Monday, March 22, 2010

American Vampire #1 – Review

I was unsure of whether or not to pick this $3.99 Vertigo title up. Stephen King on part-time writing duties was a sell, but it seemed like more of a trade wait series. Then I picked up the issue in the store. It’s thick, and when you open it you realise how much of Rafael Albuquerque’s art you’re going to get. The only unknown, for me, was Scott Snyder. It was a slow week so I decided to give this fist issue a chance. And what did this issue do with its chance to win me over? Click to find out.

American Vampire #1
Written by Scott Snyder and Stephen King
Art by Rafael Albuquerque

This comic does give you bang for your buck as each writer gives us a 16 page tale, and we also get a four page preview of Area 10, a Vertigo Crime HC from Christos Gage and Chris Samnee. I figure if Casanova can give you 16 pages for #1.99 then getting 32 pages for $3.99 is only fair. The book passes this first test.

This new series is about vampires, in America. That’s enough of an intro before we meet our characters. Snyder is up first and introduces us to Pearl, a simply attractive girl working hard to crack Hollywood in the 1920’s. She’s an extra on set and a pretty face at her two other jobs. Before we even see any undead, it seems that no matter where Pearl goes the sleaze envelopes her; be it the strange man loitering around the pool at their Boarding House for Ladies, the men who buy her cigarettes at the jazz club, or the movie star with all the trimmings who stars in the movie she’s lucky to be on set for. I must make a quick aside here to say that this Mr. Hamilton, the actor, does look like a Viltrumite through and through.

Pearl is trapped in a man’s world and struggles to be more than an object. There is one man, Henry the “gentleman wayfarer” who lives with a guitar on his back and plays whatever clubs are in the towns he wanders through, who offers a glimmer of nice in this superficial and mean world. He’s a nice guy and Pearl gives him time, but not much more. He’s simple and charming and gives Pearl slight respite from the storm of masculine dreck constantly around her. You can instantly see he’s the right guy, but how often does a girl go for the right guy?

The first tale ends on a cliffhanger that satisfies, even if we knew it was coming, it’s still well executed and sets up the tale for very interesting tangents. I was surprised by how easily I grew to like and respect Pearl as more than just a stereotype. Snyder infuses her with determination, even if slightly peppered with wide-eyed wonder. I also liked the man around the pool, who bears a striking resemblance to a man in the following story. He’s laid back and slightly rude but not so much that he doesn’t care; it’s rather that he knows it all doesn’t really matter. He sits with his boots and his singlet and observes the world with a sly grin.

Next, Stephen King serves us up his side of the tale, a criminal is brought to justice in 1880 and being taken to the gallows by train. Much like the first story, the vampires here don’t take centre stage, instead we get characterisation first. King, for me, has always been a master of developing a character. He’s also an old hand at vampires with the novel ‘Salem’s Lot, as well as short stories; Jerusalem’s Lot, The Night Flier, and Popsy. King doesn’t mind mixing up how vampires are given to us.

Skinner Sweet is an outlaw who has finally been caught. The train full of Marshalls and other big wigs sets off with their captured charge. You can instantly see that the world looks different through Albuquerque’s art. The 1920’s looked relatively polished but this tale is sun-drenched and scratchy, like watching faded old film stock. It’s an impressive switch and one that gives each story its own tone and feel.

We watch as Skinner has his own band of gun-toting friends outside the train ready to help. Before Skinner gets the plan into action he shows just how smart and devious he actually is. The way he messes with Marshall Jim Book’s head is masterful in its simplicity. It’s a quickly enough executed plan but all goes awry when a vampire is surprisingly thrown into the mix. The way in which Skinner is turned is also cleverly done and a pleasure to watch.

I can’t help but think that someone of the likes of Skinner’s mind and inclination will make for one very interesting vampire to keep a tale centred on. He is determined and nasty and becoming one of the undead will surely take him some getting used to, though he seems like the type of man that will shed his old life like a snake’s skin and adapt pretty quickly to more violence.

Both writing styles for this book are certainly different, as they approach different time lines, have different gendered main characters, and frame their story in varied manners. I’m not certain which author I prefer, I really liked Pearl on first reading but a second pass gave me more appreciation for Skinner and his ways. I guess I should just be happy that neither half feels like the weak half. Albuquerque’s game is solid in both sides with both pacing and pencil. This series could really set him up as having a long form defining work to hang his hat on.

I can see many waiting for the trade on this one, and I’m sure Vertigo will offer quite a fantastic HC collection but I like my comics weekly and so I’m hoping a few people will jump on this now rather than wait.

Verdict - Buy It. American Vampire is a comic that gives us characters first and we’ll then see how they deal with the unwelcome intrusion of vampires to their world. Watching two writers craft an entire world that will only link more and more as the series goes on is a delight, as is watching their masterful artist tread both paths with equal aplomb. This isn’t your usual vampire fare, it’s not quaffed dudes scowling nor is it European Counts lusting longingly. This is a new breed of story that promises much and delivers more than you expect.

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Simon McDonald said...

Didn't pick this up solely because of my distaste toward all things vampires... but your review has tempted me to give it a go. It's got Stephen King's name on it after all.

Flip The Page said...

When I read this I was blown the hell away by the first story. I mean I wasn't sure what to expect but it's so well written and frankly beautiful that it's beyond most other series out at the moment. Great review and hopefully more people'll pick this up

Brandon Whaley said...

I'm still trying to decide to get this or trade wait it. This week is an extremely slow week for me, so I may check out the first issue and go from there.

Scott Snyder said...

Hey guys - thanks a ton for the review. Very grateful. Stay in touch.

Ryan K Lindsay said...

@Simon - this is kind of good King, almost old school King, reminded me more of his short story style that his novel style, which is a good thing.

@Brandon - if you got the time and inclination, sure, score a copy, but I am also sure they'll put together a lovely trade dress for this's a big choice...

@Scott - absolutely no problem on the review, glad you appreciated it. It's nice to get such a beautiful comic on the stands.

about me! said...

I read a friends copy and was blown away.
This is going to be a hard trade wait, but it's definitely something I want on my shelf.

Jonathan M Perez said...

I picked it up for basically the same reasons you did. Light week, and "Hey, what's that? An original Stephen King vampire comic?" were my reasons for picking it up. That, and the cover was striking.

Glad I went for it, although I was a bit skeptical with the glut of vampires in pop culture right now. Good story, and I've been watching lots of old-time cinema, so the feel of the first part of the comic was right on.

Loved the Rafael Albuquerque art too. This is definitely a keeper for my file.

Since Scott Snyder posted here, any idea on how long the series is going to be?

Scott Snyder said...

Hey man - it's ongoing - so hopefully a long time. We're going to try to follow the characters (and the new bloodline about to start in issue 2) through the decades. This particular story and cycle, featuring SK and me in back-to-back format, will be 5 issues. Then it'll be just Rafa and me doing the next cycle, single story, 22. pp. So glad you're enjoying it! Stay in touch. S

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