Vampire Volume One tells two tales simultaneously. The first is that of Pearl Jones. Set in the mid 1920’s, Pearl is a sweet and innocent actress who comes to discover the seedy underbelly of the film industry, and how it is being run by ancient European vampires. Attacked and left to die, Pearl is awoken by a shadowy figure, an individual who opens her up to a brand new world – where blood is a source of life and to kill means to survive.
The second tale takes place forty years before hand in the Wild West. It tells the tale of Skinner Sweet, a ruthless and violent robber who is willing to do whatever he must to survive. However, it seems Skinner’s days are limited as he crossed the wrong banker, and now is on a one way train to the end of a noose…or so it would seem. After crashing the train Skinner comes to be attacked by the banker himself, an ancient race of vampire that has come to reside in American and build it up as he sees fit. Left for dead, Skinner soon awakens a new man, and the first in a new breed of vampires – the American Vampire.
Snyder and King masterfully wove these two tales together in one fantastic five issue epic. Despite telling two very different tales about two very unique characters, both authors manage to blend both tales together into one solid narrative. The writing is top notch in this instalment, as the writers come to create two very likeable and memorable main characters. Readers are forced into the life of Pearl Jones and come to see her innocence transformed into bloodlust. However, the real treat comes in the form of Skinner Sweet, one of the most well written characters I can think of in this medium. Sweet goes from a badass, to an even greater badass with fangs and no societal restraints. He knows he is an invincible monster, and no one can stop him.
Even more impressive is the sheer amount of respect that both King and Snyder pay to vampire lore. While classic vampire lovers get to see old school vamps in the form of the ancient European vampires, both authors also come to form their own lore through the creation of the American vampire. The American vampire is one in which can stand the light, and even cast a reflection, albeit a warped one. This change in vampire lore is enough to make it feel fresh, for as Skinner himself says, “I’m talking about evolution, dolly…” ; and that is exactly what the American vampire is – the next natural evolution in vampire lore.
A final note must be made about Rafael Albuquerque’s art and Dave McCaig’s colouring. It is superb. Writing two interwoven tales is no easy task to accomplish, yet drawing and coloring them is even more difficult. Albuquerque and McCaig however, do this with ease by having two different styles that fit both stories perfectly. Pearl’s story is drawn and colored virbrantly, and comes to reflect a period in history with seemingly endless possibilities. On the other hand, Skinner’s tale has a gritty, ink wash tone to it which equally reflects the dusty and gritty Wild West, and it does the character of Sweet himself. Furthermore, the set pieces, and full page illustrations are absolutely some of the best I have ever seen, especially one that involves Skinner holding a stick of dynamite as everything explodes in the background, and another of Skinner emerging from his watery coffin. Every page is beautifully laid out and crafted and further immerses the reader into the story in which Snyder and King have formed.
Unlike many of today’s vampire novels or films, American Vampire is willing to sink new life into vampire mythology by reminding readers about what it’s all about – the good old red stuff. With enough expansion on the lore and some wonderfully woven characters and art pieces, American Vampire successfully resurrects a dying breed, and pumps new blood into its veins.