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Book: “American Vampire (Vol.4)” by Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque (Ill.), & Jordi Bernet (Ill.)
Publishing Info: Vertigo, September 2012
Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.
Book Description: American Vampire flashes back to two very distinct points in American history. The first tale comes from the early 1800’s with the “The Beast in the Cave” featuring art by the legendary Jordi Bernet (Torpedo, Jonah Hex). Learn about the original American Vampire, Skinner Sweet, and his involvement in the brutal Indian Wars, and an ancient evil hidden in the heart of the Old West. Plus, more about the man Skinner used to call his best friend – James Book!
The second tale comes straight from 1950s America, where American Vampire is terrorizing the suburbs with hot rods, teenyboppers and fangs! “Death Race” focuses on ferocious new vampire hunter Travis Kidd – but what is his connection to Skinner Sweet? As the story comes to a violent end, a sworn enemy’s identity is finally revealed, and lots of blood is spilled!
Writer Scott Snyder (Batman, Swamp Thing) and artist Rafael Albuquerque bring together even more threads to the complex tapestry that is the world of American Vampire.
Review: Admittedly as I was going about my read through of “American Vampire”, I picked up “Volume 4” and had an ‘I have no memory of this place’ moment. I had vivid recollections of the previous volume, just as I have recollections of what comes next. But this one didn’t stand out in my mind. So I was eager to dive in and remind myself what this volume had to offer. But as I was reading, I realized that there was probably reason I didn’t remember much. “American Vampire (Vol. 4)” is, unfortunately, the weakest part of the story yet.
But as always, let’s start with what I did like, and that was mostly the story “The Nocturnes”. We follow Calvin, one of the Vassals that was sent on the basically doomed Taipan mission during WWII, who we thought was dead, but actually was turned into a vampire when he was accidentally exposed to some of Pearl’s blood. The good news is he’s still working for the Vassals, and this standalone tale is following him and what he’s been up to. Mostly it’s taxonomy for the organization, categorizing different and new vampire subspecies, and in this story it isn’t a mission that has his interest, but a familial one: once he became a vampire he cut all ties to the living world outside of work, and he just wants to see his brother perform in his singing group. Unfortunately it’s in a sundown town, and also unfortunately, there are vampires afoot. I like Calvin as a character, and I liked seeing this exploration of what you have to give up as a Vassal, as those we have met up until now have been pretty solitary anyway. I also liked the way that it explores Jim Crow racism and sundown towns, and Calvin’s Othering because of his skin as well as his undead status. It’s a perspective we haven’t seen yet in the story and I enjoyed it.
BUT, that said, the other arcs in this collection haven’t aged super well from when they were first published. For one, guess who has once again been relegated to the sidelines: Pearl. She is barely in this book. Felicia Book isn’t in it at all. And we are STILL dwelling on Skinner Sweet, and while I KNEW that he wasn’t actually dead, it’s still frustrating that we didn’t get any kind of breather from him as a character who gets a huge friggin’ spotlight. This story takes us back to when he wasn’t yet a vampire, and we find out that he was actually good friends with James Book of all people, and they fought together during the Indian Wars, and oh boy. OH BOY. For one, the very complex and tragic subject matter at hand just doesn’t really sit well with me these days, given how the U.S. Government has consistently participated in a genocide against Indigenous peoples, and having that as a plot point in this story feels pretty grotesque. For another, we get into what is a well meaning story about the actual first American Vampire, an Indigenous woman named Mimiteh who was attacked by colonizer vampires and staked by the Vassals of the Morning Star as a precaution. After rising from the dead she is worshipped and feared by the Apache peoples that the U.S. Government is trying to overwhelm, and it just feels appropriative. It sure doesn’t help that Mimiteh is stark naked in nearly every encounter we see of her, which makes it feel all the more dehumanizing. And here’s a tip, making James Book, one of the pretty clear cut ‘good guys’ of this series, a participant in colonial driven genocide is probably not a good idea if you want him to remain clean nosed (creepy relationship with Felcia’s mother aside). The other story is about a vampire hunter for the Vassals named Travis Kidd, whose family was killed by a vampire and now he’s trying to take all vampires out. I did like some things about this story, namely that Travis kind of has a Charles Starkweather feel to him, in that when we first meet him he is killing his teenage girlfriend’s family, but they are vampires so it’s not the horrific spree that Starkweather had. It’s a wry reference to be sure. But, SURPRISE SURPRISE, do you know who it is that he ultimately wants his revenge against? You guessed it. SKINNER FREAKING SWEET. So we get very little Pearl in this collection, NO Felicia Book, and we get TWO HUGE STORIES WITH SWEET. SERIOUSLY?!
Okay, so it was a bit of a stumble, but “American Vampire (Vol. 4)” does set up the next arc with a solid cliffhanger. I feel like Pearl and Felicia get more to do next time around, so onwards I go with higher hopes.
Rating 6: It just hasn’t aged super well. Also, while I knew we weren’t done with Skinner Sweet, I REALLY wish we were done with Skinner Sweet. That said, a story following Calvin is pretty good, and I liked some true crime connection and homages.
“American Vampire (Vol. 4)” is included on the Goodreads list “Best Horror Comics/Graphic Novels”.