Kate’s Review: “American Vampire (Vol. 1)”

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Book: “American Vampire (Vol. 1)” by Scott Snyder, Stephen King, & Rafael Albuquerque (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Vertigo, 2010

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: From writers Scott Snyder and Stephen King, American Vampire introduces a new strain of vampire – a more vicious species – and traces the creatures’ bloodline through decades of American history.

Snyder’s tale follows Pearl, a young woman living in 1920s Los Angeles, who is brutally turned into a vampire and sets out on a path of righteous revenge against the European monsters who tortured and abused her. And in King’s story set in the days of America’s Wild West, readers learn the origin of Skinner Sweet, the original American vampire – a stronger, faster creature than any vampire ever seen before.

Don’t miss out as Snyder and King set fire to the horror genre with this visionary, all-original take on one of the most popular monster stories! This beautiful collection features a new introduction by Stephen King and bonus art including character sketches, variant covers and more!

Review: Here we are again, about to embark on a re-read of a graphic novel series that I loved in the past and want to revisit in the present. Well, sort of. You see, I read the majority of “American Vampire”, Scott Snyder’s horror comic that follows American vampires through the decades as America changes and evolves. I own almost the entire series. But then for some reason I just kind of stopped reading it, and I honestly don’t really remember why (I have theories, but to address them here would be spoiler-y). So I decided that for my next re-read (potentially final…) of a series I would go back to a horror series I greatly enjoyed. And as a bonus, guess who wrote part of the first volume? Good ol’ Uncle Steve. If Stephen King is involved, I’m always game, and always have been.

We have to differing storylines that do merge together in a way in Volume 1. The first is of Pearl, a 1920s movie extra who loves being in the silent films, as she and her roommate Hattie try to make it big in Hollywood. But when Pearl is invited to a Hollywood executive’s party, what she thinks is a big break turns out to be a trap; the high powered executives are vampires, and they attack her and leave her for dead in the desert. She is rushed to a hospital, but dies.. Until a mysterious man brings her back to life, and she vows revenge on those who killed her. The other story (and the one King wrote) is about said mysterious man, Skinner Sweet, a ruthless desperado from the 1800s, who is turned into a vampire, and realizes that somehow he’s a new breed, one that has distinct advantages over the European ilk, and he goes on a massacre while a man named Book hopes to hunt him down and stop him once and for all. Both stories have a distinctly American feel to them, be it the glowing lights of Hollywood and it’s broken promises, or the dangerous and lawless expansion out West, and Snyder and King find ways to not only have some great arcs that set up an entire series, but ones that can stand on their own as well (especially King, as this is his only contribution to the series, and it’s SO him in characterization and storytelling). It’s the interesting Western theme and the femme fatale theme that are so compelling to the story, and they easily fit together as Pearl beings her journey, and Sweet continues his. I also really appreciated the idea of the ‘American’ vampire type being more violent and opportunistic and guns-a-blazing than the European type. If that isn’t an apt metaphor I don’t know what is.

I definitely prefer the Pearl storyline, as Pearl is such a great character from the jump. She is ambitious but not cutthroat, tough but fair, and the fantastic metaphor of a predatory movie studio being turned into vampire nest works on every level. Once Pearl realizes her new state and new powers, she isn’t hesitant to seek revenge on those who killed her, but at the same time she is struggling with her new condition, especially because of those she loves, specifically her roommate and best friend Hattie, and her would be lover Henry. The relationship with Henry is especially compelling, as Henry is a supportive and caring man who just worships the ground Pearl walks on. Snyder writes him in a way that makes him so likable, never making his love and devotion to her in doubt, nor making it some kind of weakness. Pearl can absolutely stand on her own, especially after she becomes a vampire, but it’s also completely okay for her to want companionship and support and it never feels like it’s holding her back. I loved Pearl the first time, and I loved her again this time.

Skinner is another story, however. It’s interesting, because I thought that perhaps going back into it ten years later with an evolved reading taste would change my thoughts, but nope, I still find Skinner to be the worst, and not really in a fun way. King doesn’t really write him as anything but a disgusting villain, which is good, as the focus of the hero arc is more on his enemy James Book, who was hunting him down in life and now hunts him down post vampirism. There are lots of “Dracula”-esque moments as a group of humans uses their wits and knowledge to track down a vampire, and once again I was more rooting for them to take out Skinner (even though we know it doesn’t work, given Skinner’s connection to Pearl). I do like how King sets up an entire line and arc for how Skinner is going to be functioning and hounded in the years to come, as generations have reason to go after him (Book’s partner has a daughter named Abi who has her own reasons to want Skinner dead as time goes on. I will say that the relationship between her and Book is weird and a little gross, but it has to happen for something ELSE to happen, so…. whatever). Long story short, the Skinner Sweet storylines we see are only as interesting as his foils, and my guess is that King intended for that to be case.

And finally, the artwork is still some of my favorite artwork in comics to date. Rafael Albuquerque can do both really charming kind of down to Earth designs, while also tapping into some really horrific imagery.

Source: Vertigo

I’m really excited about this re-read of “American Vampire”, as I’m already having a blast. Join me, won’t you, as we follow Pearl and Skinner through the years of this very young and very flawed nation. What will these two very different vampires get up to?

Rating 8: A great start to a vampire story that feels incredibly American, for better and for worse.

Reader’s Advisory:

“American Vampire (Vol. 1)” is included on the Goodreads lists “Comics + Graphic Novels To Read For Halloween”, and “Best Adult Vampire Books”.

4 thoughts on “Kate’s Review: “American Vampire (Vol. 1)””

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