Originally published in five separate comics between March 2010 and July 2010, the first volume of Scott Snyder and Stephen King’s horror comic series ‘American Vampire’ was later published in a single collected volume in September of 2010 entitled ‘American Vampire: Volume 1’.

King’s involvement with the series was only for this first volume (i.e. the first five comics), with the later offerings being written almost entirely by Snyder.

DLS Synopsis:
Los Angeles, 1925.  Actress Pearl Jones has been invited to an exclusive party that evening which big shot film producer B.D. Bloch is hosting.  However, Bloch’s plans for Pearl are more than just a star struck guest.  She is to be served up as a feast for a group of European vampires – among which is Bloch himself.

The next day Pearl comes to, alone and half-naked in the middle of a scorching hot desert.  Luckily it’s not long before she’s found by her best friend Hattie Hargrove, who rushes the barely conscious girl to the nearest hospital.  The doctor’s only give Pearl twenty-four hours to live.  Her multiple bites and wounds were only surface deep – but the resulting blood loss has led to her organs shutting down one by one.

However, whilst everyone else in the US is celebrating the country’s 149th birthday, notorious outlaw-turned-vampire, Skinner Sweet, has turned up at the hospital to change the course of things a little.  The rugged American vampire purposefully infects the half-dead actress with a few drops of his own blood.  Fed up with the way in which the European vampires have come over to the US to feed off Americans - taking liberties in Skinner Sweet’s treasured homeland - Sweet wants the tables turned and these unwanted Europeans off his turf.

What better way than to turn their last meal into a vengeance-fuelled new breed.  Just like him…

However, Skinner Sweet’s own story is full of just as much violence and bloodshed.  Sweet wasn’t always a vampire.  Back in 1880 he was just a no good outlaw who was on his way to being sentenced for numerous crimes.  However, fellow outlaws Ronnie Jeeks and the Blackmouth Twins have other ideas.  They plan to break their boss out by ambushing the steam train he’s being transported in.  But what they don’t realise is that an age-old vampire is also travelling on the train with them.  A vampire who gets caught up in the midst of the rescue mission and in the throngs of the violence, accidentally infects skinner with a splattering of his blood.

From that moment on a new breed of vampire had been born.  The people of Sidewinder thought Skinner Sweet was long dead.  A rotting corpse buried deep down in an old wooden coffin.  The locals even planned to flood the town, relocating to the new location of Lakeview in Colorado.

By 1909, many years had passed since Skinner Sweet’s burial.  A couple of locals have the idea of digging up Skinner Sweet’s corpse so that they can sell whatever pieces of memorabilia they can find – be it his old hat, whatever’s in his pockets, or better yet his skull.  What they weren’t banking on is for the legendary outlaw to still be alive down there.  Well, not so much alive, as undead.  Undead and very, very hungry.  Let the bloodshed commence…

DLS Review:
Here we have the first collected volume in Scott Snyder’s ‘American Vampire’ graphic novel series.  Snyder’s plan with the series was relatively simple – but nevertheless quite ambitious.  The writer wanted to bring back the long-overdue aspect of horror in vampires.  No more dusty high collars, softly spoken British etiquette, and nauseatingly cliqued romance.  Instead Snyder wanted to inject a thick slab of that bloodchilling coldness and heart-racing viciousness which Stoker managed to capture in his original vampire masterpiece – ‘Dracula’ (1897).

To accomplish this Snyder had an additional hand with this first volume.  After contacting Stephen King for a blub to go on the book’s cover, King became so excited by Snyder’s plan with the series that he jumped on board.  The end result is a story that’s effectively told in two distinct halves.  Snyder’s side of the tale kick starts each chapter (or each comic if they’re not read in the collected volume).  His side of the story follows actress Pearl Jones and her unwanted joining of the ranks of the bloodthirsty undead, along with Skinner Sweet’s fight against the original European vampires which are residing in his homeland.

However, each chapter is accompanied by a second half that’s been written by King.  This parallel running storyline tells the backstory of Skinner Sweet.  Told via an aging author named Will Bunting who’s shown presenting at a rerelease talk on his (supposedly fictional) novel ‘Bad Blood’.  It’s a cleaver little device for telling the story.  One which sees the unassuming author lingering in the background of the activity in order to observe how the chips fall and ultimately for him to tell the tale.

Because of the two parallel running storylines, (quite unsurprisingly) the graphic novel pretty much reads as two distinctly separate tales.  That is, until this first volume starts to edge towards the end, where the twin stories then start to converge and play off one another.

For the first couple of chapters the pacing for both halves of the story is quite reserved.  Neither Snyder nor King deciding to leap headfirst into the carnage – but instead carefully laying down the solid building blocks for what is beginning to look like a reasonably epic saga – sitting somewhere between ‘The Godfather’ (1969) and ‘Blade’ (1998).

King and Snyder have two very different and wonderfully distinct styles.  Indeed, reading the two intertwined story arcs, the shift in style is incredibly noticeable, and if anything, actually works in the story’s favour.  Furthermore, artist Rafael Albuquerque purposefully echoes the shift in narrative, with a distinctly different style of artwork.  For Snyder’s side of the story the tale is more cautious, and wrapped up in the politics and the beginnings of an inter-vampire war.  The time period is also more recent, with a brighter, more colourful vibe to the whole thing.  This is reflected perfectly in the artwork – with bolder, more vivid lines and colour used in each frame.

On the other side of the coin you have King’s offering, which is more immediate and grittier, with the dust and grime of the 1920s Wild West scene duplicated in the artwork.  The colours are more pallid and washed out, with linework done that little bit rougher and purposefully sketchier.  Both stories are also knee-deep in social commentary – which although plain to the eye – isn’t stuffed down your throat, and instead allowed to breath.

The vampire’s themselves are as brutal and ferocious as Snyder’s original vision hoped for.  Upon turning, jawlines extend revealing rows of razor-sharp teeth, fingers extend in thin knife-like claws, and a vicious rage seems to boil in the pits of their undead eyes.  Suave and cringingly sophisticated these vampires most certainly are not.  They’re vicious coldblooded killers splatter the walls and leave their victims in pieces as they go about their frenzied feeding.

What you have with this first ‘American Vampire’ volume is a blood-drenched vision of vampires that have broken the mould and become something far more terrifying.  America’s history is well-and-truly given a reworking – and it comes off one fuck load more brutal for it.  This is one beast of a promising first offering.

The graphic novel runs for a total of 200 pages (including 23 pages showcasing the original script, alternate covers, original sketches and an afterword by Snyder).

© DLS Reviews

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