Kate’s Review: “American Vampire: Vol. 6”

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Book: “American Vampire: Vol. 6” by Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque (Ill.), et al.

Publishing Info: Vertigo, March 2014

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

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

Book Description: This volume of American Vampire collects eight amazing stories set in the world of American Vampire, with “lost tales,” new characters and old favorites. Don’t miss these stories brought to you by series creators Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque, as well as other awesome comics talent like Becky Cloonan (Batman), Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon (Daytripper), Jeff Lemire (i>Sweet Tooth), Greg Rucka (The Punisher, Batwoman), Gail Simone (Batgirl) and many more! Also collected here is the stand alone tale of Fan-favorite character Travis Kidd–the vampire hunter who likes to “bite them back”.

Review: So during my first read-through of “American Vampire”, there is a clear shift that I remember that kind of started after “Volume 5”. I looked into “Volume 6”, saw that it was a short stories anthology, and decided that I was going to skip it. After all, I wanted more plot. I wanted to see the aftermath of Pearl losing Henry, and the aftermath of Felicia and Gus going up against the Carpathians. I didn’t want a bunch of short stories that didn’t seem to progress anything. But since I’m doing the full read this time around, I got myself a copy of “Volume 6”, and figured I’d just grin and bear it. But I was such a fool, guys, because I actually ended up really liking the anthology series that is “American Vampire: Volume 6”.

While it’s true that these stories don’t really progress the main plot forward after the huge changes and aftermaths of the previous collection, it actually ended up being nice to have a breather after all the things that happened. It also serves as a way to see some more explored characterizations of some familiar faces, while also introducing characters from the past who end up tying into characters that we recognize, and how vampires have touched the family lines decades or even centuries previously. Since this is a short stories collection, I will do my usual thing of talking about my favorite three in depth, and then expanding upon the collection as a whole.

“The Long Road to Hell” by Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque (Ill.) : This is another Travis Kidd offshoot story, and while Travis hasn’t ingratiated himself TOO much into our main characters timelines as of yet, I thought this was not only a good way to show another, more empathetic side of him, while also showing the inherent tragedy of some vampires. Young lovers Billy Bob and Jolene are in love and running scams of unsuspecting people, when they are targeted and turned by a vampire gang in hopes of using their thievery skills. But Billy Bob and Jolene run, and are desperate to find a cure of their new conditions. On the road they pick up a transient little boy who can read people’s personalities, and try their best to keep their monstrous nature at bay. Then they run afoul Travis Kidd, vampire killer, and they have a choice to make. I loved how tragic this one was, with two really likable and scrappy lovers just doing their best in a world that has kicked them down, only to be doomed because of bad luck. I just adored Billy Bob and Jolene, and seeing Travis have to reckon with the fact that not all vampires are soulless killers was some good growth for him as well.

“Bleeding Kansas” by Rafael Albuquerque and Ivo Milazzo (Ill): Albuquerque shifts roles from illustrator to author, and while I didn’t REALLY like the art design, I really loved the concept of the story. Gil and Marie Jones are a young married couple with abolitionist ideals, hoping to move to Kansas to help build a new state that shares their dreams for social justice and equality. But when they arrive to find a hostile town filled with slave owners and sellers, who are hiding other secrets about themselves. I HIGHLY enjoyed the references to the future pro-slavery vs abolitionist violence and conflicts that were going to come up in Kansas later, the most famous probably being John Brown, and I liked seeing some of Pearl’s ancestors (grandmother and grandfather I believe) having to go head to head with the kinds of creatures their granddaughter would ultimately become.

“Essence of Life” by Gail Simone and Tula Lotay (Ill): This is my favorite story in the collection, and it centers of secondary antagonist Hattie, Pearl’s old roommate turned femme fatale vampire. In this story we get to see the life she was living in Hollywood before she met Pearl, where she is so desperate for stardom that she trusts in the wrong people. She’s now writing a letter to Pearl to explain why she did what she did, and to tell her that she felt like she really had no choice after everything she’d been through. I love that Gail Simone was the author for this one, because she does a stupendous job of turning Hattie from simple backstabbing jealous bitch into a somewhat sympathetic, but still very vile, villainess. It’s hard not to feel for her when you see the horrible crap that happened to her, just as it’s hard not to let out a shout of ‘GOOD FOR HER!’ when you get to the rage-filled and cathartic conclusion.

Forgive the bad photo, I needed this one specifically. (source: Vertigo)

The other stories have their strengths and weaknesses. I don’t really feel like I ever need to know more about Skinner Sweet (I’m still on the anti-Skinner train!), so I kind of skimmed his stories. But I did like seeing other villains get some background, as well as more explorations about race, class, and American violence. All in all, it’s a solid collection!

