The first volume takes place at the turn of the 20th century during the Gilded Age and in the days of silent cinema. We follow the lives of two characters: Pearl Jones, an aspiring actress, and Skinner Sweets, “the most notorious murderer and bank-thief in the American West.” Given an invitation to attend a party hosted by a Hollywood movie producer, Pearl finds herself among an elite of highly debonair and Eurocentric vampires. They end up attacking Ms. Jones; gorging on her blood horrifically. She is later found wandering the desert, battered with multiple punctures leaking with blood. Having had a run-in with her previously, Skinner visits her in the hospital with intention to turn her into a vampire, like him. Pearl wakes up from death, and Skinner reveals that both of them are vampires, but dissimilar to the European vampires that Pearl encountered. Among other revealing abilities, they are stronger, more fierce, and unharmed by sunlight. Along with a backstory of Skinner’s past, our characters seeks revenge against their killers in the remaining chapters.
Nowadays, I always feel a slight hesitation when picking up new works about vampires. I think Steve Niles’ 30 Days of Night is the only comic I’ve read recently and enjoyed. Thanks to Twilight and its countless mimickers, it became hard at first glance to differentiate between innovating works versus works that strip one of our favorite monsters of its historical context and significance in the horror genre. Vampires are supposed to be scary, dammit. Nonetheless, I’m not here to bash. American Vampire is a gem that’s slowly refueling my love for bloodsuckers with every page turn. Imagining it from the ground up, I like that the writers chose the Roaring 20’s and a Western era as settings for the story. I love period pieces and not only does American Vampire have interesting narrations, it also presents these stories in relation to the year and evolution of the American vampire throughout history.
The remarkable artwork done by Raphael Albuquerque is the most frightening element of this series. You have amputated bodies hanging from chains. A landfill full of naked female corpses. Decapitated heads. The vampires themselves transform into gargoyle-like beasts with foot-long claws at any moment. Some of the imagery is certainly grotesque, and I have to applaud Albuquerque because it takes a lot to disturb me. Variant covers don’t often grab my attention, but the ones in this series are gorgeous and I find them more striking than the original covers. I particularly like issue #1 done by Jim Lee and #5 done by Paul Pope. I did notice a few times where panels on the same page jump ahead of itself just to catch up with the script. This creates puzzling gaps, and I’m left wondering what happened with this character or setting in this panel that lead to the next panel. I’m not keen on that. The lettering and color choices are impressive and pretty clever. I like how Dave McCaig use sepia hues for the Western setting and bold red and purple colors to compliment Hollywood.
It was a distraction switching from Pearl Jones to Skinner’s backstory every issue. Although the two narrations eventually meet, they are very distinct in terms of time and plot. In fact, when I read issue #1, I thought the backstory was a promo preview of a different comic book. I don’t care for this style in which it was done because it causes the stories to feel short and unfulfilling. The tension I build up while following Pearl gets abruptly cut off by the flashbacks of journalist Will Bunting. If an unrelated flashback is going to take up half of five issues, I rather read it all in one or more issues so that I can give it the focus and attention it deserves. Cohesion is key. Since Stephen King is only co-writing the first volume, I wonder if the preceding volumes are arranged like this.
Overall, I really enjoy the creativity put into the concept and the art especially. Snyder and King are two incredible writers that did not disappoint. If you’re well-versed in vampire literature, I can’t say (as of yet until I read the other volumes) that this series introduce anything refreshing about the build or mannerisms of traditional vampires, but it is certainly an interesting portrayal and description of the origin of a new breed. One that takes place during the most interesting time periods in America.