American Vampire #1
‘Big Break’ and ‘Bad Blood’
Snyder, Albuquerque and King
For the last few years, the Vampire has been the horror staple above all others, everywhere you look there’s a new take on the filthy bloodsuckers, Vampires in the arctic circle, Vampires on the moon, and of course, Vampires in love.
The likes of Twilight and True Blood have changed the Vampire from an archetype of horror and violence, to one of romance and longing. And in some ways it works, the immortality thing is a good hook for romance, but it’s kind of wussy, I find myself longing for a take on Vampires that’s a bit darker, a bit more, well,blood-thirsty. And in Vertigo’s big new series American Vampire I think I’ve got my wish. These vampires are tough and scary and violent. They don’t bloody well sparkle. And most of all, they are American.
The Vampire has largely been a European myth, Dracula came from Transylvania, he went to Britain, Nosferatu is German, Cassidy from Preacher is Irish. But in this book,Scott Snyder and Stephen King (more on him later) are attempting to make Vampires part of American mythology, and I think they largely succeed. The two stories in this debut issue deal with singularly American stories and experiences, the American West, and the birth of Hollywood.
Novelist Scott Snyder provides the Hollywood story, and he does a great job, I’m a sucker for stories set in ‘the Golden Age of Hollywood’, there’s something about the period I find incredibly evocative, it’s a time with so much going on, and so much of how we currently experience culture was established back then. The story of Pearl is in some ways clichéd, she’s a young ingénue who left home in the sticks (this time near Topeka) to make it in the movies, but finds it more difficult than she thought. But Snyder adds enough to make it interesting, and more than just Vampires. Pearl is already a strong character to me, she works hard and seems to take life seriously, but the story of her tattoo indicates a wilder side. I can’t wait to see how her descent into Vampirism changes her, and if she becomes as unrepentant and sinister as BD Bloch, the Hollywood media mogul Vampire who, in Buffyian terms ‘sired’ her.
The second story comes, of course, from Stephen King, a fact that’s pretty damn exciting, King is one of the most popular (and actually one of the best) novelists working today, and although we’ve seen some of his novels released as comics over at Marvel, he wasn’t actually writing them, which makes this his first actual comics work. Added to that, this is the guy who wrote ‘Salem’s Lot, so he knows his Vampires. King’s story is a Vampire Western, wherein notorious outlaw Skinner Sweet is arrested by the Pinkertons,but his gang are out to rescue him, and it all ends with bloody fangs. I hate to say it, but you can definitely tell that this is King’s first time writing comics, some of the scene transitions are a little clunky, he introduces a narrator and then kind of forgets about it. But it’s still Stephen King, the man can turn a fucking phrase, the man can write dialogue, and the man can do character work better than anyone else. Skinner Sweet, like Pearl already feels like a strong character.
I may have found Snyder’s story technically better, but they do need each other, Skinner appears in Pearl’s story, and the two timelines obviously connect. Snyder and King are creating a new American history through the lens of Vampires, and it’ll be interesting to see where it all goes.
On first look,choosing Rafael (should’a taken the left turn at) Albuquerque to illustrate a horror comic may seem like an odd choice. This is the guy from Blue Beetle for god’s sake! A teen superhero comic, one of the few beacons of light in the DCU! But it works, it really does. Albuquerque can really turn on the scares, the scene where Bloch and the other Vampires confront Pearl is damn scary, and the opening few pages are creepy too. But he can also handle the light, bright Hollywood scenes. I particularly liked how he alternated his style eeeeever-so-slightly for the Skinner Sweet story; the Western is scratchier, dustier. But it’s still the same artist, and the same world. It’s the sort of thing JH Williams does,or Darwyn Cooke. Is Albuquerque at that level? Not yet, but he’s getting there,this is a wonderful looking comic.
American Vampire is a strong, meaty debut issue, it introduces two very compelling characters, a new take on a storied old myth, and commits itself to it’s American mission honourably. There are a few teething issues that always come when novelists make the switch to comics, but King and Snyder’s quality shines through. If the sparkly bullshit has turned you off our fanged friends, American Vampire is very much work a look. And hey, if you do like Twilight, then Skinner Sweet is a pretty handsome dude.
American Vampire #1 is out now in all good comic shops (and some bad ones too probably)