American Vampire Anthology #1

There are comic books that you just don't realize you miss until you get a taste of their potential. The ten stories told in "American Vampire Anthology" #1 support this theory, regardless of creator or character. All this book needs is the "American Vampire" brand to draw eyes to it, but what it does from there is well worth the price of admission.

This hefty 70-page comic book opens the only way an anthology of "American Vampire" possibly could: with a new adventure of Skinner Sweet by Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque. It's only four pages, but Snyder and Albuquerque lean on one another's skill to remind everyone how raw, brutal and wonderful this title is, especially with the two of them collaborating around the life and times of Sweet. The stories in this issue all have their moments, but when Snyder, Albuquerque, colorist Dave McCaig and letterer Steve Wands come together, "American Vampire" is in its glory. It's only fitting, therefore, that the issue closes out with Sweet as well.

The parade of guest creators touching "American Vampire Anthology" #1 begins with Jason Aaron and Declan Shalvey, with colors from Jordie Bellaire. Set in 1858, the creative crew tells a tale of youth lost and hope stolen, as the Chowanoke in 1588 must deal with unexpected evil from a colony of settlers. Aaron's banter between the young boys of the tribe is light-hearted, ringing true of youth, but also setting up the reader for the horror to come. Shalvey's art is rough and shadowy, exactly what this chapter requires.

The third installment, written by Albuquerque with watercolor painted art from Ivo Milazzo takes us to Kansas. Set in 1856, this tale contains the story of Marie and Gil Jones as they attempt to find solace in westward expansion. With child, Marie quickly finds herself without husband, and, naturally, that's when things get worse. Albuquerque does a nice job penning the frustration of the Joneses and also delivers some hope that maybe, just maybe, Kansas isn't a terrible place to be. This story and the next break the mold and separate themselves a bit, telling tales not directly related to Skinner with artwork that strays from the palette and style of the rest of the issue.

Naturally, Scott Snyder allows his Canuck pal, Jeff Lemire, the opportunity to add a Canadian vampire to the lexicon, with gorgeous painted and drybrush color art by Ray Fawkes. This 1877 north-of-the-border adventure introduces Jack Warnhammer, but doesn't go so far as provide the identity of the Canadian vampire, leaving a mystery to be investigated in upcoming stories.

Becky Cloonan's 1924 piece is set in Death Valley and features both script and art by Cloonan. With prolific colorist Jordie Bellaire along for the fun, Cloonan uses an effective parallel between Skinner Sweet and a rattlesnake to deliver the subplot and details as the first American vampire discovers the allure of Hollywood.

Following that, artist Francesco Francavilla one-ups Cloonan by handling his own colors in magnificent, Francavilla fashion using his signature palette. This 1925 Hollywood tale reminds readers of the Vassals of the Morning Star, but also twists into the beginnings of the "American Vampire" series as Francavilla illustrates that vampirism just might bring out the worst in people.

Gail Simone gives life to the adventures of Hattie Hargrove prior to "American Vampire' #1 with art from Tula Lotay and twists the knife with a gruesome ending. Hargrove becomes an almost empathetic character due to Simone's writing and Lotay's graceful visuals, but the duo reminds readers exactly what Hattie can be capable of.

Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon hit a 1940 club known as the Playhouse, proving that even vampires need a little soul as a coven takes in a jazz performance. Seeking soul through blood, the vampires surprise the band, which leads to the testimonial from the lead singer, relating the hideous events she has endured. This story goes a bit quicker than I would have liked, but now I'm hoping that someday, Bá and Moon have at a full-length tale to illustrate the early days of jazz or the seedy underbelly of the origins of the blues.

The final installment before the closing bookend comes from Greg Rucka and J.P. Leon. With Dave McCaig on colors, the setting shifts to Portland, but the visuals settle back to a more "traditional" look for the "American Vampire" brand. Sweet happens across some fellas who have not-so-good ideas for what they perceive as a vagrant. In typical Sweet fashion, that leads to their undoing. Clocking in at eight pages, this story gets a little more breathing room that some others, but it is also the one "lost adventure" I'm curious to see more of, outside of Snyder and Albuquerque taking us along with them as we follow the meanderings of Skinner Sweet.

Snyder and Albuquerque close it out, making it quite apparent that Skinner Sweet's story is far from over. Some might even argue that it is only now just beginning. I don't know when the regular series is going to restart, but this issue has left a taste in my mouth that has me craving more. I guess I'll be tipping those hardcover collections off the shelf to bide my time. If only I had a peppermint stick to enjoy while I set to re-reading.

Any one of these tales could be expanded on in the series or in a miniseries, as Snyder has done in the past with the escapades of the Vassals of the Morning Star. As they stand now, however, the stories in "American Vampire Anthology" #1 provide a fine sample of modern-day, mature audience comics from topnotch creators. This is the type of offering that should be forever preserved in a time capsule of the year that is 2013.

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