Don’t make the same mistake I did, friends! If you are reading “American Vampire”, don’t skip over “Volume 6”! It expands things in ways that make the story richer.

Rating 8: This is a pretty solid set of tales within the “American Vampire” universe, with some expansions on character connections, characterizations, and general vampire lore and history inside the universe.

Reader’s Advisory:

“American Vampire: Vol. 6” is included on the Goodreads lists “Vampire Anthologies”, and “Best Comics Series Since 2000”.

Previously Reviewed:

Kate’s Review: “American Vampire: Volume 5”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  
Read the full disclosure here.

Book: “American Vampire: Volume 5” by Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque (Ill.), & Dustin Nguyen (Ill.)

Publication Info: Vertigo, March 2013

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

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

Book Description: In the first story, series mainstays Skinner Sweet, Pearl and company return to Hollywood in the ’50s during the Red Scare. In a time where America was on the lookout for the next Communist threat, was the real danger something far more insidious? A major turning point in American Vampire lore begins here!

In the second tale, familiar face and vampire hunter Felicia Book is “retired” from vampire hunting when she gets called back into action to track down and kill the most powerful vampire of all time. The hunt takes our heroes through post-war Europe, behind the Iron Curtain and into the heart of Russia to track this deadly enemy

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: When it came time to pick up “American Vampire: Volume 5” for this re-read, I remembered that I liked this volume a lot the first time I read it, but didn’t really remember why. So I was wondering if taking it on again almost ten years later was going to be a different experience, as lord knows I’ve already had some perspective shifts in the first four volumes. But almost immediately upon jumping in I realized that there was a reason I liked this volume so much, and it was pretty evident that was going to be the case once again.

Our first big story is set in 1950s Europe, with Felicia Book and her son Gus (both living more normal lives due to the supposed ‘cure’ for vampirism she got at the end of her last major arc) spending their time in France. When Felicia is approached by her former VMS boss Hobbes asking her to help the group track down a stolen Dracula (yep, THAT Dracula, the long dormant leader of the Carpathian vampires) she gets pulled back into a job she left behind because Gus is now being compelled by the notorious Count. Felicia continues to be my favorite character in this series, and I loved seeing her fight tooth and nail to keep her son safe, while also feeling lots of resentment about being pulled back into the Vassals at behest of her old friend and boss. I also think that Snyder did a good job of bringing in Dracula without making it hokey or, frankly, stupid. It’s certainly not the first time a modern vampire story has brought Dracula into the fold, but it’s a successful way to bring him in because it feels unique but also rooted in the source material, but also doesn’t overwhelm. Watching Felicia, Hobbes, Gus, and other unlikely allies track down Dracula in ways that mirror the way Dracula is tracked down in the original novel is just fun (I especially like the way that they bring in a Renfield character as well as substituting Soviet soldiers for glamored peasantry), and it all leads to a significant shift in Felicia’s and Gus’s storyline. I’m always happy to spend time with Felicia and Gus, and this really puts them at the forefront of their lovely mother/son relationship.

The other big story is back in the U.S. and has Pearl and Skinner (gag) at the forefront, and brings them back to her origins as an American Vampire in Hollywood. Now it’s the 1950s and Hollywood is undergoing the Red Scare, and Pearl and Sweet are recruited to investigate studio execs and other power players who may be harboring vampires. Pearl, however, is also contending with her husband Henry’s coma, as his attack at the end of her last arc has left her worried that she’s going to lose him. The relationship between Pearl and the absolutely sweet and wonderful (but mortal) Henry has been such a mainstay in this series, but time has been aging Henry while Pearl has stayed youthful, and his mortality is oh so very clear right now. I have always loved Pearl and Henry, and as the series has gone on Snyder has subtly addressed the elephant in the room of how she will ultimately have to say goodbye just due to the reality of their situation. I couldn’t give less of a fuck about how Skinner fits into all of this, though I do admit that I DO enjoy seeing a sire and his fledgling team up, especially after she believed she killed him during WWII. On my first read of this I remember really resenting the fact that Skinner is actually kind of tolerable in this arc, but because it’s mostly due to Pearl and their connection I guess I’m going to allow it. That said, he’s still so static and boring in his malevolence. It was just nice seeing Pearl be able to deal with the baggage there at least a little bit, while also revisiting the trauma that started it all back in Hollywood and the cesspit it is. The women continue to be the shining stars of the series, and, like Felicia, Pearl finds herself at a crossroads by the end of this volume. But hers is far more melancholy.

