Saturday, February 25, 2012

Book Review: American Vampire, Volume 1

Created by Scott Snyder, AMERICAN VAMPIRE VOL. 1 will always be remembered for being the “Vampire comic book that Stephen King wrote.”  I’m a fan of Stephen King’s writing. However, King is only responsible for part of this volume. The book is actually split between two different stories split into four different chapters. One of the stories deals with the origin of the Skinner Sweet, the title character of this Volume of the comic. This is the story that King tells (though as he explains in the Introduction, he had to stay within the master framework of the story from Snyder). The second story takes place in 1920s Hollywood and isn’t really about Sweet, but is about a young woman named Pearl Jones.

The origin story is told from the perspective of an aging author who is giving a lecture upon the re-release of his very popular horror Western, “Bad Blood”. In 1880, the notorious outlaw Skinner Sweet has finally been apprehended and is placed under the custody of James Book of the Pinkerton Agency. Sweet is a man who has robbed lots of banks and killed lots of people in cold blood. He also has a penchant for eating candy. He knows he won’t ever make it to jail because his gang is going to derail the train and set him free. Indeed they do, but what no one considers is that one of the financial backers of the Pinkerton Agency is actually a vampire who needs Sweet dead for his plans in the Wild West of America to come to fruition. That vampire kills Sweet and his gang, but before Sweet dies a drop of the vampire’s blood splashes into Sweet’s eye. So, Sweet comes back as the “first” American vampire (the story hints that there might be other American vampires out there). Unlike the European vampires, Sweet can walk in broad daylight and appears immune to many of the other weaknesses of those vampires. Oh, he’s also got that arrogant, can-do attitude typical of all Americans.

The other story in the book is set in 1920s Hollywood. Pearl Jones is an aspiring actress. When she’s invited to a private party thrown at the home of a major film producer, she thinks it might be the break she’s been trying to get. As it turns out, the reason the party is so exclusive is that it’s a special feeding party for vampires. Pearl is practically left dry and is found the next day by her roommate and boyfriend wandering in the desert with massive bite marks all over her. Pearl dies, but not before the creepy guy next door (Skinner Sweet) puts some of his blood in her eye. When she wakes up, Pearl is in the morgue and Skinner informs her of what he’s done. He goes over a few “rules” with her and then leaves. As it turns out, Pearl is even a different type of vampire than Sweet. She grows massive monstrous claws and saber-toothed tiger fangs. Like Sweet years before, she’s sets out to get her revenge (something Sweet approved). Along the way, she confronts her boyfriend Henry who loves her just as much even after finding out what she’s been turned into. It’s a love story far more interesting and realistic than the one in the Twilight books.

The illustrations of the series are done by Rafael Albuquerque. Besides just vivid pictures, he does a great job of using different color tones to capture the mood of the age. Sweet’s death takes place in 1880 and though in color, it has a sepia-feel to it similar to that of old movie Westerns. Also, though it’s a slightly different time frame, his 1920s Hollywood has the perfect blend of both the blithe and bleakness of the period.

I really enjoyed AMERICAN VAMPIRE VOLUME 1. Both of the stories were really interesting. The stories are intertwined, yet they are very distinct stories. Also, the conclusions of both tie-in nicely with the next Volume of the series. I enjoyed Sweet’s origin story, but in all honesty I found Pearl’s story the more interesting of the two tales. She’s a much more likeable character than Sweet. Overall, this is a solid opening chapter to what appears to be a very interesting American comic book horror saga.

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