American Vampire is Scott Snyder and Rafael Albequerque’s interpretation of vampire mythology in comics form. I read the first twenty five issues yesterday in one go. Here are some disjointed, but numbered, thoughts that I had about the comic so far. These are not meant to be a comprehensive review or a judgement on the soul of the comic, but instead just some jumping-off points for additional thinking about the series.
This is the synopsis of the series from Wikipedia:
The series imagines vampires as a population made up of many different secret species, and charts moments of vampire evolution and inter-species conflict throughout history. The focus of the series is a new American bloodline of vampires, born in the American West in the late 1800s. The first of this new species is a notorious outlaw named Skinner Sweet, who wakes from death, after being infected, to find he has become a new kind of vampire, something stronger and faster than what came before, impervious to sunlight, with a new set of strengths and weaknesses. The series goes on to track his movements through various decades of American history – along with the movements of his first and only known progeny: Pearl Jones, a young woman working as a struggling actress in the 1920s silent film industry when she is attacked by a coven of European vampires hiding in Hollywood. Sweet saves her (uncharacteristically) by giving her his blood, thereby turning her into an American vampire like him, at which point she seeks revenge on the classic vampires who attacked her in life. The complicated and charged relationship Jones has with Sweet is another focus of the series.
1. I don’t really like American Vampire. Scott Snyder’s writing feels a lot like Stephen King’s, and it makes sense that the backup story that told Skinner Sweet’s story was written by King. I can feel him everywhere in the series.
2. Speaking of Skinner Sweet: he is the only interesting character.
3. Skinner Sweet being the only interesting character is strange because I am pretty sure that the audience is supposed to feel the exact opposite. Pearl and Henry, the former an American vampire and the latter her ageing human husband, seem to be the intended focus of the audience’s empathy. They are trying to have a relationship in which one member will live forever and we are supposed to feel sad and the panels of them driving down the highway with the top down are supposed to poignant. They aren’t. At best, they are kitschy moments about the pain of having the be a vampire. Didn’t Anne Rice already do that bit?
4. But anyway, Skinner Sweet is compelling precisely because he isn’t trying to live his life. In fact, he actively attempts to maintain the status quo of the Old West. He fails time and time again, and from the information we have gained in the last few issues, Skinner is now an agent for the Vassals of the Morning Star, a vampire hunting group. His inability to adapt, shown in shocking clarity by his being wounded over and over again during World War 2, has culminated in his having to join a group dedicated to his elimination.
5. Stories about fallen characters are good.
6. But all of that said, I still want to read the series. It is like Burn Notice. Have you ever watched that show? Horrible characters, pure cheese and production, but goddamn if it doesn’t suck you in. It is like some profoundly modern art form that has figured out the perfect formula for dragging viewers in. I feel that way about American Vampire, which is to say that Snyder is a damn fine writer in some kind of weird, addicted, witchcraft way.
7. It probably has a lot to do with Albequerque’s art. Oh, I haven’t shown you any? Well it is goddamn beautiful. The panel below contains one of the tricks that Albuquerque uses pretty often, which is splitting a larger image up into several panels. I always enjoy this trick, and it does something particularly unnerving here. It is almost like the vampires are too much for one panel, that the horror Pearl is experiencing is too big to see, too terrible to take in all at once. The comparative between the top three panels and the bottom three is great, too. She is presented as a more disjointed, fearful subject who is made continually more uncomfortable and cramped by the panels. The vampires are comfortable, even shattered. It is good storytelling.
8. The Vassals of the Morning Star are lead by some guy who looks and acts way too much like Agent Graves from 100 Bullets. Also, Skinner Sweet is way too much like Lono from the same series. The comparison is really, really apparent if you have read both series, and I imagine the levels of fuck-overy that occur in the later chapters of 100 Bullets will be replicated toward the end of American Vampire.
9. There is another storyline about Cash McCogan, a sheriff in Las Vegas during the construction of the Hoover Dam. Skinner Sweet injects McCogan’s pregnant wife with with his blood, which means that the baby is born a crazy vampire thing. That storyline seemed cool until Cash McCogan died fighting Nazi vampires. One of the best, most complex characters was killed fighting the tropiest goddamn trope in Tropeland: Nazi-fucking-vampires.
10. I could not care less about any other character in the series. The comic sometimes takes turns toward the misogynistic with the way it portrays women (not to mention the ways that violence is done to women in the series; you saw those panels up there, right?). I hope that doesn’t continue, but otherwise I want to see what happens. The writing has gotten stronger after a rough start, and I think that Snyder could become a really great comic writer. Albuquerque is already a fantastic craftsman.