Rafael Albuquerque’s first comics writing credits come in the oversized one shot “American Vampire: The Long Road To Hell.” Albuquerque has a story assist from creator Scott Snyder and wisely does all the art himself, with colors by Dave McCaig.
This is a really solid debut on the writing front, but as expected, it’s Albuquerque’s art that’s the star. In a masterful stroke (on every level), the volume is both a rich installment added to the “American Vampire” mythology, but also an effortless place for new readers to dip in a toe and see if they like the water.
Albuquerque excels at time period visuals and it’s particularly strong when in this issue when it comes to character design — Billy Bob, Jolene and young Jasper, all have distinctive and emotional looks. However, Albuquerque pulls out all the stops with vampire hunter Travis Kidd, who he clearly enjoys drawing. There’s not a weak page in this book, but some of the action sequences and acting are absolutely stunning. McCaig’s colors are effortlessly evocative, sliding from blue palettes to yellow, red, green, and then back again, as the story demands, and adding yet another emotional layer to the composition.
The story and writing have some rough edges. The story itself is solid, alternating between young lovers Billy Bob and Jolene just prior to being turned, their subsequent struggle with vampirism and an orphan with a strange gift. The stories converge nicely and the young lovers informally adopt the orphan, and they’re a natural (er, unnatural) fit as a makeshift family. When vampire hunter Travis Kidd shows up, you genuinely feel bad that the characters you’re rooting for are likely to bite it.
The twist with Jasper toward the end is the best part of “Long Road to Hell,” and I’ll be intrigued to see where the series can take that character. I confess I’m disappointed in Jolene and Billy Bob’s story ending here as there’s a lot of room for growth in a Bonnie-and-Clyde-become-vampires concept, especially when set inside Scott Synder’s capable franchise. Ending their story this early seems a bit shortsighted.
The biggest issue in the book are some plot inconsistencies that weighed the story down — initially Billy Bob seems lukewarm on the idea of marriage, yet in the end, the lovers conveniently both want nothing else. In the same vein, they fight to control their vampire thirst and nearly attack the boy they’ve come to love because they’re overcome, but are then able to hang on while they get married (and don’t seem to have any difficulty not killing the padre that marries them). While these things weren’t deal breakers, they seemed like ill-considered and convenient plot elements that were especially hard to swallow given the fifty-six pages and $6.99 price point. At that price and page count, I guess I expect just a little bit more from a story.
All in all, Albuquerque’s art is more than gorgeous enough to compensate for the minor weaknesses. The book is a nice easy read full of beautiful moments, and adds at least one intriguing new character to the “American Vampire” landscape.