"American Vampire" kicks off its second year with a two-page introduction for those who might be jumping on board with this new story. It's a smart move, one that integrates into the issue as a whole (rather than just being a random exposition dump) and provides a foundation for what's to come. But then again, this shouldn't be a surprise; that's the kind of careful plotting we've come to expect in "American Vampire."
We've jumped a little further forward in time, to the midst of World War II, and Pearl and Henry are about to get drawn into not one but two different wars. Scott Snyder plays up the conflict in Henry's head well, here; being forced to sit on the sidelines due to age and previous injury is of course the safer thing to do, but in a time of extreme patriotism it's also hardly the most glamorous or fulfilling. More importantly, though, Snyder plays on Henry's weaknesses here. Henry's line about how he was feeling old while Pearl was staying young is an important moment, a major crack running through the core of their relationship. And then, just like a bad habit, a face from a previous issue resurfaces and exploits that weakness at the worst possible moment.
We know from the opening of the issue that the mission to Taipan is going to be less than stellar, although of course the ultimate ending is still in question. But even before we've actually arrived at that island, Snyder's already painting a sense of dread over the mission. There are several nasty surprises lurking in the wings, and the one that pops up on the final panel is a good way to up the ante for the next chapter. And that's not even including the subplot for Pearl to follow back in Hawaii, one that could prove to be quite entertaining for the reader even as Henry descends into possible destruction.
What really got me in this issue, though, was Rafael Albuquerque's art. He's using his ink washes much more heavily here and, accentuated with Dave McCaig's colors, the end result is jaw-dropping. From the red orange glow radiating in waves from Henry's lighter, to the snarling photograph of Skinner Sweet in the opening briefing, every element is carefully added to the page. You can see through Albuquerque's art how Henry is starting to age, even as Pearl is drawn as young and timeless as ever. And the scenes of Hawaii itself are beautiful, even as they avoid the more cliche possibilities. There's something about the silhouettes of Henry and Pearl along the beach at night that just looks breathtaking. Of course, he can still draw the horrific, too. It's right there in the opening scene of Henry under siege, with those long nails and claws all around him. It helps set that initial impression for the reader, to back up what Snyder is writing: this is a seriously bad situation for Henry. It's a horror movie scene come to life on the printed page. Albuquerque is drawing the best work of his career on "American Vampire" and it draws you in with each panel.
Thirteen may normally be an unlucky number, but that's not the case here. This is a strong start to both a new storyline and its second year in general, even as it provides a strong introduction for any new readers interested. "American Vampire" sucks you dry every month, and then has you coming back for more.