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Vertigo Reviews: American Vampire #1

Cover for American Vampire #1

Just when you thought you have heard enough vampire tales, American Vampire arrives without much fanfare and delivers memorable characters, in a memorable setting. This is a refreshing tale of the undead written by Scott Snyder and Stephen King, with artwork by Rafael Albuquerque, set after the Dust Bowl period of the United States (Los Angeles, 1925) and the riches seeking era of the Colorado region during the American Gold Rush (Sidewinder, 1880). It is a split story, each of great length. There is just enough character development for the reader to spot that both parables (and the members contained within each) possess enough commonality to converge in a later telling; at the very least, it is quite a bargain at approximately fifteen pages for each story.

The first tale belongs to Snyder and, besides being a very convincing period piece drama, is replete with flapper attire and Gibson Girl accoutrements that historically mark the period. Indeed, the protagonist, Miss Pearl Jones, a cross between the two, is a typical Roaring Twenties gal that breaks all the gender barriers prevalent during this time. She showcases just enough pomposity, without compromising any of her alluring charms. Her interaction with others, particularly a raunchy highwayman (a cross between Roland Deschain, the Gunslinger, and Kurt Cobain), is a story highlight. If it wasn’t for her stage presence, which swallows up every panel she occupies, the story would be forced to rely on the breathtaking breakdowns of the artwork. Albuquerque has done his homework in capturing the essence of the period, from the turn of the century street lamps to the Wallace Nutting style memorabilia that furnishes the interior settings. For most panels, there is not exactly a surplus of detail, but what Albuquerque does with quill and ink sets a very strong mood for the telling of the story, from fashion to architecture. His approach succeeds on all fronts, and it is fair to say that Albuquerque can be qualified as a master of generic imagery.

Even if the ambient background does not support your sensibilities, we are fortunate to have Miss Pearl Jones and her supporting cast take precedence by shouldering the narrative. For instance, her unwitting (?) acceptance to attend an upper class coffee klatch shines with magnificent tension, up to its violent climax, which (as most vampire stories do well) leaves you clambering for the next issue in cliffhanger fashion. It is obvious the plot is still in its infancy, but it cannot be stressed enough that the characterization and certainly the setting, both of which have been mysteriously absent as storytelling foils for years, take precedent. This is enough to convince the reader to return for another telling.

The second story is written by the legendary Stephen King, who is no stranger to the comic book medium. It is set forty-five years prior, and has all the mood and period placement of the first tale. Most obvious is that with all the familiarities that support a King story, there can be no question that King was behind the wheel with this tale…fans of King will recognize all the artifacts and plot devices for which he is renowned.

What is remarkable about the second chapter are the ingredients: the pace, the breakdowns (you will be doubling back to the credits to confirm the artwork is drawn by the same hand), the dialogue, and the mechanisms that push the story off the page are ephemeral when taken in context with the previous story. In other words, it looks and reads “inhomogeneously,” as if it were created many years beforehand…with one notable exception: both stories share a bond with the highwayman, who makes an important appearance.

The tale is almost typical train-spotting leisure, set in the Old West, which again, from all appearances, is making a comeback in literature and pop media. There are locomotives, gunslinging, and a vintage style of dialogue and posturing that would not be out of place in a good spaghetti western. There is also a rather creative murder in the end. The story finishes much quicker than it begins, but does a good job in establishing the method and madness of the highwayman.

There is a lot to look forward to with this ongoing title, which reminded me at times of the HBO Carnivale series, with its supernatural tendencies and commemorative landscaping. As remarkable and cerebral as this story wants to be, it should also satisfy those hankering for a more immediate tale of “the quick and dead,” with fangs included. Highly recommended.