Writers: Scott Snyder (Vol. 1-6) & Stephen King (Vol. 1)
Primary Artists: Rafael Albuquerque
Series: AMERICAN VAMPIRE Graphic Novels, Cycle #1
Plot Type: Horror
Ratings: Violence—5; Sensuality—4; Humor—2 (but the humor is very, very dark)
Publisher and Titles: D. C. Comics; Vertigo
American Vampire, Vol. 1 (10/2010)
American Vampire, Vol. 2 (5/2011)
American Vampire, Vol. 3 (2/2012)
American Vampire, Vol. 4 (10/2012)
American Vampire, Vol. 5 (5/2013)
American Vampire, Vol. 6 (4/2014)
This post was revised and updated on 7/29/14 to include a review of Volume Six of the hardcover book in this graphic novel series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of Volumes One through Five:
This is the final volume of Cycle #1, and it gives us one full-length story; one two-part Skinner Sweet piece that book-ends the second section and gets us ready for Cycle #2; and eight short-short stories. The two-part Skinner Sweet pair are the only ones that advance the over-arching series story line involving Skinner and Pearl, and even then, the plot advancement is ambiguous at best.
The first section—entitled "The Long Road to Hell"—tells the story of a pair of star-crossed teen lovers who seal their own fates when they meet up with a gang of vampires. This story introduces three new characters and revisits one strong character from an earlier volume.
The second section—entitled "American Vampire Anthology"—contains a series of stories that are set in various parts of North America, including the Southeast U.S., northern Canada, Kansas, and Hollywood. The opening/closing Skinner Sweet scenes take place in 1967, while the remaining stories are arranged chronologically from 1855 through 1940. Some of them fill in back-story details about series regulars, while others take a broader look at the effects of vampirism on various American (and Canadian) historical events.
If you haven't been keeping up with this series, the "Anthology" section will probably make little or no sense to you because it is a collage of slice-of-life mini-stories based on the unique American vampire mythology that is central to this series. Since some of the stories feature characters who are series regulars, if you haven't read their full stories, you won't have enough context to understand the significance of these small bits of back-story.
I've read a few reviews of this book and have noticed that the reviewers who like the book are series regulars, while the ones who don't like it are first-time readers.
PART 1: The Long Road to Hell
Script and Art by Rafael Albuquerque
Except for the first and last stories, each selection is an eight-page mini-story, part of a chronologically ordered set that moves from place to place across two centuries and forms a patchwork history of American vampirism. Each entry below includes the names of the writer and artist, a summary of the story, and a description of the artwork.
Chapter 2: "Morning Star" by Scott Snyder & "Deep Water," by Stephen King
Chapter 3: "Rough Cut," by Scott Snyder & "Blood Vengeance," by Stephen King
Chapter 4: "Double Exposure," by Scott Snyder & "One Drop of Blood," by Stephen King
Chapter 5: "Curtain Call," by Scott Snyder & "If Thy Right Hand Offend Thee...," by Stephen King
> Henry Preston: Pearl's human boyfriend (and then husband), a guitar-playing musician who backs Pearl up as she battles the bad vamps
> Hattie: Pearl's best friend and roommate in her pre-vamp days, who later becomes her bitter enemy
> James (Jim) Book: A Pinkerton detective who captures Sweet in his pre-vamp days and is eventually turned into a vampire by Sweet. (Picture a cross between Kevin Costner in Dances with Wolves and Clint Eastwood in any of his westerns.)
> Abilena Camino: Goddaughter of Jim Book. She has a daughter with Book and takes his name after he dies. She becomes a member of VMS.
