March 29, 2011

Getting Graphic: "American Vampire" by Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque & Stephen King

American Vampire
by Scott Snyder and Stephen King
illustrated by Rafael Albuquerque
Vertigo Comics (2010)
ISBN 9781401228309
"Suck on this." The title of Stephen King's foreword seems to be a volley at Stephenie Meyer and all authors who seek to domesticate the revered bloodsuckers of literature. He, along with the story's creator Scott Snyder, want vampires with sharp teeth, bad attitudes, and evil intentions. Well, they've offered a comic book that delivers on all fronts.
Stephen King tackles the origin story, while Scott Snyder offers a parallel storyline that occurs some decades later about vampires in America during the 19th century and early 20th century. The story starts in Los Angeles circa 1925, as Pearl Jones tries to climb her way to fame as an extra on a Hollywood movie lot. After catching the eye of a dashing leading man, she's invited to a party where she is to meet with the big wigs--and a chance at the bright lights. There's no happy ending for Pearl, however, when she winds up the main course for the vampire masters of the leading man and dumped in the California desert to die. But, she doesn't die--thanks to Skinner Sweet.
Skinner Sweet is no hero, we quickly learn, though. Imagine a vicious and remorseless Billy the Kid during 1880, hunted down by lawmen and supposedly killed by the same vampire overlords out to exploit the American West. Instead, Sweet is turned and eventually hunts down the bloodsuckers who created him. And he is a bit different, evolved in a sense, and uses his adaptations to leave a brand new trail of blood on the ground. All the while, a no-nonsense lawman who initially brought Sweet to justice is tormented by his fiance's murder at the hands of Sweet and vows to end him once and for all.
Rafael Albuquerque's artistry on each page seems perfectly suited to capture the nostalgic glamor of the 1920s and the gritty western feel from the 1880s. And the ugliness of the vampires and their animalistic rage comes through in every scene they appear. All in all, it's not an especially gory book, but when blood is spilled, it is in no small amount. The only way I can think to make the book look more authentic is if it was entirely sepia-toned.
I really got a kick out of this book. Yes, vampires are done to death. The same can be said for westerns. Heck, I probably wouldn't have to look that hard to find a sub-genre of vampire westerns. American Vampire really strikes a chord though, and it feels like a new benchmark going forward. A kind of can-you-top-this dare to the rest of the comic book and literary world. With the onslaught of vampire fiction that refuses to die down, maybe someone will come along and offer something that will top this, but I wouldn't hold my breath.
If there's a negative thing to say about this book, I think it would be the villains. Well, the villains other than Skinner Sweet. They felt a bit familiar and less fleshed out compared to other characters. Cliches? Maybe. With a character as iconic as Skinner Sweet, it's a forgivable smudge on an otherwise spectacular story.


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