This was the best volume yet. Snyder both brings things to proper ends, but also opens new doors with more possibilities on the horizon. Keep Pearl and Felicia in the spotlight, “American Vampire”. They continue to be amazing in their complexity and resilience.

Rating 9: The strongest volume yet, with many things coming to conclusions and other things just beginning.

Reader’s Advisory:

“American Vampire: Volume 5” is included on the Goodreads lists “Vertigo Titles: Must Read Comic Books A-E”, and “Best Adult Vampire Books”.

Kate’s Review: “Wash Day Diaries”

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Book: “Wash Day Diaries” by Jamila Rowser & Robyn Smith (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Chronicle Books, July 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

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

Book Description: Wash Day Diaries tells the story of four best friends—Kim, Tanisha, Davene, and Cookie—through five connected short story comics that follow these young women through the ups and downs of their daily lives in the Bronx.

The book takes its title from the wash day experience shared by Black women everywhere of setting aside all plans and responsibilities for a full day of washing, conditioning, and nourishing their hair. Each short story uses hair routines as a window into these four characters’ everyday lives and how they care for each other.

Jamila Rowser and Robyn Smith originally kickstarted their critically acclaimed, award-winning slice of life mini comic, Wash Day, inspired by Rowser’s own wash day ritual and their shared desire to see more comics featuring the daily lived experiences of young Black women. Wash Day Diaries includes an updated, full color version of this original comic—which follows Kim, a 26-year-old woman living in the Bronx—as the book’s first chapter and expands into a graphic novel with short stories about these vibrant and relatable new characters.

In expanding the story of Kim and her friends, the authors pay tribute to Black sisterhood through portraits of shared, yet deeply personal experiences of Black hair care. From self-care to spilling the tea at an hours-long salon appointment to healing family rifts, the stories are brought to life through beautifully drawn characters and different color palettes reflecting the mood in each story.

At times touching, quiet, triumphant, and laugh out loud funny, the stories of Wash Day Diaries pay a loving tribute to Black joy and the resilience of Black women.

Review: It’s that time of year again, when the Goodreads Choice Awards showcase a number of well loved books, and I am confronted with titles that I had either never heard of, or titles that I had seen in passing but had forgotten about for one reason or another. “Wash Day Diaries” by Jamila Rouser falls solidly in the latter category, as I am certain that it had crossed my path once or twice before I clicked open the ballot for Best Graphic Novel. So given that I like to try and catch up on popular titles, and given that my current goal is to read more graphics (as they fell by the wayside a bit this year), I snagged an eBook of this for my Kindle and read it in about an hour one afternoon. And I definitely understood why it was on the ballot this year!

Overall I thought that this was a fun and incredibly charming collection of stories about four Black friends who are all dealing with various ups and downs in their lives as seen through their hair care days. I think that slice of life stories can be hard to do, especially when they are on the shorter side, but Rowser overall does a good job of letting the reader get to know each character and really get a feel for who they are with each entry. Be it Kim, who is setting aside all her time and other worries (namely an aggressive ex lover), or her roommate Cookie who is working through issues with her grandmother, or Nisha who has found herself in a love triangle, or Devene who is battling mental health issues, “Wash Day Diaries” looks at four Black women on their hair washing days and gives us an idea of who they are, and how much they all care for each other. All of the stories are short, and they have varying degrees of action to them, but they all paint a clear portrait of modern day Black womanhood for these four friends who are ride or die for each other.

There are always going to be limitations with slice of life stories such as these, ones that I myself tend to feel more just because I really love details and a wide breadth of exploration in stories, but for the most part I wasn’t put off by these things when I think in other contexts I might have been. It just goes to show that Rowser had a clear idea and overarching theme that connected through them all, and having a huge part of that being the vast experiences within Black womanhood and Black joy was really positive. Lord knows there need to be more stories about these things.

And I really enjoyed the artwork by artist Robyn Smith. I liked the designs of all the characters, I really liked the color palate, and I highly enjoyed the details that came out when focusing on the different Black hair styles that our characters had.

I highly suggest checking out “Wash Day Diaries”. It’s a quick read that has a lot of heart, and I am very interested in seeing what Jamila Rowser does next.

Rating 8: A slice of life collection built upon multiple arcs of four best friends, “Wash Day Diaries” is a tribute to Black hair, Black womanhood, and Black friendship.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Wash Day Diaries” is included on the Goodreads lists “Black Alt/Indie Comics”, and “Plus Size & Mid Size Rep: Comics and Graphic Novels”.

