"American Vampire: Volume 1" Trade Paperback Review
Written by James Ferguson
Published by Vertigo Comics
Originally published as American Vampire #1 - #5
Written by Scott Snyder and Stephen King
Illustrated by Rafael Albuquerque
Graphic Novel released on October 11th, 2011
The legend of the vampire dates back centuries. It always starts somewhere in Europe with some stuffy, aristocratic types, living in a huge castle and terrorizing villagers. Scott Snyder has decided to put his own spin on the vampire mythos and bring it to the good ol' U.S. of A. with American Vampire. He tells the story of Skinner Sweet, an outlaw-turned-vampire in the late 1800s, and the terror he brings not only to humanity, but to the old European bloodsucking nobility that has been feasting off the land for some time.
Snyder had some help with the first story arc. Issues #1 - #5 are split between two tales. Snyder wrote the first half of each chapter and a writer by the name of Stephen King wrote the second half, telling Skinner Sweet's origin. This came about when the former was looking for a quote for the comic from the latter. King was impressed with what he heard and asked if he could write a story for it. This split is managed very well, with the plots of each meeting at the end of the graphic novel.
Snyder's side centers on Pearl Jones, a young woman working in Los Angeles in 1925. Pearl is invited to a big time producer's party, only to be served up as a snack for a group of vampires. She wakes up the next day half naked in the desert, and that's when Skinner Sweet shows up. He decides to get a little revenge on the European bloodsuckers in this neck of the woods and turns Pearl into a new breed of vampire.
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You know the basics about vampires? How they can't go out in the sunlight and they're killed with a stake through the heart? That doesn't work on Skinner. He's different. He's American. When he was turned, he evolved into something far more sinister, capable of walking in the day and immune to the effects of a wooden stick. He's not without his vulnerabilities though, as we come to learn throughout this volume. The old-school group of vampires hate Skinner for mutating their bloodline. He represents an abomination to everything they hold dear.
Meanwhile, King's side of the coin takes place in the 1880s as Skinner is about to be brought in for his crimes (of which there are many). Through an unexpected series of events, Skinner is turned into a vampire and wreaks havoc on his would-be captors. You see what kind of evil he is truly capable of here. It's tough to tell if he was worse before he became a vampire or after.
The idea behind this new breed of vampire is all great in theory, but it's brought to startling reality with Rafael Albuquerque's artwork. When they “vamp out,” Pearl and Skinner look like fierce monsters. Their jaws extend out with rows of razor sharp teeth. Their fingers extend like long knives (or Lady Deathstrike for you Marvel fans). They're unlike any vampires I've seen before and they're far scarier than most.
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The carnage that Skinner leaves behind is devastating. Sometimes you don't see what he actually does to these people. Instead you just catch a glimpse of what the end result is; body parts strewn about, blood covering damn near everything.
Albuquerque also provides a slightly different look for each story. The part taking place in 1925 has a more modern feel than the old western side of the comic. It's like the lines are a little more formed in Pearl's tale and rougher in Skinner's. It's a subtle effect, but works very well.
American Vampire introduces some amazing concepts and breathes new life into the vampire genre. While there have been versions of these creatures set in the US such as True Blood, Snyder has created something new and powerful here. He sums up things succinctly in his afterword”...it's a story about us, about Americans, about what makes us scary and admirable, monstrous and heroic.”