AMERICAN VAMPIRE (Vol.1)
Writer: Scott Snyder, with Stephen King
Art: Rafael Albuquerque
Publisher: Titan Books/ Vertigo (£18.99, hardback)
Vampires. They seem to be everywhere today, taking a bite out of movies, tv, books, comics, and drawing new blood in the process. Comics have dealt with our fanged fiends in many different guises, Marvel's Tomb of Dracula being regarded as a particular highlight, and now spin-offs of Buffy, Angel and True Blood are racked on the shelves.
So could you stake a claim on the next evolution? American Vampire, at least, has a refreshingly different setting, or rather duel setting since the narrative is split over two slowly converging time periods with outlaw Skinner Sweet being the ornery new vampire for the dawn of a new century. And he's the first of a new breed of bloodsucker: one that walks in the daytime. The writing chores are divided over two people Scott Snyder covers his exploits in Hollywood of 1920s whilst horror maestro Stephen King tackles his origins in the last days of the wild west. This volume collects the first five issues of the mini series and creates a engaging, darkly refreshing addition to the fanged mythos.
Los Angeles, 1925, and Pearl Jones is looking for her big movie break. Her best friend, Hattie gives her a chance by inviting her to the glamorous party held by director B.D. Bloch but her career path ends up being something with more bite. Bloch, however, is the old school creatures of the nights and sworn enemies of Sweet, a rivalry that first began in the previous century. Skinner Sweet was a murderous thieving mercenary back in 1880 who was set to be hanged until he was fanged, becoming a new breed of savage vampire who has no aversion to sunlight. Both humans and the night-time breed fear him, especially when he has revenge on his mind.
American Vampire is a fusion of genres, times and indeed styles. Whilst we have the obvious gothic arching between the two centuries, there's also a taste of the wild west and the underbelly of early Hollywood. It's as much a study of the country's developing sense of identity, its lusts for fame, power and money set alongside blood lust. However, the unique twist in this tale is that it's the work of two authors, taking two ends of the story with the intention of meeting somewhere in the middle. Scott Synder shapes Sweet's adventures in 1920's, with Pearl's bloodied conversion adding further dark drama. But the origin of our day-walker is left to Stephen King, handling his first comic script and he relishes the challenge of putting flesh onto a character we met 45 years later. The twins parts are effective individually but they gain resonance and depth when added together. Rafael Albuquerque's artwork (seen on super-heroic strips, Blue Beetle and Robin) keeps continuity between them both and ensures the veins of darkly disturbing drama keeping running throughout the decades. Fans of Northlanders should find it a suitable companion series in its inception id not its subject matter. More refreshingly, with a seeming over-saturation of vampires in the media at the moment, American Vampire manages to give the genre an energy-giving transfusion of new blood.