Kate’s Review: “Blackwater”

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Book: “Blackwater” by Jeannette Arroyo & Ren Graham

Publishing Info: Henry Holt & Co. (BYR), July 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

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

Book Description: Tony Price is a popular high school track star and occasional delinquent aching for his dad’s attention and approval. Eli Hirsch is a quiet boy with a chronic autoimmune disorder that has ravaged his health and social life. What happens when these two become unlikely friends (and a whole lot more . . .) in the spooky town of Blackwater, Maine? Werewolf curses, unsavory interactions with the quarterback of the football team, a ghostly fisherman haunting the harbor, and tons of high school drama.

Co-illustrated by Jeannette Arroyo and Ren Graham, who alternate drawing chapters in their own unique and dynamic styles, Blackwater combines the spookiness of Anya’s Ghost with the irreverent humor of Nimona.

Review: I’m admittedly a bit of a slacker lately when it comes to graphic novels, and I am making a promise to myself that in 2023 I am going to try and do a better job of reading more graphics. But when I saw “Blackwater” by Jeannette Arroyo and Ren Graham on my Goodreads feed, it caught my eye, and I made sure to get my hands on it for 2022. It has a lot of great things going for it: a horror graphic novel! With POC and queer and trans characters! With a spooky cover right off the bat!

So first, the werewolf stuff. Werewolves aren’t a subgenre I dislike by any means, I just don’t find myself reading or consuming much around this kind of monster (that said, read “Such Sharp Teeth!” by Rachel Harrison!). But I do know when a werewolf story has hamfisted metaphors as opposed to well done ones, and “Blackwater” has a mix of both. For one, this isn’t REALLY werewolves in a traditional sense as it’s more about emotional state than moon phases. Once Tony, one of our protagonists, gets bit, he’s turning into a wolf whenever his feelings get the better of him, usually rage. Which is, frankly, a bit obvious and a little bit of a cheat to say it’s werewolves when it’s not REALLY at the heart of the matter werewolves, mythos wise. But on the flip side, there is a good exploration of grief and loss in this book that does also tie into wolf transformation, but also as it applies to other characters and the hardships they are facing. One protagonist Tony is grieving a broken relationship with his father or a changing friendship with a childhood friend, just as other protagonist Eli is grieving a strained relationship with his mother because of how she responds to his chronic illness. Both of them feel lonely in their own ways, and that fits into the overall metaphor well too. There is also a side story involving Eli’s ability to see ghosts and a ghostly fisherman who has some unfinished business on Earth that I found to be the most effective storyline, but I don’t want to go into why I found it as such as it will be pretty spoiler heavy if I did. But let’s just say that I did find myself crying a bit with this whole plot line.

But here is the aspect that didn’t work for me and I wish it had: the romance between Tony and Eli. I get what the authors were trying to do, having them slowly start to fall for each other after each having preconceived notions about the other, and having them both grow as people in a coming of age tale where their romance is just the icing on the cake. But the issue I had with this was 1) I didn’t feel like I got to know either of them well enough to get super invested, and 2) there is a moment that REALLY derailed it for me, and I need to talk about it a bit so I’m going to do a

So early on in the book, Tony is still pretty chummy with (though admittedly outgrowing) his childhood best friend Biff. Biff is a complete jerk, and he bullies Eli for being weird and solitary and different, and Tony, though he doesn’t approve, feels like he can’t push back against his friend. He doesn’t participate, but he doesn’t stop it either. He also offhandedly mentions to Eli that he has asthma and has to use an inhaler before his track meets. Eli, angry that Tony didn’t stand up for him, takes his inhaler out of his bag and throws it into the woods. Then Tony has an asthma attack during the track meet, to the point an ambulance has to be called. He ends up just fine, but still, that’s pretty serious. And when it does come out that Eli did this, there is anger on Tony’s part, but he is pretty much told that ‘hey, Eli made a mistake, but you should forgive him’ and that is that, and I just…. That didn’t sit well with me. I don’t have asthma so I’m not going to speak for those who do, but I do have memories of my younger sister having to be up at 3am with a nebulizer multiple times a week because of her asthma making it hard for her to breathe, so for this kind of thing to be dismissed as a slip up versus something that is potentially VERY dangerous was hard to swallow. I don’t need Eli to be a villain over it, because yes, people do make mistakes when they are in pain and it can be nuanced! But it made it hard for me to be rooting for them as a couple when Eli did this and then kept it a secret for so long. Add in a vague lack of fleshed out chemistry and it just didn’t justify the romantic reconciliation. If there was more time to give me a relationship chemistry based reason for them to overcome this I could have been more forgiving, probably. I’ve done it before! But I just didn’t see the chemistry or character development for that.

