Author: Scott Snyder and Stephen King
Illustrators: Rafael Albuquerque
For a number of years now, the market has been flooded with vampires. Scott Snyder, with the help of Stephen King, continues the common trope with a period piece that details the rise of vampires in 1920’s America. Whether the series offers something new is debatable, but I will happily say that forbidden teenage love and sparkling vampires were nowhere to be seen.
King and Snyder each tell an individual story arc in the first collection. King tells of the origin of Skinner Sweet, an outlaw killer and defiler of women (so says his tombstone) in the 1880. In the midst of lawlessness, Sweet is accidentally transformed into the first (?) American vampire, exhibiting greater powers than his European ancestors.
Snyder’s story takes place forty-five years later, telling of an aspiring actress named Pearl. After being invited to a formal party, Pearl finds that a clan of Hollywood’s elite are vampires and she is their chosen feast. Destined to die from the attack, her friends pay their last respects, including a rough-around-the-edges badboy named Skinner Sweet. He inoculates her with his blood and she too turns into a vampire.
Snyder and King bring vampires back to where they properly belong — the horror genre. There is nothing domesticated about Sweet or Pearl as they thirst on unsuspecting victims and exact their revenge on those who tried to kill them in the first place. Pearl embarks on a journey of self-discovery and begins to learn who her true friends are and who will betray her. Sweet remains a renegade, but is an interesting character who has hidden compassion for others.
The nature of their vampirism is somewhat akin to a were-creature. In normal day-to-day tasks, they appear as humans, with perhaps some flaking of the skin due to the sun. When they are attacking or feasting on a human, their canine teeth protract and their hands turn into lethal claws — a truly devastating and horrific vampire, indeed.
Albuequerque’s artwork is supurb. The vampires in particular are drawn with an abstractness that leaves a bit of mystery to their horror. The duality of them as both humans and vampires creates a complexity that adds to the richness of each character.
Even though I have grown tired of vampires, this series is a refreshing return back to a pre-Twilight/Sookie Stackhouse take on the genre. Paranormal romances have taken over the YA bookshelves and have nearly destroyed the vampire mythos. Vampires throughout history have been an hyperbolic extension of the psyche — physical manifestations of man’s evil and lustful desires. They have largely been evil (or at least morally gray) creatures who instill horror and dread in humans who are confronted by them. Sadly, recent fiction has made vampires out to be sexy and alluring and those who are fearful of these blood-sucking creatures are ignorant bigots, which makes for a shallow antagonist.
I don’t know if there is a need for another vampire story, but American Vampire was entertaining and offers some minor invention to the creatures. The characters are interesting in their own right, making this more than a simple vampire tale. Add an intriguing story and stunning artwork and you have a good comic. For those looking for horror, this is likely one of your best bets.