American Vampire v.1
In recent years, that old horror staple, the vampire, has been co-opted by the froo-frooey clutches of melodramatic, angsty teen romance. Well, American Vampire is trying damn hard to reclaim the bloodsuckers for the horror crowd, and it's fairly successful in doing so. Although American Vampire is Scott Snyder's baby, having Stephen King write the origin of the series' protagonist is a surefire way to get lots of notice and establish the series' horror roots.
Now, admittedly, I've never had much interest in vampires (or zombies, mummies, creatures from any lagoons, or werefolk for that matter), so I'm not necessarily the target audience for a book like this (though it's far more up my alley than, say, Twilight). But the high concept is sound enough - ancient European vampires come to the United States, a young land ripe for exploitation. Along the way, they create a new vamp, one Skinner Sweet, and the new land, the new blood (where, exactly, Skinner is descended from is never mentioned, although he appears to have European ancestry somewhere up the tree) and ole' Charles Darwin's theory combine to create a whole new breed of vampire.
V.1 collects the first five issues of the comic book serial, each chapter containing a lead story by Snyder set in 1920s Hollywood and a second yarn by King, which stretches from the old west of the 1880s to the mountainous frontier of the early 20s.
Snyder's story focuses less on Skinner Sweet than on struggling young actress Pearl Jones. Ambitious and dedicated, yet good-hearted, Pearl winds up vamp-food, but survives due to Skinner's involvement. What follows is, alas, a slightly pedestrian revenge. Which is a shame, because the early chapters show promise, with Pearl and her roommate looking for ways to get ahead and struggling to make ends meet. Snyder writes some snappy patter between the two ladies. Though not revolutionary, it's solid material. After vamping up, it's fairly amazing how quickly Pearl slips into the one-liner-heavy bravado of an action heroine, and how convenient it is for her to have a swell guy (with an unrequited crush on her and who, oh yeah, just happens to be a military veteran) who is willing to led her feed on him, nurse her bruised ego, and then help her go a'killing.
King's Skinner origin of Skinner winds up being a little more intriguing, if only to see how Snyder chooses to develop the series' mythology going forward. Skinner is largely a background player in Snyder's first arc, empowering Pearl but leaving her to her own vengeance. In King's hands, Skinner is presented as fairly loathsome (though perhaps just slightly less despicable than the European vampires who create him), yet the entire narrative is framed through the eyes of a very biased storyteller and the possibility of embellished events certainly exists.
So there's possibilities in the story. Not much of it's been realized as of yet, but on at least one level, American Vampire hits its mark. Rafael Albuquerque, that dude can draw. From the distended, unsettling anatomy of the American vampires to the memorable character designs, everything in the book looks like Albuquerque put serious thought into who the characters are and how they would appear. Illustrating Snyder's portion of the book with clean, open lines and King's portion with inkwashes, Albuquerque also gives each segment its own distinct look while still appearing part of a singular graphic vision.
As American Vampire progress, it promises to explore 20th century America. Hopefully future installments will use the vampires to explore the American id, rather than getting too wrapped up in its own mythology and middling horror riffs. There's still potential here, and it looks freaking amazing, but right now it has little appeal outside its core vampire/horror fan base (which is, frankly, probably considerable and not to be discounted).
-- review by Michael C. Lorah