The only thing that bothers me about the first issue of “American Vampire” is the clumsy use of transition captions in the opening story. We jump around in time a bit, and they can be helpful in that regard, but they mostly just show that one scene is leading into the next with “That night. . .” and “Dawn” written in bold white against a field of red, as if to say, “hey, Rafael Albuquerque needs some help with his visuals — he can’t tell the story all by himself.”
But Albuquerque could tell this story by himself — or at least the parts that the captions try to clear up — and his work on this issue is amazing. That’s right. Amazing. If you think you’ve seen his style on “Blue Beetle” or “Superman/Batman,” well, you have, but it’s not his only style. And in “American Vampire” #1 he uses two different approaches to tell two different kinds of stories. And both visual styles look, well, as I said, amazing.
And if my only complaint about the first issue is the slightly unwieldy and admittedly minor time-switch captions, then this must be a strong debut for a series. It surely is.
Know this: for $3.99, you get plenty of story. The Scott Snyder-penned opener, set in 1925, feels dense enough — like a good Vertigo first issue — but you also get another 16 page story written by Stephen King. And that’s going to be the plan for the first five issues. Half-Snyder, half-King, all Albuquerque, and all excellent.
This isn’t an anthology book. The Snyder tale and the King story play off one another. The major character in King’s story, Skinner Sweet, makes a slight appearance in the Snyder 16-pager. Because the Snyder story comes first in the issue, and takes place 45 years after the King story, the appearance of Skinner Sweet doesn’t mean as much, narratively, as it will once you’ve finished the entire issue. Structured the way it is — with Snyder and King presenting very different tonal approaches to the vampire genre, even while sharing a character in common — the first issue feels layered. It feels literary. And yet still wonderfully nasty.
Let’s talk a bit about vampires. They’re difficult to do well, right? They are such horror cliches that it’s hard to imagine a real need to explore yet another vampire saga. But the way Snyder and King avoid the cliches is by accepting them — yes, vampires are creepy and they bite people — and then creating worthwhile stories around them. Snyder’s story is about Hollywood in the early Modern era, and while it’s easy to see the parallels between producers and blood-suckers, it’s not so easy to create a compelling character, in the form of young Pearl, who immediately establishes herself as someone worth following around. Even if we’ve already seen what will happen to her in the chilling opening scene.
And Stephen King gives us a vampire western. Sam Peckinpah mixed with F. W. Murnau. Dusty, sweaty, ripe. With dialogue to match.
“American Vampire” #1 seems as ambitious as its title. It’s not just another vampire story. It’s a story about America. Bloody, vicious, and a whole lot of fun.