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Review: “American Vampire, Volume V” by Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque & Dustin Nguyen

Title: American Vampire, Volume V
Writer: Scott Snyder
Artists: Rafael Albuquerque & Dustin Nguyen
Series: American Vampire (Volume V, Issues #28-34 + Lord Of Nightmares miniseries)
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Vertigo, 2013

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, my library recently got a large infusion of graphic novels I’d been waiting on. Volume V of American Vampire was one such acquisition, and so I bring you the latest in this particular series of reviews. Given the nature of a series, this review will unavoidably contain some spoilers for volumes I-IV (See them here: Volume I/Volume II/Volume III/Volume IV). You’ve been warned.

Volume V consists of two stories happening simultaneously. Well, more like two stories and a teaser for the next one, but whatever. First off, we have Lord Of Nightmares (originally published as a miniseries under the same title) in which we catch up with Felicia Book. When we last saw Felicia she resigned from the Vassals of the Morning Star and went off the grid with Gus, Cash McCogan’s son. Gus was once a vampire, now cured by the serum his father gave his life to protect. Agent Hobbes was content to let them go…but now he has nowhere else to turn. The original Carpathian vampire, the originator of the Dracula story, has been freed by his followers and is amassing an army to destroy not only the VMS but every other race of vampire that refuse to bend their knee. The London VMS office has been wiped out, the coffin-prison containing Carpathian Prime has been stolen by the Soviets, and Felicia and her son are the only ones close enough to help Agent Hobbes close the books on the Carpathian before he engulfs the world in his fiery bloodlust….This miniseries featured guest artist Dustin Nguyen while Albuquerque worked on the main book, and I have to congratulate him on his ability to match his style to that of the book. He does a much better job of it than some that have filled in for past issues. The story started strong, and I’m always up to see new interpretations of Dracula, but the ending was a bit anticlimactic and rushed, I thought. It didn’t really work for me, and I’m not entirely convinced that Carpathian Prime won’t show up again later. We’ll see, I suppose.

While Hobbes and Felicia are battling Dracula, Pearl Jones is out for blood in The Blacklist. Years ago she faced down a cabal of ancient vampires based in Hollywood, and most of them didn’t get out alive. She and her husband Henry have been one step ahead of the wolves ever since, but now they’re done running. One of the cabal paid a visit to their house while Pearl wasn’t home, ripping out Henry’s throat and leaving him for dead. The only place he can receive care in safety is with the VMS, so Pearl reluctantly teams up with Skinner Sweet to take out the remnants of the cabal once and for all. But fate has some surprises in store for when the players are finally revealed….old friends, old enemies, and old grudges are all placed on the table, and when the dust settles not everyone will be left standing. We are then teased with a final brief tale setting up (I assume) the next big antagonist: the Gray Trader. This tale almost felt final, which is fitting I suppose since the book went on hiatus for a while following these stories. Snyder took us full circle, bringing back characters and resolving plot threads introduced in the first volume, all the while winking and telling us that this was not THE end, merely AN ending. Albuquerque’s art was perfect for the tone, as always, and I look forward to seeing what happens next in this universe….

CONTENT: Not for kiddies, folks! This is a Vertigo book. There’s strong, bloody violence, as you would expect from a strain of vampire mythology as brutal and vicious as this. We’re talking dismemberment, throats ripped out, point-blank gunfire, and a close encounter with a pride of lionesses. R-rated language, though not as gratuitous as some other Vertigo fare. A panel or two of sexual content, though no nudity unless you count a shot of Skinner Sweet’s ass. No occult content–these vampires aren’t spiritual, just monsters.

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Review: “American Vampire, Vol. III” by Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque, & Sean Murphy

Title: American Vampire, Volume III
Writer: Scott Snyder
Artists: Rafael Albuquerque & Mateus Santolouco
Series: American Vampire (Volume III, Issues #12-18 + Survival Of The Fittest miniseries)
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Vertigo, 2012

And now we come to the third volume of Scott Snyder’s Vertigo comic series, American Vampire. Due to the nature of reviewing a series, this review will unavoidably contain spoilers for Volume I and Volume II, so be forewarned.