Artists: Rafael Albuquerque & Mateus Santolouco
"Devil in the Sand" (Parts 1, 2, 3 & Conclusion)
This book takes place eleven years after the stories in Volume 1. "Devil in the Sand" moves between two story lines: In Las Vegas, Police Chief Cashel (Cash) McCogan is faced with a series of exsanguination murders of the top investors in the Hoover Dam project. Soon, two federal agents show up to assist Cash on the case, and one of the agents is Felicia Book, daughter of Jim Book and Abilena Camino. As you will recall, Felicia was conceived after her father had already been turned into a vampire, so her blood carries the vampire taint. She is not a full vampire, but she's not entirely human. When the feds admit to being VMS agents and claim that the killer is a vampire, Cash at first thinks that they're crazy, but he soon changes his mind. Skinner Sweet (now going as Jim Smoke) turns up as the owner of a brothel, and he also gets into some vamp-killing action later in the story. Both Cash and the feds at first believe that Sweet is at the root of the murders, but the identity of the killer turns out to be a real shocker.
"The Way Out" also has two story lines. The first brings us back to Hattie Hargrove's story. If you thought that Hattie died back in book 1, then you're in for a big surprise. This brief tale follows Hattie as she escapes from her imprisonment by a Carpathian vamp who is experimenting on her in an attempt to figure out her fatal weaknesses. Then, she's off on a revenge mission to hunt down her former roommate (and now nemesis), Pearl. The second story line keeps us up to date on Pearl and Henry's idyllic life in the California countryside. When Henry gets back into the musical world, things get even happier until the couple runs into a vamp blood-collecting gang and their lives get complicated—and bloody—all over again.
Colorist: Dave McCaig & Dave Stewart
"The Beast in the Cave" (Parts 1 & 2) (Bernet)
"Death Race" (Parts 1 - 4) (Albuquerque)
"The Nocturnes" (Parts 1 & 2) (Cruz & Burcielli)
"This is an origin story that details the childhood relationship between Skinner Sweet and Jim Book. Back in 1863, Book's family essentially adopted Skinner after the death of his parents in the early days of the Civil War. Even back then, Skinner was showing signs of the cruelty and fearless love of danger that mark his adult years. The story then jumps to the New Mexico Territory in 1871 where Jim and Skinner, both U.S. Army soldiers, are with troops who are tracking a group of Apache warriors led by their chief, Hole in the Sky. Skinner wants to set fire to the dry juniper growing all over the ridge behind which the Indians are entrenched, no matter that there may be women and children among them. Meanwhile, Hole in the Sky summons an ancient Indian spirit—actually a smokin' hot, naked, female Indian vampire called Mimteh. Hole wants Mimteh to kill the white soldiers, but she just wants him to go away. The story breaks away for a brief flashback showing how Mimteh went from human to vampire. Jim, Skinner, and the soldiers never actually see Mimteh; only the Indians get that dubious pleasure, and they reap the consequences.
The best part about this story is that it fills in some gaps in the backstories for Jim Book and Skinner Sweet. Bernet's art nicely captures the green countryside of Missouri and the dry, brown desert country of New Mexico. At the end, one brooding panel succinctly foreshadows Jim and Skinner’s future as Skinner stalks away from his adopted brother while a cloud of vultures circles over the pair.
Now we jump to a terrific story set in the 1950s, where we meet Travis Kidd, a 19-year-old greaser who has a score to settle with our old friend Skinner Sweet. (Did you really believe that the seemingly unkillable Skinner died back in that battle on Taipan ten years ago? Think again!) The story follows Travis as he and Sweet drag race down the highway in a flash of fins, chrome, and exhaust fumes—lots of vrmmm, vrmmm.
The story cuts back and forth between flashbacks of Travis' early life, which was spent being medicated and electro-shocked in a mental institution because he wouldn't stop talking about vampires. Albuquerque's artwork includes the traditional 1950s color spectrum, from the pink and gray outfit of Travis' wannabe girlfriend to Skinner's cherry red Fairlane and Travis' shiny black Cadillac. Travis is a typical 50s dude, looking just like a snarling James Dean in his Rebel without a Cause persona, with an upturned collar on his black leather jacket and a slicked-back DA haircut. He’s got a little bit of Elvis in him, as well. At one point, he shouts, "Let's rock and roll!" as he slams into a room filled with vampires. Skinner is portrayed anachronistically as a grunge-rocker type, a la Kurt Cobain, with nondescript clothes and long, disheveled hair. Hobbes, the VMS agent, makes an appearance in this story, once to save Travis and once to get bested by him.
