Written: Scott Snyder & Written: Stephen King
From writers Scott Snyder and Stephen King, American Vampire introduces a new strain of vampire – a more vicious species – and traces the creatures’ bloodline through decades of American history.This first hardcover volume of the critically acclaimed series collects issues #1-5 and follows two stories: one written by Snyder and one written by King, both with art by future superstar Rafael Albuquerque. Snyder’s tale follows Pearl, a young woman living in 1920s Los Angeles, who is brutally turned into a vampire and sets out on a path of righteous revenge against the European monsters who tortured and abused her. In King’s story set in the days of America’s Wild West, readers learn the origin of Skinner Sweet, the original American vampire – a stronger, faster creature than any vampire ever seen before.
Vampires don’t sparkle! Okay, I said it, let’s just get that out of the way first. When Bram Stoker wrote Dracula in 1897, it shocked readers – a undead man preying on women and eventually turning them into monsters. For some reason though, vampires have gotten a bit, well, fluffy lately, but American Vampire, thank God, was written to right that wrong.
American Vampire is essentially a story of two characters from different times, cleverly intertwined to represent one timeline of events around the turn of the century. Scott Snyder writes the story of Pearl – a young, decent, hardworking small-town girl who, like many, moved to LA in the hopes of becoming a star. Stephen King writes about Skinner Sweet, a bank robber of the Wild West in the late 1800s when time was tough and it produced even tougher people – not all of them good.
Both Snyder and King do a brilliant job of writing a somewhat complex story. Each chapter (or issue, if you’re reading it in comicbook format) contains both stories, and as they move further forward you begin to see they both cleverly intertwine in this dark graphic novel. It’s an interesting way of writing – two authors, together with one artist to ensure continuity, and it works beautifully.
Snyder does a great job making Pearl a likeable character. Though naive at times, you really do feel for her. Violently attacked and left for dead, she wakes up into a world that’s wronged a good person and she slowly begins to wonder if it’s all that it seemed to begin with. Her story is one of betrayal and you find yourself rooting for her as she embarks on a journey of revenge. The one negative is an incredibly fast acceptance of vampires by Snyder’s characters. Both Pearl and her love interest seem to accept the idea all in one page. Comics don’t have the time or space available in books, I know, but King’s characters seem to have a more natural reaction to vampires and it doesn’t impede the story. Maybe that’s just King’s writing experience showing.
King’s take on a vampire outlaw is brilliant. Skinner is evil without reason and throughout the story other characters try to understand, bargain and even control him but what makes him great is his want for nothing but destruction. He’s a dark, violent character that’s a true demonstration of what unchecked power does to evil men. You don’t feel for Skinner at all, but what makes him such an interesting character is his unstoppable path of destruction. He has ‘plans, plans, so many plans…’ as he often says and you just can’t wait to see what brutal turn they’ll take.
The art by Rafael Albuquerque is truly exceptional; I can’t praise it enough. In Pearl’s story there’s the awesome style and magic of 1920’s America, with the beautiful clothes, cars and wonder – a stunning contrast to the dirt, grit and adventure of the 1800s in Skinner’s tale.
The colouring also changes, with a clean sharp look at Pearl’s life and a darker, muddied take on Skinner’s, which aids in the perfect telling of the story. The art really does take this story to the next level and sets this apart as an Eisner award winning series.
The story never once becomes staggered or disjointed. Each character’s story ends on a climax, so you’re forever ending Skinner Sweet’s chapter and turning over and remembering you left Pearl’s story on a cliffhanger and vice-versa. I couldn’t put it down; with twice as much story on offer it’s twice as hard to stop reading. The difference in characters also opens this up to all readers – with Pearl you get a character driven story of love, friendship and betrayal, while with Skinner Sweet a cold, dark brutal look at what happens when an evil man is given uncontrolled power.
Volume One is a cleverly rounded story that can stand on it’s own, but it does give the option to go further into the series if you choose. It’s a great introduction into an ever growing story and I, for one, am hooked. It’s definitely a mature read though, with bloody violence and adult content. I’d highly recommend this to any fan of horror or action, or anyone looking to read an actual well-written vampire story with an interesting plot. Vampires, Cowboys and 1920’s America, what are you waiting for?