And I do want to mention the artwork, mostly because the two authors, Arroyo and Graham, alternate taking on the illustrations as the story is told. I liked the round robin-esque aspect of this and the way that two creators come together to tell a story through their own aesthetics. It doesn’t really add anything to the story at hand, but it’s a fun idea and I think they executed it well. I also liked their styles overall. They hit the right tone, with scary elements when needed but sweet designs as well.

(source: blackwatercomic.tumblr.com)

So when it comes to werewolf themes and romance I thought that “Blackwater” was a bit lackluster, but the deeper themes of grief and loss were well conceived and constructed. Ultimately I’d say it was ‘okay’.

Rating 6: It’s an okay werewolf tale with some decent themes about grief that work, but the romance was so so when I had hoped I’d be more invested. Plus there’s a moment that I thought was pretty unforgivable that’s glossed over.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Blackwater” is included on the Goodreads lists “Trans YA Fiction”, and “BIPOC Boy MC in YA Fantasy/SciFi/Mystery”.

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

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

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.

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

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?!

My feelings towards Skinner Sweet, and I MAY BE THE ONLY ONE?! (source)

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.

Reader’s Advisory:

“American Vampire (Vol. 4)” is included on the Goodreads list “Best Horror Comics/Graphic Novels”.

Previously Reviewed:

Kate’s Review: “American Vampire (Vol. 3)”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

Book: “American Vampire (Vol. 3)” by Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque (Ill.), & Sean Murphy (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Vertigo, February 2012

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

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

Book Description: In the Pacific, Pearl’s husband Henry joins a clandestine group on a secret mission to Japan to hunt a new breed of bloodsucker. Meanwhile, Skinner Sweet has plans of his own…

And in Europe, vampire hunters Felicia Book and Cash McCogan go behind enemy lines in Nazi-occupied Romania in search of a rumored vampire cure. Blood and bullets abound in this new collection from the Eisner Award-winning series!

Review: After being (once again) a bit turned off by the previous volume of this series, I was pretty sure I remembered that “American Vampire (Vol. 3)” got back on track in terms of my ability to ‘gel’ with the story at hand. Which is interesting, because in general military stories aren’t REALLY my cup of tea, and hoo boy does this volume REALLY get into the military themes. After all, as we are traveling through American history with our vampires and vampire hunters, it is now World War II.

We have two story arcs that contend with two of the war fronts during this time. The first is a story surrounding Pearl, her husband Henry, and that fucking asshole Skinner Sweet. Henry, feeling old and a bit left behind by his ageless vampire wife, takes up the Vassal of the Morning Star when they recruit him for a military mission in the Pacific: there is the potential for a new vampire threat on an atoll that the group wants checked out and cleared. What he doesn’t realize is that one of the members of the team is an incognito Skinner Sweet who wants to not only cause chaos, but also to get Pearl all to himself. Side note: we do get a background story with Skinner and his old west girlfriend Kitty, who looks a LOT like Pearl, but honestly I don’t give a shit about him and his man pain.

I DON’T CARE, BUDDY. (source)

This arc was good in the sense that it is basically nonstop action, and it has a lot of new vampire mythology exploration that felt really unique and grotesque. I really love how Snyder is creating subgroups of vampires and how they are all different based upon various factors, and I thought that the cat and mouse game between Henry, Pearl, and Sweet was interesting and tense to watch unfold. Because you know that once Pearl gets a whiff of Skinner potentially threatening the love of her life, maker or not, she is not going to sit by and let it happen.

The other arc is a bit earlier in time, an it involves Felicia Book and Cash McCoogan, together again after the terrible conclusion to their previous mission together: in which Sweet injected Cash’s very pregnant wife Lily with vampire blood directly into her womb, causing her to die in childbirth with a very vampiric baby boy named Gus. Felicia blames herself for hesitating on taking Sweet out, and Cash is desperate to keep his child safe, even if he is a feral monster child. The Vassals of the Morning Star has heard of rumors of a vampire cure in Nazi Occupied Romania, and the two of them are recruited to go undercover and try to see what’s what. They both have their reasons beyond loyalty to the group; Felicia is part vampire herself (as she was conceived when her father was in the throes of turning into a vampire, and it has affected her), and Cash wants Gus to be cured. THIS arc was the one I liked better, as it has some suspenseful moments of espionage, it has some really cool vampire world building, and I loved the tense relationship between Felicia and Cash as they are working together in hostile Nazi circles and contending with unexpected revelations.

