The ‘Beast In The Cave’ story is a piece of mythology for the title. It is also a short story to thicken the density of two characters. Skinner Sweet and James Book are taming the wild frontier when a conflict forces their choices and forges their destinies. The implied ramifications of this story run deep, but the literal actions of the narrative are a little shallower at times.
Everything in this three part arc works to drop the fuzzy lens of reflection. It’s a flashback tale; the art comes straight out of the old pulps, and the colors relax you into a horizontal state. It’s all extremely effective for that aspect and can be enjoyed as a fable from the past that informs what we know now. The actions of Sweet are true to his wholistic character. They set into motion his future path with consistency, and they are sadistically enjoyable to watch. Book’s arc is just as satisfying, especially the final two pages. Those pages tell us plenty about the man and the eventual collision course he is on. Those two pages are well constructed from a story meaning viewpoint.
The main problem comes in when we stop looking at the meaning of this tale — which is sublime — and instead place the machinations of this narrative under the microscope. The conclusion of this tale is punchy in the way short stories should be. The blow delivered is deliciously fun. Yet, the final actions of the first American vampire don’t ring true in much of a literal sense. The bloodshed should have caused more of a commotion to be heard. It surely could not have been so completely effective, and it feels too simple. As a piece of mythology that is allowed to work, but here it loses a little shine.
Jordie Bernet’s art is still perfect for this arc. His landscape awareness and expressive character work make this story come to life in an unreal way. This is western pulp exactly how you want it. The only downside are his vampires, because after months of Rafael Albuquerque’s magnificent work Bernet doesn’t come anywhere close to realizing the human destruction of these creatures. Luckily, the heart of this tale relies on Skinner and Book. The vampiric element is merely a plot point to cause progression in their growth indirectly.
‘Beast In The Cave’ is a fun diversion of a story. Scott Snyder shows he knows the decades of this world inside and out. His history is dense and his character timelines are long and illuminated. This myth helps us to know more but ultimately feels like it works best as back story to the main drive of the narrative. This is a character play, a parenthetical aside, that will be more remembered for what it means than actually what it did. Though one of the things it did was bring a gorgeous naked Bernet lady onto the pages, and that’s always a positive. In the end, this isn’t the strongest “American Vampire” arc and yet it’s still highly pleasing and solid quality work.