A review of the newest American Vampire miniseries!
Credits & Solicit Info:
Hot on the heels of last year's award-winning AMERICAN VAMPIRE miniseries, SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST, we return to postwar Europe and the vampire-hunting agency known as The Vassals of the Morning Star! Agent Felicia Book has had a dark life, filled with tragedy, but she has finally found peace, raising her adoptive son, Gus. But when the Vassals return for help tracking the most powerful vampire of all time, she soon learns nothing can prepare her for the threat inside The Coffin...
A great companion to the ongoing series and a perfect jumping-on point, LORD OF NIGHTMARES features amazing art by Dustin Nguyen!
American Vampire has been the strongest title released by the Vertigo imprint since its debut in 2009. While there were some early worries that the series looked to capitalize on the Twilight-fueled vampire craze, Scott Snyder quickly established himself as a top-tier writer with a knack for deep characterization and world-building. Coupled with Rafael Albuquerque's phenomenal art, American Vampire quickly became one of Vertigo's best-sellers, outselling every Vertigo title with the exception of the long-running Fables, and won the 2011 Eisner Award for Best New Series.
Scott Snyder quickly became an example of how to use talent correctly at DC. While DC's other young creators were put on minor titles that quickly failed due to lack of interest, Snyder built his reputation with the "Black Mirror" storyline in Detective Comics before being pegged by the comic publisher as one of the main writers in the New 52 relaunch. Snyder took control of the bestselling Batman series as well as Swamp Thing, and he guided the Batman franchise and the Dark line of horror comics into becoming the two strongest series in the DC catalog.
Snyder's biggest strength is his world-building skills, which typically hint at something far larger than what's on display in the story. Unlike other writers, Snyder's world-building is subtle and nuanced. Typically, Snyder likes to slowly reveal the many layers of his character's worlds, arc by arc, in a natural and uncontrived manner. While doing so, he tries to minimize the mystery around his world, allowing later arcs and storylines to evolve organically. In both American Vampire and Swamp Thing, Snyder doesn't mask threats or clumsily hint at bigger worlds. Instead, the antagonists are clearly laid out and the story takes place in a large yet non-distracting world, waiting to be further explored in a later story. Reading a Snyder story is often like travelling through the countryside and seeing a peculiar mountain in the distance. While it might not be the destination, you can't help but wonder when you might get a chance to visit it.
The best example of Snyder's world-building comes in the form of the Vassals of the Morning Star, a vampire hunting organization featured in the American Vampire series. While the Vassals have made appearances in several of the series' arcs, Snyder uses them as interesting foils to the vampire protagonists as opposed to fixating on the mysteries of the deadly order. Snyder eventually explored the Vassals more in the 2011 spinoff miniseries, American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest, which focused on the efforts of the Vassals of the Morning Star during World War II. The story was well-received due to both the writing and Sean Murphy's gorgeous art, leading Snyder to declare that more miniseries were on the way.
American Vampire: Lord of Nightmares hit stands last Wednesday, fulfilling Snyder's promise of more adventures of the Vassals of the Morning Star. While the last miniseries pitted the vampire hunters against the Nazis, this series pairs off the vampires against a more fitting and possibly deadlier threat. With art by Dustin Nguyen, American Vampire: Lord of Nightmares opens to a bold start, quickly putting the Vassals on their heels and showing the vampire hunters might be facing a threat too dangerous even for them.
The book does an excellent job introducing Hobbes and Felicia Book, the two protagonists of the series, all the while building to the last page reveal of what exactly the threat might be. For the first time in the American Vampire series, Agent Hobbes, long shown to be a near omniscient and unflappable character, is humanized a bit, showing that even the veteran vampire hunter can be taken by surprise. Book, meanwhile, is shown to be adjusting to her new role as a mother, a jarring change of pace from her portrayal as a feisty and cold-blooded killer in the last miniseries. As for the threat, it's an obvious reveal, but Snyder still manages to sprinkle a little suspense into the plot, showing exactly how powerful and fear-provoking the threat is before actually naming it on the last page.
Snyder's Cold War tone is pitch perfect, matching the 1950's setting perfectly. The first several pages feels just like an old spy novel, tense and reserved, with Hobbes and vampire sympathizer Tommy Glass sparring off in a verbal game of one-upsmanship in a classic bait and switch. He also mixes exposition and visual storytelling nearly perfectly, save for one confusing but terrifying scene in the Vassals' London base. While the scene is later given some context, I couldn't help but wonder what had happened until it was fully explained ten pages later. My only other complaint is that newcomers to the book might not understand the full context of the series, especially regarding Book and her son Gus. Snyder gives a brief description of past events, but it might feel a bit artificial considering the two character's depictions when they first appear.
Dustin Nguyen pencils are pretty solid throughout the issue. Nguyen and Snyder have collaborated on horror stories before, so it's no surprise that his occasionally cartoony style can be adapted to the dark tone of the story. I will say that his Felicia Book looks off somehow; she looks too gentle in comparison to her depiction in past arcs. She seems too fresh-faced and gentle, even in the presence of Hobbes, especially when compared to her depiction in past arcs. Likewise, Felicia's adopted son Gus looks too young for a fifteen-year-old boy. However, minor complaints aside, Nguyen shows that's he an able match for American Vampire and lives up to the high expectations set by Snyder's other collaborators on the series.
American Vampire: Lord of Nightmares #1 roars out the gate and seems set to deliver more of the fantastic storytelling we're used to seeing in the series. It was a bold move to put a story featuring the most popular vampire in fiction in its own miniseries, but I think that it was a good decision that preserves the narrative of the main American Vampire series while fleshing out the larger world in which the series takes place. Whether you're a fan of vampires, horror, or superlative storytelling, do yourself a favor and pick up the book today.
Review by: Spider-Buggy