Unless you've been living under a rock for the last couple of years, you’re aware of the fact that there's been a bit of a "vampire renaissance" going on. To put it mildly, the blood suckers are everywhere and overkill has officially been reached. And now that the cinematic geniuses behind such masterpieces as Date Movie, Epic Movie, Disaster Movie, etc. have given us Vampires Suck, it is apparent that the fad has reached market saturation. (Parody tends to be pop culture's way of letting us know that the well has run dry.)
So what made me bother to pick up Vertigo's AMERICAN VAMPIRE? Firstly, it had "Master of Horror" Stephen King's name on the cover. And there is no denying that King's novels from the 70's and 80's are some of best and most horrific works of fiction ever put to paper. To this day his own vampire tale 'Salem's Lot’ still gives me chills just thinking about it. Surprisingly, AMERICAN VAMPIRE is the first time his name has ever graced the cover of a comic book as a writer.
While Uncle Stevie's name above the title was an initial selling point for me, Rafael Albuquerque's slick illustrations were the clincher. Standing in the comic store flipping though the first issue of AMERICAN VAMPIRE, my eyes had barely grazed a few panels and I knew my wallet would be $3.99 lighter on the way out.
But the pretty pictures are just eye candy if there's no story to back it up. Happily, this isn't the case with AMVAMP. Created and co-written by Scott Snyder, this book takes an exhausted vampire mythos and breathes new life into it. A relative newcomer to the comics industry, there's no denying Snyder was wise to join forces with King for the first 5 issue arc of the series. An equally savvy idea was setting the story in an era and location virtually untapped in any other vampire story to date: The American "Old West" at the turn of the century.
An intriguing element about AMVAMP is that it literally hops back and forth between the 1880's and the 1920's as we witness the creation and evolution of a new kind of creature, the "American Vampire". This new species has unique characteristics, strengths and weaknesses unlike all their Eastern European ancestors. And it's only fitting that at a time when America as a nation was still trying to figure out its own identity, we've got the pleasure of watching this new breed of vampire go through their own troubling self discovery.
The initial 5 issues introduce us to the first of the two new American Vampires: Skinner Sweet, a Billy the Kid-esque outlaw in the 1880's and Pearl Jones, a young actress in the 1920's. As the stories jump between their disturbing origins, Snyder and King begin laying the groundwork for what I hope will be a truly rich and long running series. The detailed cast, graphic violence and gallows humor of the first few issues were delightfully delicious. These aren't the 90210 vampires of the Twilight saga. These are hauntingly human, yet frighteningly dark and compelling characters. Sadly, King was only contracted through issue 5, so Snyder takes up the reigns himself as of issue 6. But if he's able to continue evolving the story with even half as much freshness and creativity as the series has been blessed with so far, there just may be some bite left in the otherwise tired vampire genre. (Pun intended, of course.)
AMERICAN VAMPIRE is published monthly by DC's Vertigo comics. A hardcover collection of the first five issues was released on October 5, 2010.