Friday, August 5, 2016

AMERICAN VAMPIRE by Scott Snyder Volumes 1 & 2


I probably like vampire-centric stories as much as the next person who had seen enough of it in movies and shows. In fact, two my current favorite 22 shows that I watch dutifully each season launch are about vampires (The Vampire Diaries and its superior spin-off The Originals). I haven't read any Anne Rice books but was familiar with her mythology because of a friend who obsessed about her work; I continue to regret to this day the the fact that I had read Stephenie Meyer's shit of a series, and I enjoyed True Blood,  but only finished the first 2 seasons because I didn't like Sookie Stackhouse as the anchoring heroine of the show. So, you know, I like vampire-centric stories, but not to the point where I actively seek out the genre. If the formula works for a vampire story, it works. I'd watch/read it. Hell, I like the romantic melodrama of the Vampire Knight manga as well.

American Vampire is written by Scott Snyder and illustrated by Rafael Albuquerque. The first volume featured Stephen King because, apparently, he wanted to be featured because he had a compelling origin story to tell about the vampire asshole character. It worked. I think Snyder had loved having him around, and that is why the first volume worked in a dual manner where Snyder handled telling the 'present' story in Hollywood America about a pair of aspiring actresses and friends Pearl and Hattie; while King paralleled it with a sweeping cowboy tale that gives the readers information about the vampire asshole named Skinner Sweet.


Artist Albuquerque's visual style is commendable with a technique that offered enough variation in his depictions of both stories told in different periods, complementing both Snyder's and King's narrative voices. It was therefore a dream team that showcased American Vampire and, for the most part, the first volume was your standard fanfare of blood and gore coupled with the same kind of hedonistic sensibility and Shakespearean drama that I know and eat up when I do read/watch vampire-centric stories. American Vampire is no exception. 

I wouldn't do it an injustice by calling it a rehash of the same things I saw already because anything could be called that; what should be notable is the execution and the believability and appeal of it. In that sense, American Vampire does its job being gritty, enjoyable and self-aware enough to be considered clever. But I wouldn't call it a masterpiece--at least not with two volumes read. There is potential in this series that I can't wait to get into!

In Snyder's vignettes of Pearl and Hattie's story, he brandishes the same kind of hopeful voice in his characters amidst the backdrop of despair that they have to put up with as they go about their daily grind. Synder after all is the current Batman writer who gave us a Gotham City that is alive and thriving with either chaotic or neutral evil machinations, while his Bruce Wayne is actually more dreamy and introspective than any other version of Batman I have ever read. He employs that same thing when he wrote Dick Grayson as Batman in The Black Mirror, and he does it again with Pearl in her story of transformation from ordinary struggling nobody-actress to a vampiric hybrid, sired by the enigmatic Skinner Sweet due to nothing more but lucky chance. It actually reminded me of that scene in Hellsing manga where Alucard rescues a British policewoman by turning her. It's reminiscent of that.

As two standalone arcs, they complemented each other fairly well. The dusty landscape and gun-totting characters for King's Sweet origin story was action-packed and disconcerting, told in the perspective of a writer haunted by the upsetting evils he had seen when he personally witnessed Skinner Sweet's rampage as a newborn vampire of a different breed. Meanwhile, Snyder's quieter yet suspenseful tale focusing on Pearl Jones and her integration into the vampire lifestyle was a little heartbreaking and personable, where a good woman was given not only the unwanted curse of immortality because of Sweet's rare yet twisted moment of generosity, but also the package of ancient enemy vampires who want Sweet extinguished because they see him as a threat as the next step of evolution for vampires.

This volume was not perfect or an easily rewarding experience aside from the pivotal revelations and crackling action sequences that kept the story afloat for the most part, but Snyder certainly has a vision, and it's one that shows a lot of promise and creative endeavor along the way. I'm invested enough on Pearl as the heroine to root for, and I'm glad that Skinner Sweet is mostly in the shadows, still barely knowable, and that adds to his charisma, making him more of an intimidating figure in spite of the way he can be an utter goofball at times. I like this volume. It's inventive enough to be fresh and thrilling.

RECOMMENDED: 8/10





Now it is true that pop culture is probably oversaturated with vampires (not as much as zombies though, which is a genre that always baffled me for its massive commercial appeal). Going by Stephen King's own introduction alone back in the first volume, you might think he and Scott Snyder reinvented the vampire story--they didn't. But two volumes in for this series, and I can say that this was still a top-grade story, both a fine example of what the vampire genre can offer with its conventions, and how the medium of comics actually helped its development and evolution. It had been a terrific ride, and I will read the other volumes right after I finished reading and reviewing my other scheduled GNs of this year.

The second volume of American Vampire had definitely sold me to the series for good (and it didn't even need Stephen King this time around). The writing just spoke for itself because Scott Snyder (Batman writer) is definitely at the top of his game and I say this with utmost confidence due to his four-parter story arc included in this volume called The Devil in the Sand. I was enthralled by this arc; I never even put the volume down at all which was why I was only able to finish this within two hours or less. It was that riveting.

The Devil in the Sand was a compelling drama that played out to its readers' expectations about certain telling points in its narrative, but was also still able to satisfy them with a rewarding conclusion. Skinner Sweet doesn't have a big role at all and it was more centered on the struggles of a secondary character that could or would never appear in the next volumes. That being said, his role here was memorable enough especially his internal conflict about his family and obligation as an officer of the law. I'm not going into details about it because I would encourage you to pick this series and read The Devil in the Sand yourselves and hopefully experience what I felt. I think it's a solid supernatural drama all in all.

The vampire mythos for this series is also beginning to expand, introducing readers some more to the strife between ancient bloodlines of vampires and the extinction of others after a new breed came to power. Skinner Sweet (and the woman he sired, Pearl) were supposed to be the new evolutionary step, sort of a mutation in the gene, and that's why everyone is after them, particularly on Sweet since he's not the nicest of vamps, really. He's used to being hunted and causing chaos and fun on his own, but the fall-out of this is that someone like Pearl is also burdened by a threat to her existence now that she was sired to Sweet. Pearl is content with her domestic life with a boyfriend who accepts her affliction, but sooner or later she might have to start running no matter how much she wants to settle down.

The thing I like about the character interplay between Sweet and Pearl is that they don't have interactions at all (or at least so far in the first two volumes). They're both just doing their thing, and have separate lives and stories but conflicts tied to their vampirism often get them in each other's radar even if they don't wish it so. Pearl does respect Sweet on the account that he gave her life by turning her, but the relationship is basically distant. I'm sure this could change and evolve later on but for now Snyder is building up the suspense and conflict very nicely indeed. It's great to have two protagonists who never have to be in the same scenes together but can still hold out on their own as pivotal characters.

The final story that ended this volume was pretty much perfection. I can't even spoil because it would just ruin the surprise that awaits you if you do decide to check out this series one of these days. Overall, American Vampire is a graphic novel you don't want to miss out on. It's vibrant and brutal; a lovely period drama that spans over American history as it follows the misadventures of a cowboy vampire who is up to no good, and a fierce young woman who wants the same thing as the rest of us but tragically may never get anymore.

RECOMMENDED: 9/10

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