For the bulk of this book we are firmly set in the 1940s, exploring the vampiric undercurrent to the Second World War. But first, we spend an issue following Skinner Sweet in Strange Frontier as he takes the time to visit a traveling Wild West show a la Buffalo Bill. This particular show has his showdown with Jim Book as one of the moments it dramatizes, and after realizing that his old girl is part of the show Sweet decides to have some fun, even some old scores for himself and others…. In Ghost War we follow Henry Preston and Pearl Jones as they face  the Pacific theater, where there are worse things than Japanese soldiers to worry about. Preston joins a secret mission for the Vassals Of The Morningstar to combat a new breed of vampire on Taipan, soon to be overrun by American troops. Along for the ride is Skinner Sweet, out to settle old scores…. Lastly, Survival Of The Fittest follows Felicia Book and Cash McCogan on a mission behind Nazi lines in search of a supposed cure for vampirism. What they find instead could destroy us all…..

This is every bit as awesome as you would expect it to be after reading the previous two volumes of the series. Snyder continues to keep things fresh and exciting. Albuquerque’s art is a perfect fit for the series, rough and unrefined yet at the same time clearly communicating the action and proving to be surprisingly beautiful at times. Sean Murphy does a credible job of matching Albuquerque’s style, keeping a continuity to the artwork that can’t be easy to achieve. If you’ve been along for the ride since the beginning, by all means don’t stop now! I very much look forward to seeing where this goes in future volumes, as soon as I can find a way to get my hands on them. This is the last one my library has in it’s collection…..

Content: Same as before, R-rated language, violence that is occasionally gory and disturbing (what do you expect? It’s a vampire book!), and occasional sexual content/nudity. I keep telling you folks, Vertigo comics aren’t for kids…..

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Review: “American Vampire, Volume II” by Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque, & Mateus Santolouco

Title: American Vampire, Volume II
Writer: Scott Snyder
Artists: Rafael Albuquerque & Mateus Santolouco
Series: American Vampire (Volume II, Issues #6-11)
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Vertigo, 2011

When I read the first volume of American Vampire, I decided that I would review each volume individually because it appeared that each would be more or less a self-contained story. Having now read the second volume, I think this was a good decision. Just realize that as the review of part two in a series, this will contain spoilers for American Vampire, Volume I. Read on at your discretion. I will refrain from repeating my “twi-hard” rant though, so you can rest easy on that count.

At the end of Volume I, Marshall Book convinced his young wife to kill him to prevent his succumbing to the red thirst of vampirism, but not before she was pregnant with his daughter. Together, mother and daughter plot their revenge on the man that infected him—Skinner Sweet. Sweet walked off into the sunset, gleeful in his immortality, while his newly-turned protege Pearl Jones destroyed her traitorous best friend and the elders that turned her life upside down and then disappeared with her new lover. All is quiet for ten years….

For this second volume, Scott Snyder handles sole writing duties (I guess Stephen King was just in for the first arc) and the book ceases telling two stories simultaneously (see Volume I for an explanation of that) in favor of simply moving forward. This collection is composed of two stories, Devil In The Sand and The Way Out. First, Rafael Albuquerque holds the pencil as Devil In The Sand introduces a new protagonist in Cash McCogan, sheriff of the formerly-sleepy little town of 1936 Las Vegas. Vegas isn’t very sleepy anymore, however, not with the Hoover Dam going in. The workers need someplace to let off steam, and gambling and prostitution have been “temporarilly” legalized in order to allow them to do just that, but somehow McCogan doesn’t think things will settle back down after construction is complete. What he doesn’t know is that the dam is being secretly financed by the vampire Elders, and when someone begins taking out the consortium in charge of construction his town is about to become ground zero for a battle between the vampire old guard, the local vice lord “Bill Smoke” (A.K.A. Skinner Sweet), and a group dedicated to the erradication of vampire-kind from the face of the Earth. And despite his trouble believing in the existence of vampires, it turns out he has a far more personal connection to the conflict than he realizes….Next, Albuquerque gets a break to catch up while Mateus Santolouco draws The Way Out. Pearl Jones’ traitorous ex-best-friend Hattie Hargrove’s wounds have turned out to be less than fatal, and after ten years of torture and experimentation at the hands of the Elders she wants some major payback on Jones. Meanwhile, Jones and her husband Henry stumble into conflict with a human smuggler and his vampire crew.

