Sunday, October 13, 2013

So Close to Perfect

American Vampire
Written by Scott Snyder
Illustrated by Rafael Albuquerque and Jordi Bernet
Published by Vertigo
3 1/2 Stars

I've been very vocal about my love for Scott Snyder and want to be clear that love remains unabated. Snyder's American Vampire series has returned vampires to their horror roots and is one of the best comics out there; Snyder's writing is smart and strictly adults only. 

In this volume, we have three distinct periods in American history and, as usual, we have three distinct American vampires. The vampires in Snyder's world are not stagnant; they continue to change and evolve, creating intriguing subspecies that have strengths and weaknesses unlike those who came before or will come after them. This certainly makes life tough on the average vampire hunter, who must memorize the various vampiric types and their particular Achilles's heel.

In the first story, we have Skinner Sweet and Jim Book as best friends and Indian fighters in 1871. We learn that Skinner and Jim grew up as brothers when Jim's family took in the impetuous, orphaned Skinner. Knowing there is nothing they can do to stem the influx of white settlers, one Indian chief, Hole in the Sky, plans to wake a powerful goddess of death, Mimiteh, in the hope that she will ally herself with the Native Americans and give them the advantage. Naturally, things do not go according to plan and we learn that Skinner was not the first American Vampire.

The second story is my favorite and is set in the 1950's. Travis Kidd is a reckless youth who seems modeled after Marlon Brando's character in The Wild One: nothing but leather jacket, attitude, and a taste for speed. Travis, however, is definitely a rebel with a cause--hunting for the vampire that killed his family (the panel showing a young Travis hiding in a cupboard during the violence is particularly heart-wrenching), he's the best self-taught vampire slayer out there. And it's not long before the Vassals of the Morning Star start trying to recruit him. 

The final story is set in 1950's Alabama and follows our first African-American vampire, Calvin Poole, into the heart of a segregated South. It turns out that racism is the least of Calvin's problems when he encounters a new breed of vampire that gives a unique twist on the intersection of werewolf and vampire mythology. Pearl and Henry from the previous volumes also make an unexpected appearance.

All of these stories are engrossing and continue the complex character building from the first two volumes. So why only 3 1/2 star? The first story, The Beast in the Cave, features art by Jordi Bernet, and his colorful, cartoonish style put me in mind of something akin to the old Li'l Abner comic strip. It's hard to take a death goddess seriously when she struts around with gravity defying T & A and nipples that look like index fingers. Bernet's art fails to set the right tone for the story. It certainly would have been better served by Albuquerque's uniquely dark, violent and often primitive style. Unfortunately, a story that should be anything but laughable comes dangerously close to being so.

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