But the biggest step up from the past volume is that Pearl finally, FINALLY, gets a bit more to do, and Felicia has her own riveting storyline and character arc that jumps off the page. It’s true that the last volume had a lot of Felicia (who is probably my favorite character in the series), but there was VERY little Pearl, and not only do we get to see her in vampiric action again, we also get to see her kick serious ass and come to aid her husband Henry when he’s in far over his head. I really love both of these women, who are dealing with their various guilts and insecurities and baggage, and I love that they get to take a bit of control over their situations, be it Pearl finally confronting Skinner Sweet, or Felicia seeking out a vampire cure so she can perhaps live a more normal life. And I also love the chemistry between Pearl and Henry, and the chemistry between Felicia and Cash. What can I say? I do love a nice romance, even if some are more tragic than others.

“American Vampire (Vol. 3)” gets the series back on track for me, and it both concludes some story arcs while also opening up the possibilities for others. The vampire lore is still fun and original, and it keeps reminding me of how much I love this series as a whole.

Rating 8: Two solid war time stories and more action for my gals Pearl and Felicia gets our series back on track.

Reader’s Advisory:

“American Vampire (Vol.3)” is included on the Goodreads lists “Weird War”, and “Vertigo Titles: Must Read Comic Books A-E”.

Previously Reviewed:

Kate’s Review: “A Blanket of Butterflies”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

Book: “A Blanket of Butterflies” by Richard Van Camp, Scott B. Henderson (Ill.), & Donovan Yaciuk (Ill.)

Publishing Info: HighWater Press, September 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC and a print copy from the publisher.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | HighWater Press | IndieBound

Book Description: No one knows how a suit of samurai armour ended up in the Fort Smith museum. When a mysterious stranger turns up to claim it, Sonny, a young Tłı̨chǫ Dene boy, is eager to help.

Shinobu has travelled to Fort Smith, NWT, to reclaim his grandfather’s samurai sword and armour. But when he discovers that the sword was lost in a poker game, he must confront the man known as Benny the Bank. Along the way, Shinobu must rely on unlikely heroes—Sonny, his grandmother, and a visitor from the spirit world. Together, they face Benny and his men, including the giant they call Flinch.

Will Shinobu be able to regain the lost sword and, with it, his family’s honour? Can Sonny and his grandmother help Shinobu while keeping the peace in their community?

Review: Thank you so, so much to Lohit Jagwani from HighWater Press for sending me an eARC and print copy of this graphic novel!

So today I am starting an ongoing series that is going to happen through the rest of September. I was approached by HighWater Press, and imprint of Portage & Main Press that focuses on Indigenous stories and voices by Indigenous authors, and it was decided that I would read and review a number of their graphic novels and middle grade books. So for the next few Thursdays there will be a decided theme, and honestly I am so excited to talk about and amplify these stories. So thanks again to Lohit Jagwani and to HighWater Press for this amazing opportunity! We are starting this series with “A Blanket of Butterflies” by Richard Van Camp, an author that I am familiar with due to not only the graphic novel collection “This Place”, but due to the picture books “Little You” and “We Sang You Home”, both huge hits with my toddler. I was very excited to check this graphic novel out, as I like Van Camp’s stories, and I was VERY intrigued by the premise of a Japanese man traveling to Canada to try and get his family Samurai armor back.

The plot to “A Blanket of Butterflies” is pretty simple and straightforward. A Japanese man named Shinobu has tracked down a family heirloom of Samurai armor and sword to a small community in the Northwest Territory in Canada, but when he arrives to reclaim it the sword has been lost in a poker game to a local heavy and his underlings. After he confronts Benny the Bank, he is beaten to a pulp, and is taken in by a boy named Sonny and his grandmother. I think that in a traditional Western tale, there are certain expectations as to how this would go, and I myself had my own thoughts on how this was all going to come together. But what I really loved about this book is that Van Camp takes these expectations and turns them on their head, instead focusing on Shinobu’s healing at the hands of Sonny’s ehtsi, and the things that he learns from her and how it shapes the rest of the story. I really liked how Van Camp did a lot of showing versus telling, whether it be regarding Shinobu’s tattoo’s to imply his dark past, or to use metaphorical visions in reference to the NWT’s involvement in the Manhattan Project. And, again, I enjoyed the more introspective way that the final conflict is approached, and how the examination of connections across families and cultures and the power of both can show similarities that may make us think twice about succumbing to more violent outcomes.

The most interesting part of this story, howeer, was the extensive bits of notes left at the end, talking about the experiences of Indigenous peoples in the modern and 20th century NWT, but also that of Japanese Canadians during WWII. I know a lot about the American Incarceration of Japanese Americans, but had no knowledge of the similar conditions of Japanese Canadians during this time. I really, really loved having the context there to explain how a Samurai armor and sword would be in a random possession of a Canadian person, and how the traumas of both Indigenous Canadians and Japanese Canadians intertwine a bit in this story because of colonialism, systemic disparities, and the Canadian government’s racist policies.