Snyder’s scripting continues to be spot-on here, though I was a bit disappointed in The Way Out’s ending. I felt like they set it up to be one thing and then pulled out the rug. Oh well, that’s just me. Albuquerque’s art fits the series well, as I’ve mentioned before, and Santolouco does a credible job trying to match his style for the second feature. On the whole, American Vampire continues to be an excellent book.

Content: This is a Vertigo book, folks. That means grown-ups only. Bloody violence, vampire and otherwise. R-rated language. Sexual content, including nudity.

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Review: “American Vampire, Volume I” by Scott Snyder, Stephen King, & Rafael Albuquerque

Title: American Vampire Volume I
Writers: Scott Snyder & Stephen King
Artist: Rafael Albuquerque
Series: American Vampire (Volume I, Issues #1-5)
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Vertigo, 2010

Are you a “Twi-Hard?” Then you really have very little reason to be reading my reviews of anything vampire-related, for one thing, and probably have a vastly-greater tolerance for crappy writing. You probably won’t want to read this review. I’ve said it before (though I don’t believe I’ve said it in any of these reviews): immortal beings who sparkly are not vampires but a particularly nasty breed of fairy. If I’m being charitable, perhaps a vampire-infected breed of fairy–but a fairy, nonetheless. Vampires are an incredibly rich subject matter for storytelling, allowing you to wrestle with themes of immortality, good VS. evil, inner demons, all kinds of stuff. A conflicted vampire, ala Buffy The Vampire Slayer’s Angel? Sure. Walking in sunlight? Dracula does that in the original novel, so I’m flexible on this count. Sparkling? That’s just wrong. Sneaking into a girl’s room to watch her sleep? That’s just creepy, and I don’t mean the kind of creepy one should find in a vampire novel. (Want some fun? Find a YouTube video of Robert Pattinson discussing Twilight. He hates it!) My favorite apraisal of Twilight comes from an interview where the reviewer asked Stephen King what he thought of the book, given his praise of J.K. Rowling and the fact that some people were comparing Twilight and Harry Potter. Mr. King responded in a very matter-of-fact manner: “Stephanie Meyer cannot write for $#!^.” I’m less rigid in my ideas of what vampire stories are aloud to do than King is–I suspect Angel would stick in his craw almost as badly as Edward Cullen–but given that review I was fairly certain I was not in for yet another Twilight knock-off when I picked up the first volume of American Vampire . I was not disappointed.

American Vampire is a Vertigo series conceived by Scott Snyder, with the first volume (issues #1-5) written by Snyder and the legendary Stephen King, and drawn by Rafael Albuquerque. The first collection forms two stories told in alternating chapters, one set in 1925 Los Angeles, the other beginning in the 1880s and detailing the origin of Skinner Sweet, Old West outlaw-turned-vampire. Snyder writes the 1925 story, telling the story of Pearl Jones, a wannabe-actress and newly-minted pawn in an old feud between Skinner Sweet and the old school of vampires–European nobility of breeding and money. King writes the origin story based on Snyder’s outlines. Sweet is the first of a new breed of vampire, and the first vampire conceived on American soil. Sweet’s strain of vampirism doesn’t follow the old rules. He can walk in the daylight, may even be strengthened by it, and seems impervious to silver and garlic. The vampires of this series are savage animals, and while they may at times be sympathetic protagonists we are never allowed to forget how monstrous they are just below the surface. I’m not really all that well versed in art, but I will say that Albuquerque’s work here is very good. He captures the feel of the Old West and the savagery of the characters quite well. I’m not sure if King’s involvement goes beyond this first volume (UPDATE: it does not), but nevertheless I definitely intend to continue reading this series!

Content: This is a Vertigo book, so very much intended for an adult audience. There is a lot of violence, very savage and vividly rendered. This is a vampire book, what did you expect? The language is definitely R-rated, and there is a bit of sexual content. A bit of nudity too, but that part is non-sexual. (It’s a corpse, if you must know. Don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t find that arousing….)

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