Tuesday, April 30, 2013

#CBR5 Review #18: American Vampire vol. 1 by Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque, and Stephen King

This past weekend I spent my time at the Calgary comic expo, and one of my cousins (who is an avid fan of all comic books and genres) got into a big discussion with me about what he recommends I read, and American Vampire was one of them. He said it was one of the only vampire stories that has even interested him since he was about 12 years old, given that the whole thing has become a bit overpowering and sanitized in popular culture today. But American Vampire is quite intriguing regardless of this, as it addresses the concept of generational vampiric evolution, and isn’t afraid to leave a twisted trail of bodies behind.

Scott Snyder predominantly writes the American Vampire series, with art by Rafael Albuquerque. For the first trade volume (single issues #1-5), however, the stories told alternate between writing from Snyder, and guest writing by Stephen King. Each volume of the series focuses on a different period of American history, and how the new bloodlines of vampires are both affected and fit into each era; the first volume, which I am reviewing today, is centered on the 1920s.

What we have in the first volume is the story of a young woman named Pearl in Los Angeles, trying to make it as a major Hollywood star. She and her friend are lured to a party with one of the bigwig executives of the movie studio, where the most turn out to be vampires themselves and attack Pearl. On her deathbed, a strange man who has been watching Pearl decides to feed her his blood, thus changing her into a strong, sun-walking vampire, just the kind that those who attacked her hate. We then learn the origins of this man who changed Pearl, and how he became a vampire in the Wild West known as Skinner Sweet. A man who witnessed the rise of this new generation of vampire –which the traditional, sun-fearing vampires consider “abominations”—tells this story many years later claiming his stories to be true, and not a work of fiction.

The tales of Pearl and Sweet alternate between one another, and we somewhat come to learn a few of the reasons why Sweet decided to turn Pearl. Much of this, however, remains in mystery, though it is suggested that the two will end up meeting many times over the years in the subsequent volumes in the series. Overall, however, the story is about power and control, the strength of bloodlines and a fear of those who are different or threaten our existence. But more than anything, it is about vengeance: dirty, bloody vengeance.

At first I found the flipping between stories to be a bit disconcerting as I wasn’t quite connecting all the dots, but after a while it starts feeling more natural, as connections and characters begin to fall into place. Also, the further I got into the story, the more interested I became as to what was going to happen, wondering how much power the old, somewhat tyrannical vampires actually have on American history. The ending, as well, leaves some serious suspense to urge you to take in the next volume, and I personally am interested to know what happens next, and more importantly, how much further down the road we end up before we see these characters again. How will they have changed? Will they have affected history or will it have altered them in some ways?

The art in the book kind of reminds me of that done by Gabriel Bá in The Umbrella Academy series, though to be honest I’m not sure why… whatever it is, it is very appealing to look at, and the dark, muddy colours of many of the scenes adds to both the ominous and eerie mood, but also to the old-timey feel found in this volume. As for the writing, it can be straightforward with dialogue at some points, but also features some overlays of engaging contrast between the text and the visual panels in which they reside.

While American Vampires, as of now, hints towards some overarching ideas and concepts within its pages, many of the main themes presented are fairly straightforward. I assume they are going to beef up a bit more as time goes on, but I suppose I will have to read more to find out. In any case, if you are a fan of the vampire genre, you will likely find American Vampire to be quite enjoyable. If you are not, but enjoy graphic novels or comic series, there should be something in this for you as well. If nothing else, volume 1 is a solid beginning to what appears to be the makings of a fascinating story that spans many years and points in history.

[Be sure to check out more reviews on the Cannonball Read group blog.]

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