The American nightmare
At this point, everybody must be sick of bloodsucking fiends. Ever since Twilight, there has been an explosion of mediocre vampire stories. This is not the case for American Vampire.
It took the combined forces of a master of horror and some new blood to the comic world to help rejuvenate the slate mythos of the vampire. Plus they bring along some devilishly good art to help them.
Superstar writer Stephen King and co-writer Scott Snyder have crafted an original tale of vampires in America. The result is nothing short of brilliant, although there are a few rocky moments along the way. On art duties is Rafael Albuquerque, who has provided beautiful images of both the glitz and glam of Hollywood to the grime and dirt of the Wild West.
American Vampire centers around two interwoven stories in two radically different time periods, Prohibition-era Hollywood and the final days of the cowboy run west. Snyder tackles Hollywood, while King writes about an undead outlaw.
The book opens with a chilling scene that involves mysterious robed figures and a talking corpse. It is an effectively creepy scene that outright shows that these are not going to be the pretty-boy Twilight-era "vampires."
The main story centers around two characters: Pearl, a struggling actress, and Skinner, one of the most vicious criminals alive. King and Snyder weave and mirror each story effectively, creating a unique tale that spans decades. It is an interesting take on the vampire tale that hasn't been seen yet. With the storytelling styles that the duo pick, it feels as if they are giving readers two different comics, making the book very worthwhile.
Snyder leads the book by telling the story of Pearl and her time in Hollywood. Pearl is a struggling actress looking for her big break. She works as an extra and moonlights in a speakeasy – that is, until a big-time actor finally recognizes her for her "talents." She is then invited to a party made up of Hollywood's elite. Of course, everything isn't what it seems, leading to some horrific results.
Snyder's section is a great combination of dreamlike Hollywood and a gruesome underbelly. He presents Pearl as almost a naïve figure, searching for nonexistent dreams. The glory of Hollywood here is nothing more than a thin coat of paint covering the terrible things underneath. Tinseltown is filled with dark nuances, from an eerie voyeuristic stranger to the shadowy producers. All these factors add layers to the darkness of the story.
The party scene proficiently shows this aspect of Snyder's story. He effectively sets up a glamorous scene filled with Hollywood's best at the time. That is, until Snyder pulls Pearl and the reader deeper into the mansion. The scene explodes into violent horror, expertly written by Snyder.
The second story, by King, follows charismatic criminal Skinner. Skinner, who has been recently captured, is now on his way to his trial and execution. Much of his story takes place on a train, with Skinner gloating and taunting his captors. Unbeknownst to them, a team of Skinner's partners in crime is waiting for them, eager to take back their leader.
King is no stranger to vampire or western tales and once again creates a great story. It's a fun action-packed western yarn with some dialogue between Skinner and his captors. Skinner seems like he is going to be the standout character of the series: he's rude, crude and great to read.
Snyder is surprisingly able to beat King at his own game and out-horror him. Skinner's story is filled with action and great writing, but it lacks the scary punches that Pearl's has.
American Vampire provides two great vampire reads, but it is not without its faults. In some instances, the dialogue can come off as slightly awkward and stilted. These dialogue issues, though, do very little to detract from the story.
Even though both King and Snyder do wonderful jobs on their stories, perhaps the standout of the story is artist Albuquerque, who beautifully renders the book, hitting every note perfectly.
His Hollywood transforms from enchanting wonderland into a dark, forbidding hell, especially Pearl's ending scene. The background seems to melt away, leaving an aggressive red, brilliant colored by Dave McCraig. All the glitz seems to vanish into undead shadows.
Sure, there are hundreds of different vampire stories out there, but American Vampire is one that actually shows some originality. Its decades-long story and distinctive setting lets it stand out from the others, giving readers something to sink their teeth into.