"American Vampire" is easily one of the best ongoing titles gracing our shelves right now. It has been top of the pops for 18 issues and yet here the winning formula is drastically changed. It's a true testament to the title, and every creative talent involved, that this issue still shines through with spectacular quality. This peek into the shared history of Skinner Sweet and James Book is an amazing love letter to the past: the past of these characters, the past of comics, and the past of America.
Seeing younger iterations of Sweet and Book interact is obviously cause for much dramatic irony. Scott Snyder toes a very fine line between purely making it interesting because we know what is to come and also making it work because it's just damn good comics. There's always more happening on the page than what you catch at first glance. There are always layers to "American Vampire" and you have to stay on your toes and actually think to soak it all in.
The high tension western tale of Sweet, Book, and a regiment of soldiers hunting an outlaw American Indian fits into the overall mystique of this title easily. Sweet, even well before he became a creature of the night, was always an avatar for death and destruction. War is his game and he's been practicing to fight the world for decades. There's a reckless quality that scares as many as it also inspires. Sweet is a man who so often has a point, but whose methods get him ignored. The interrogation scene is visceral and so quick, yet Snyder still injects this week's funniest line into it.
Jordi Bernet is a non-stop superstar in this issue. That most likely comes as little surprise to most of you. "American Vampire" has held such a consistent and sketchy flow to every page that it should be jarring to see such a smooth and cartoony line. It is not. Bernet's injection here is perfectly timed as it matches the tone of the flashback with ease. There's a simplistic style that future generations always impose on the past even with all its intricacies and complications. Snyder appears to have written this tale into Bernet's wheelhouse as we get old timey two-fisted fun that looks as if it came straight out of a newspaper pull out.
As much as this book has previously kept a consistent artistic style, the coloring has also usually been in a similar tone. Dave McCaig breaks from the chalky hues of the past and in this issue matches his art to the pencil work of Bernet. The colors of this issue are generally warm and welcoming. It's a fantastic match to the story and another reason why this tale feels like a break from regular transmissions but also still feels just as good.
With a changeup pitch, "American Vampire" has managed to go in a new direction and still please the audience. This might look like a western tale, but it's also a shrewd character study. The final sequence makes us all realize we've been duped and Snyder is back at his old tricks. There's still vampires in this title, but the final splash holds the zany pulp quality this book needs. Bernet delivers a study of ancient vampiric decorum that's just crazy enough to work. There's a reason why this book never gets a dud review; come check out the quality now with a jumping on point where you literally don't need to know anything else that has come before. Strap in, enjoy the art, feel the western pulp.