The epilogue—just four pages long—jumps completely to another place—La Mesa California, where Henry and Pearl are still trying to live normal lives. This little tale, though, doesn't have an HEA. This is a great story, with lots of action, particularly when Travis uses his favorite weapon—the set of wooden fangs that he wears just for fighting vamps—what a great innovation!
This story brings us up to date on the life of Calvin Poole, the African American taxonomist of vampire species who was on Cash's VMS team in Volume 3's "Ghost War." At the end of that story, Cal was accidentally infected by Pearl's vampire blood, and now we see how he's been dealing with that. Cal is the third of only three known members of the newest vampire species, the Homo Abominum Americana. Technically, he's the offspring of Pearl, who, in turn, is the offspring of Skinner. The story line follows Cal as he visits small-town Midway in pre-Civil Rights Alabama. As Cal explains, a taxonomist is trained to look at the details, and when Cal does that in Midway, he uncovers a new breed of vampires. The doo-wop club scenes are nicely written and drawn, with the bright blue tuxedos, the synchronized back-up moves, and the simple, rhyming lyrics—all stylized, yet true to their roots. In the final scene, Pearl calls Cal for help, signaling the content of the a story yet to come.
This is a strong entry to the series, beginning with the fascinating prequel and getting even better in "Death Race." "Nocturnes" gives the reader a chance to catch his or her breath before jumping into a terrific vampire battle and a sad-news ending.
In the first long chapter, vampire hunter Linden Hobbes (head of the Vassals of the Morning Star—the VMS) is in London, where a powerful, ancient vampire has been imprisoned deep underground for decades. This vampire (they call him Dracula) is the first of the Carpathian line, and his vampirism has mutated to terrifying proportions. When an explosion frees Dracula, Hobbes tracks down Felicia Book in Paris, where she is trying to live a normal life with her son, Augustus (Gus). Hobbes talks Felicia into helping him recapture Dracula, who is now in the custody of the Russians. The story follows their adventures as they attempt to catch up with Dracula and his new handlers, who have no idea just what kind of a monster he is. Dracula has the power to command all Carpathian vampires with just his thoughts, even thousands of miles away, so the world is in dire jeopardy if he ever gets free.
In the second chapter, the story moves to California, where Pearl and Henry Preston have also been trying to live normal lives. Unfortunately for them, vampires keep hunting them down and trying to kill them. When Henry is badly injured in one of the attacks, the VMS agrees to help him if Pearl will come to work for them. It seems that a coven of vampires has taken over the movie industry behind the scenes, being sheltered in the homes of Hollywood power brokers. Pearl agrees to help out, but then is shocked to learn that her partner will be an old nemesis—her maker, Skinner Sweet, who has been forced to work with the VMS because they have found a way to control him. As Pearl and Skinner eliminate one vampire after another, they develop a new relationship—one that you would never predict. Near the end, another old nemesis shows up to add to Pearl's troubles. This is the strongest story of this book, with unexpected, but believable, relationship developments and a heartbreaking ending.
The very short third chapter stars Felicia's mother, Abilena Camino Book, who is living a reclusive life in Cruces, New Mexico. With just a hint of a plot, this piece is more like a tantalizing taste of a story yet to come.
Once again, the artwork is magnificently gruesome, with wonderfully vicious monsters who grow more and more horrific from one frame to the next. Albuquerque uses color quite effectively to differentiate the emotional content of various scenes, from the dark blue/green of Henry's scenes to the fierce red/orange scenes of the vamp battles. Skinner Sweet is my favorite among Albuquerque's character drawings, with his ironic, toothy grin and ever-present lollypop stick hanging from his mouth, he's a character for the ages. For me, Nguyen's most chilling character representation is Glass (aka Renfield), particularly in the opening scene with Hobbes and in the scene where he chases down poor little Gus on the ship. That creepy grin is menacingly memorable. Nguyen's portrayal of Dracula is also outstanding as he maintains the monster's mysticism while giving him a concrete physical shape (the long, stringy hair is a nice touch)—a black silhouette against dark red backgrounds and terrifyingly topped off by the beast's gleaming yellow eyes.