Review by Frank Plowright
Writer Scott Snyder must have realised he was onto something when the proposal for this series so enthused Stephen King that he wanted to contribute. What appealed to King is American Vampire being an attempt to restore the visceral horror of vampires by stripping out the effete frippery in which they’d become increasingly cosseted.
This is vampire savagery and bloodlust, spread over the decades, starting here in both the 1880s and 1925. The central character is Skinner Sweet, whose history is detailed in chapters written by King, while his part in the sections set in 1925 is minimal. Sweet was a vicious bank robber, finally captured by Pinkerton agent Jim Book. How he progresses from there is strange and as ghastly as the man himself.
In 1925 the Hollywood movie industry is in its infancy, but already has the moth to the flame allure and glamour for aspiring actresses Pearl Jones and Hattie Hargrove. Unfortunately for them, not all studios are run by humans. Skinner is a background character here, at first mysterious and unknown, later dangerous and known.
Snyder has reconstructed vampire mythology. There are differences among vampires, and as with humans, a social structure founded on the snobbery of longevity. The older vampires remain beset by weaknesses inapplicable to later transformations to whom some of these no longer apply. Nights lacking any manifestation of the moon, however, induce a vulnerability that can be exploited. Not everyone who becomes a vampire adopts the savage necessity of survival. Some relish their new power, while others struggle with morality, and some have the strength to know what they’ve become and don’t consider the cost of immortality a blessing.
Both Snyder and King supply a refined blend of character, tension and action, but there are mixed blessings to the art of Rafael Albuquerque. His thick line is excellent at distinguishing the cast, constructing credible people rather than variations on a template, and his scenes of savagery are horrific, with an initial transformation in the second chapter stunning. On the debit side, his faces are peppered with extraneous lines, his layouts aren’t the most interesting and he’s not one for providing backgrounds if avoidable. Albuquerque’s not helped by Dave McCaig’s colouring. Everything’s in perma-gloom, intended as atmospheric, but rendering the entirety very dull.
Instead of being individually titled, American Vampire continues as a series of numbered volumes.