With all of the hype surrounding Stephen King and Scott Snyder’s vampire tale “AMERICAN VAMPIRE”, the teaser photos, the doting news coverage, the decidedly epic trailer, and the expectations of readers everywhere being so high, this past Wednesday proved to be one the most important of Vertigo’s year. After all, a lot of people can talk the talk when it comes to releasing a title from a name as legendary as King’s, but it is an entirely different thing to walk the walk. The horror author’s most famous work in the genre is undoubtedly is the classic “SALEM’S LOT” published all the way back in 1975. Since then King has dabbled in with bloodsuckers, but never has he come close to reproducing such a literary gem for vampire fans as he did with that title. So with all that said: what about “AMERICAN VAMPIRE”? Is it the ‘be all end all’ of horror comics this year? Is it King’s comic book masterpiece? Is this the story that is going to put Scott Snyder on the map? Read on to find out.
“AMERICAN VAMPIRE” is told through two separate stories. One is written by Scott Snyder, the other by King. The title is a bit of a lengthier read than your standard 32 pages clocking in at 40, and using the added 8 pages to give a 50/50 split to the two authors. The first half (written by Snyder) is set in the underbelly of Hollywood in the 1920s, following struggling young actress Pearl Jones. The story twists and intertwines itself inevitably with that of the protagonist of King’s half of the story, the psychotic bloodsucker, Skinner Sweet. We start out in a very Tarantino fashion as we are presented with the aftermath of an untold climax before being thrown into the lives of the characters 3 days prior. It is here that we are introduced to Pearl, Skinner, and the rest of the cast for the first time.
I’ll be the first to admit that prior to picking up my copy of “AMERICAN VAMPIRE” I hadn’t read any of Snyder’s work (although I was aware of it), and by the time I put this story down I had all intents on changing that. It is really no wonder that King respects Snyder’s work so highly as in the end the two writer’s voices are quite similar. This is not to say that Snyder has reached the same plateau as his peer (after all no one ever has) but he is making an earnest effort of climbing that hill. The character of Pearl is colored and layered with plenty of care, and by the time readers are presented with her eventual fate they have a very good understanding of the young woman and her story. She is not a particularly special young woman, a pretty face in the crowd of extras on a crowded Hollywood set with the same lofty aspirations as anyone else her age that is trying to break into Hollywood. She comes from a farm family, and as a result she is well mannered, a bit quiet, always polite. So when the polar opposite of the girl is introduced in the form of Sweet you just know that things are going to go badly.
The story is decidedly slow paced, a more methodical read than the one that lay after. Snyder seems to use his intro to build a foundation to be elaborated upon thereafter. We are given just enough to count as a taste before being ripped away from the story altogether and left in the ever capable hands of King, but what we get is more sweet than sour. (Oh come on, you knew I couldn’t go 3 full paragraphs without using a shameless pun)
So begins King’s turn at the story. Set in the wild west, notorious bank robber and mass murderer Skinner Sweet has been apprehended by authorities and is in transit to be hung despite his promises that he will escape with his life before the train ever reaches its destination. These would sound like the last psychotic babbles of a man that has long ago lost what is left of his mind if it weren’t coming from the lips of a man as cunning as Sweet, and within a few short pages the vigilante makes good on his promise. The King of Fears’ half of the story feels much shorter than Snyder’s as it cracks like a whip and wraps things up in a flash. Skinner is the obvious standout within these pages, and if King is to create such an iconic figure for horror again to stand alongside the likes of “Carrie” or “Roland Deschain” then I am placing my bets on Skinner Sweet. You see Sweet doesn’t need the adolescent angst, the charming good looks, or to roll around in glitter to be noticed. And I won’t deny that even I was skeptical of the character in the beginning due to the very bland approach to the design of the lead. But if King is good at anything it is building something fantastic out of something simple, and what looks like a typical cowboy in desperate need of a haircut proves to be something far more fascinating.
I used the term layered earlier, and in many ways this is the perfect word to sum up “AMERICAN VAMPIRE” as a whole. Everything from the supporting cast, to the backgrounds (Everything is illustrated exquisitely by veteran artist Rafael Albuquerque), to the inks is built upon a foundation as strong as even the most well written novel. While reading the book you quickly forget that you are reading a story by two separate authors and soon the two voices seem to meld into one. The result of this is something that bravely flirts with brilliance.
When all is done and read it looks as if Vertigo has delivered on their word. “AMERICAN VAMPIRE” is a very strong debut for the title that the publisher has invested so much time and money into. King does what he does best, and in saying that he is allowed to stretch his legs and offer a very worthy follow-up to Snyder’s restrained approach. Snyder and King are a winning combination. Add this one to your pull and hold now before you miss out.
4.5 Out of 5 Skulls