American Vampire, vol. 1

av1The introduction to this book informs us that Stephen King was so impressed by the idea behind American Vampire that when Scott Snyder approached him about writing a promotional blurb for the series King asked if he might write for the series instead. Reading this book, it is not hard to understand King’s enthusiasm. At a time when the vampire mythos has been played out and (pardon the pun) revamped into every conceivable genre, American Vampire offers a fresh new take on the classic formula.

The vampires of Snyder’s universe — and there are, as we eventually discover, many different varieties of vampire — are not nice people. Many of them don’t even qualify as people by the most liberal standard of what constitutes humanity. There are no brooding Byronic figures, pining away for a lost love of centuries past. There are no tormented ex-soldiers seeking redemption by using their dark powers to protect humanity from their own kind. And there are certainly no sparkly-skinned immortal teenagers seeking a perfect little swan to help them tame the beast within. These vampires are undoubtedly monsters and most of them are bastards.

Skinner Sweet is a bastard, too, and was something of a monster even before he became a vampire back in 1880. A bandit by trade, Sweet is on his way to stand trial when he is fed upon by the vampire railroad tycoon whose trains and banks he’d robbed. Left for dead, Sweet awakes days later with a powerful hunger for something besides his ever-present peppermint stick — revenge! And blood, too, of course. Sweet’s victims quickly realize he’s come back as something beyond human, beyond vampire: a new breed of American vampire, immune to the touch of sunlight or wooden stakes.

It is this tale of Skinner Sweet’s fall and rise that Stephen King spins across five chapters of this volume. These chapters alternate with Scott Snyder’s story, which is set in Hollywood, California, in 1925. It is here that Sweet creates his first “child,” Pearl Jones. Pearl is an aspiring actress who runs afoul of the very Old Boy network that runs Hollywood, literally chewing up and spitting out beautiful young women. Not that Sweet really cares, save that the vampire studio moguls on are on his hit-list and another one like him could only help make things in town more chaotic, just the way Sweet likes it.

Rafael Albuquerque illustrates both stories with a vitality to match the scripts by both King and Snyder. Forgive me another pun when I say that Albuquerque’s artwork has real bite. Describing it as visceral, while accurate, may not be much better. Regardless, this graphic novel looks as good as it reads.

In case this being a Vertigo title, and Stephen King being one of the two authors, isn’t a big enough warning sign, let me state this clearly: “This Book Is Suggested For Mature Readers” for a reason. There’s a lot of ultra-violence, bad language, uncovered naughty bits, and a fair bit of disturbing imagery, such as our first look at Pearl Jones as she wakes up in a charnel pit. Keep this book firmly in your adult fiction section.

American Vampire, vol. 1
by Stephen King, Scott Snyder
Art by Rafael Albuquerque
ISBN: 9781401229740
Vertigo Comics, 2011
Publisher Age Rating: Suggested For Mature Readers (18+)

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