And finally, I really liked the artwork in this story. It has a realism to it, but it also has vibrant use of colors and tones, which makes it pop on the page.

Source: HighWater Press

I really liked this graphic novel. Richard Van Camp has a wide appeal across ages, and “A Blanket of Butterflies” moved me and explored other ways to solve conflicts for those who have been beaten down by conflict their whole lives. It was very enjoyable.

Rating 8: An informative but also moving story about connection, conflict, and shared thematic histories, “A Blanket of Butterflies” is a lovely graphic novel from Richard Van Camp.

Reader’s Advisory:

“A Blanket of Butterflies” is included on the Goodreads lists “Canadian Indigenous Books”, and “Graphic Novels & Comics By The Aboriginal, Indigenous, and Native Peoples of the World”.

Kate’s Review: “American Vampire (Vol. 2)”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

Book: “American Vampire (Vol.2)” by Scott Snyder & Raphael Albuquerque (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Vertigo, May 2011

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

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

Book Description: While trafficking in a bestselling sub-genre, American Vampire introduces a new strain of vampire — a more muscular and vicious species, born of the American West.

It’s Las Vegas circa 1935, and Skinner Sweet and our gal Pearl are about to learn the hard way that the bloodsuckers in Hollywood were nothing compared to what awaits them in Sin City.

In just a few short years, young police Chief Cash McCogan has watched his native city of Las Vegas go from cow-town to wild, glittering boomtown. And when the bodies of prominent businessmen start showing up drained of blood, Chief McCogan finds himself facing a threat much darker and deadlier than anything he could have imagined . . . and the only sure bet in town is that Skinner and Pearl are right in the thick of it.

Review: So “American Vampire”‘s second volume was the one I was most apprehensive revisiting, as I remembered not liking it so much on my initial read. So much so that I kind of stopped the series for awhile. I felt that it dove into some stuff that I had a very hard time with, ultimately, and I knew that while I had to read it again for this revisit, I wasn’t looking forward to it. But a completist I am when it comes to this stuff, and ya gotta judge a series but all of it’s canonical parts. So into “Volume 2” I dove. And it was a better experience this time around to be sure, just putting into the context of the greater storyline! But man, I still really hate that Skinner Sweet. And I think he’s getting off a little easy.

Starting with what I do like about this volume, as it does outweigh the negatives, I love how Snyder has taken another snapshot of a moment in American history, this time being the inception of Las Vegas’s reputation as a party town due to the construction of the Hoover Dam, and adds in some vampire touches that could link to real life ills of American society. This time it’s the idea of progress and innovation, as the dam has brought in a lot of workers, and with workers comes a certain rowdiness that Las Vegas Deputy Cash McCogan is wary of. So when high powered backers involved in the dam start ending up dead, drained of blood, he is approached by a mysterious couple of agents, one of whom is Felicia Book, the daughter of previous hero turned vampire James Book. I loved how we slowly peeled back what Felicia’s deal was, and what kind of group she is working for, as well as her ulterior motives beyond the group because of her connection to their target, Skinner Sweet. And of course Skinner has his disgusting claws planted firmly in Las Vegas’s underbelly. I thought that the mythos building in this issue was good, though some of the plot points introduced were very quickly resolved in ways that felt unsatisfying to me.

I think that my biggest qualms partially go back into my previous qualms with my initial read, though I did find more this time that aggravated me, though my overall dissatisfaction wasn’t as pronounced this time. For one, without going into specifics, Skinner Sweet continues to be the irredeemable worst, and continues to not have any interesting growth or nuance. It’s fine when it’s the first volume and we are just getting to know him, but if we are going to have such a focus on him as the story goes on, it would sit better with me if he was more interesting in his badness. As it is in this volume, he’s either exploiting sex workers as the head of a brothel, continuing his spiteful violence, and creating a pivotal turning point in the series for a few characters through a particularly terrible act that disturbed me as much this time as it did the first time reading it. I did like following our ‘heroes’, deputy Cash McCogan, as well as two mysterious agents for the hush hush group, one of whom being Felicia, but on the flip side there is a VERY serious lack of Pearl in this volume. Given that Pearl is the vampire I actually really like in this series, it was a shame she was kind of sidelined, even if it was rewarding in some ways. The lack of Pearl this time was especially galling. She is far more interesting than Skinner freakin’ Sweet.

