Reviewer’s Note: The following review and insight contains a small number of spoilers for the issue. If for some reason you haven’t read it yet…change that. Quickly.
That American Vampire revitalized the weakening vampire genre is old news. In addition to turning past myths completely on their head, Scott Snyder was able to successfully put the “fearsome” back into the creatures of the night. After the painful end to the regular series and the shocking events during Lord of Nightmares, where did that leave American Vampire as a whole? Other than a brilliant one-shot involving Travis Kidd, the only horror that loomed ahead was the inevitable series break that the two creators had decided on long ago (even Snyder told The Hollywood Reporter “Two days after we finished the last issue, Rafael started chatting with me online, and we were both getting into what we wanted to do when we got back and how difficult it would be to wait until the hiatus was finished.”) Thankfully, they’ve returned with one of the stronger issues in the entire series.
As is customary in American Vampire, we start off in a completely different time period. 1811 Arizona paints an eerie scene involving a native tribe and a massive, sky-swirling evil. Though there isn’t any indication that this event specifically coexists with the main story yet, it’s an absolute that the two are tied together. The demonic entity most likely fits in with the Gray Trader. Whether or not it’s actually him (surviving for 150 years isn’t uncommon for a powerful vampire), the sheer force of the opening scene rivals any antagonists we’ve seen previously.
The splash page return of Pearl Jones, Snyder’s self-proclaimed favorite, is nothing short of epic. Albuquerque washes out the Midwest setting with a burnt orange hue, adding to the creepy factor already permeating the scene. It’s interesting to see Pearl using the name Henrietta Jones (an obvious homage to her late husband Henry) and posing as her own daughter. That facade is likely to be discovered sooner rather than later, as evidenced by the townsfolk noticing the similarity, albeit with a vampire twist. Adding in the little girl along with other young runaways makes perfect sense. Lost and alone, Pearl’s first instinct would be to save others afflicted as she’s a compassionate character at heart. It also hints at some sort of team being formed. There’s a few pages of catch-up exposition, but it’s done so naturally that it never feels intrusive or annoying. Pearl mentions that she was “saved” by a stranger, so that change from past negativity could also signal a shift of feelings towards Skinner. When we last saw them, it was unclear the direction their relationship would take in the future.
The revelation of multiple vampires species inhabiting Pearl’s house initially seems like an intriguing subplot until the final few pages. The strongest part of Pearl has always been her thirst, both literal and figurative, for justice and truth. Seeing her researching the original infection and how it spread confirms that she’s been looking for a way to cut off the source. The Carpathians and Dracula are also mentioned on the floor page. Where does the Gray Trader fit in? Is he the beginning and the end? One issue into the second cycle and the possibilities for American Vampire are endless. The bizarre bite that May has is guaranteed to play a role in the coming storm.
Skinner Sweet gets an explosive burnout introduction, as well as his own splash page. We see him terrorizing the local deliveries and causing his usual murderous mayhem. Any sense of character development towards heroism (lightly touched upon in the previous arc) is put on the back-burner for the most part. Skinner has quite a few fans, and his mix of terror, comedy and melancholy always plays well during whatever situation he’s put into. It’s been a long journey, and the scars of time have started to haunt him. It’s almost painful to read his exposition scene because by the end, we get a feeling that he’s tiring of the vampire lifestyle. Could it mean a discernible change to the good/evil dynamic? Probably, but it won’t take place in the next few issues. This is more than likely “The Pearl Effect” grabbing hold of Skinner. If anyone can change him, it’ll be her.
The final pages set the course for the second cycle of the series. The appearance of the Gray Trader in a panel next to the evil sky demons from the prologue points to the connection referenced above. Skinner seems doomed, but we can all look forward to his meeting with the Trader himself. If the past is any indication, he’ll find a way to survive and escape the clutches of certain death yet again. Personally, I think this is the start of a massive confrontation involving every character we’ve come to know from American Vampire. The concept of vampires teaming up to defeat the ultimate evil is indeed a fascinating one. Regardless, this issue doesn’t waste any time setting a dark tone for the final half.
I’m convinced that, when asked, Rafael Albuquerque can draw anything into perfection. Every panel and character is lovingly detailed, and horror fans can be excited to see the gruesome vampire transformations return. Shocking and gory in all the right ways. The environments and lighting are also top-notch.
Scott Snyder may have perfected Batman, but American Vampire is his masterpiece. He and Rafael Albuquerque have given us lucky readers the definitive horror comic for recent times. An old and decrepit genre has been turned into a contemporary and powerfully bloody fable that only plans to improve further from here. If this is your second cycle, prepare for the finality of it all. If this is your first, immediately running out and finding the previous six volumes is completely understandable. American Vampire is back, and I couldn’t be happier.
Alex Smith is a news and reviews writer for Capeless Crusader. When not wasting away in class, he spends all his free time with comics, movies, and video games, and has been since birth. He can spend hours discussing Saga, Hawkeye, or Game of Thrones. Lying Cat’s number one fan. Random brain thoughts: @imapensfan