Here’s the great thing about “American Vampire” #20. Never mind that it’s part 2 of 3 and the middle of a storyline. The first half of this issue is so strong that I reckon you could give it to any new reader and they’d be so entranced that they’d stick around for the rest of the series.
Scott Snyder opens the new issue of “American Vampire” with a flashback to an expedition to find the western shore, one that bears a striking similarity to Lewis and Clark’s infamous trip across the country with Shoshone guide, Sacagawea. But like so many things in “American Vampire,” what looks simple and ordinary is of course anything but. As Snyder uses his Sacagawea analogue as the narrator for this portion of the issue, he brings a sense of creeping dread over the comic. You know it isn’t going to end well, the only question is for whom. And even when the big reveal finally appears and we discover the hidden secrets of the expedition, Snyder still has some surprises. Honestly, though, if you read through page 14 and stopped, you’d feel like you got a full issue’s worth of story and would be more than satisfied.
But of course, there’s more to the issue. As it ties into the events of the previous chapter, it not only makes “The Beast in the Cave” feel that much richer and more interesting, but it makes the situation of Skinner and Book more precarious and dangerous. The specter of Mimiteh and what it means for the cavalry, the tribe, and even Skinner and Book gives a punch to the story, and makes the cliffhanger toward next month’s conclusion that much stronger.
It doesn’t hurt, of course, that Jordi Bernet is illustrating this three-part story. While I adore co-creator Rafael Albuquerque’s art on the title, Bernet is knocking his pages out of the park. I love the almost woodcut nature of the illustrations of the expedition, with the hunters being hunted as they creep through the woods, or how the self-described “nightmare come to life” in fact feels like just that, erupting into violence and horror. Bernet is a living legend, a true gem of comics, and there are no throw-away panels here. From the leap of the monster under the moonlight, to the final climactic moment of this issue, there’s so much energy and expression that it’s a little boggling.
“American Vampire” is consistently strong, month after month, so it’s with that already in mind that I say that this is probably my favorite issue to date. There’s something about that retelling of the Lewis and Clark expedition into “American Vampire” lore that makes it extra entrancing. Whatever that is, I’m not complaining. You don’t get much better than this.