But Raphael Albuquerque’s art is still pretty great! I like that this time around he gets to play with some vampire designs that think outside the box!

I mean this is just cool. (source)

I liked the expanded mythos of the vampire hunters, but didn’t like the central focus on Skinner Sweet this time around. But I am excited to revisit where things go next, as I remember liking it more than this foray into the storyline.

Rating 7: Another fun deep dive into vampire connections to American history, though it sometimes feels a bit haphazard in introducing and concluding plot points.

Reader’s Advisory:

“American Vampire (Vol. 2)” is included on the Goodreads lists “Comic Books to Appreciate and Love”, and “Best Horror Comics/Graphic Novels”.

Previously Reviewed:

Kate’s Review: “Zatanna: The Jewel of Gravesend”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

Book: “Zatanna: The Jewel of Gravesend” by Alys Arden and Jacquelin De Leon (Ill.)

Publishing Info: DC Comics, July 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

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

Book Description: There’s more to the mobsters, mystics, and mermaids at the last stop on the D/F/Q trains: Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue.

Zatanna’s not your typical New Yorker. She walks her giant rabbit on a leather leash down the boardwalk, lives in a colossal architectural wonder known as the Golden Elephant, had her first kiss in the Haunted Hell Gate ride–and wouldn’t have it any other way.

But the time for having fun in Luna Park comes to an end when a mystic’s quest for a powerful jewel unravels everything Zatanna thought she knew about herself and her beloved neighborhood. Mysteries and magic surround her as she reveals the truth about her family’s legacy, and confronts the illusion that has been cast over her entire life.

From the bewitching mind behind The Casquette Girls, Alys Arden, and with enchanting artwork by Jacquelin de Leon, comes the story of a girl stuck in the middle of a magical rivalry and forced to choose between love, family, and magic without hurting anyone…or worse

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this graphic novel!

Though I have been fairly into DC for most of my life, I will fully admit that I haven’t encountered too much Zatanna. Sure, she does pop up here and there (I really liked her iteration in the “Bombshells” series), but she just isn’t really a character that I have encountered so much. Which is partially why I decided to pick up “Zatanna: The Jewel of Gravesend”. It was enticing in a few ways from the jump. For one, I love her design on the cover of his graphic novel: the the hat, the colors, everything. I also liked the concept of her being a Coney Island kid both in the sense of where she lives, but also in the sense of being part of a family of performers. I am always looking for more ladies in DC to enjoy, and “Zatanna: The Jewel of Gravesend” was a good primer for this character.

I liked Zatanna as a character in this, as she is very much a genial and intrepid teenage girl who loves her friends, loves her family, and loves her boyfriend. While her father Ezra puts pressure on her to join his magic act, which she isn’t really feeling, she has friends who are fortune tellers and other illusionists. She also has a boyfriend named Alexei who happens to be the son of a notoroious Russian mobster, though Alexei seems to be more tenderhearted than his family reputation. When Zatanna starts seeing strange backwards writing, and then starts to experience magic of her own, things get complicated. I liked the build up to this, as I felt that Alys Arden went at a good pace to build up background before really diving in to the story at hand. I liked the atmosphere of Luna City and Coney Island, and I liked seeing Zatanna deal with coming of age issues, be they pretty run of the mill, or more of the magical kind.

I do think that things get a little rushed in the last third. I mentioned above that I liked the background, and I definitely did, but then I felt that there was a rush to get to the heart of the story, with reveals and twists coming quickly. A lot of the time we didn’t get a moment to let some of these twists breathe, with a moment happening in one panel and then being yanked away only a couple panels later. I’m going to be vague because the moments I’m talking about are pretty spoiler heavy. But it made the focus between set up and conflict feel a bit unbalanced. Which is strange, because this is (apparently) a first volume of a continuing series. I don’t really know why the pacing got so disjointed when it could have been potentially spread out into another volume if need be, but hey, that could just be one reviewer’s opinion.

That said, I really liked the design of this book. I loved how Zatanna looked, and I loved the neon-y goodness of the Coney Island night life and the magical and opulent Luna City community.

I will probably keep going in the series as we have a true mystery at hand, and I did like this characterization of Zatanna. Plus, the artwork is to die for. I’m hoping the pacing can be a bit more balanced in the next volume, but I am intrigued by where Zatanna is going next.

Rating 7: A fun backstory for an underutilized DC heroine, with a lot of set up for future volumes, and a bit of a rushed conclusion.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Zatanna: The Jewel of Gravesend” is included on the Goodreads lists “DC Comics Female Creators”, and “Magical Fiction for Magicians”.

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

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

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”.

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