Sunday, October 14, 2012

Countdown to Halloween Day 14 -- Skinner's Still Not So Sweet: a review of "American Vampire, v.4"

In the world of writer Scott Snyder and artist Rafael Albuquerque's comic book series American Vampire, there are a myriad of different vampire bloodlines, each with its own strengths and weaknesses.   The series itself focuses on the newest vampire subspecies, Homo Abominum Americana, the titular American vampire sub-species, which can walk in the sun and is vulnerable not to wood or silver, but gold.  As the fourth collected volume (containing issues #19-27 of the monthly series) begins, there are three known examples of American vampire in existence:  former actress Pearl Jones, trying to live in peaceful hiding with her still-human husband Henry; Skinner Sweet, Pearl's sociopathic sire and the first known American vampire; and Calvin Poole, a vampire hunter/taxonomist accidentally turned by Pearl's blood in volume 3. 

Volume 4 contains three separate story arcs.  The first, "The Beast in the Cave," is a story about Skinner's human days as an infantryman in 1871, featuring more insight into his early relationship with Jim Book, and further evidence that it wasn't vampirism that made him act like a monster.  The story also shows that, contrary to popular belief, Skinner wasn't the first new breed of vampire sired on American soil.  The second story, "Death Race," moves the series into the 1950s, and follows an unstable juvenile delinquent of the Rebel Without a Cause mold who actually does have a cause:  hunting down the vampire he holds responsible for the death of his entire family.  The third story, "The Nocturnes," shows Calvin Poole straying from his latest mission for personal reasons, only to stumble across a species of vampire totally unfamiliar to him.

I thoroughly enjoyed the first three volumes of American Vampire, and am glad to say that the 4th volume continues the trend.  Of the three stories, "Death Race" was my favorite, largely because I was intrigued and entertained by the new teenaged vampire slayer.   The weakest story for me was "The Beast in the Cave," if for no other reason than Skinner's sociopathic behavior tends to work better for me (a) after he's been turned and (b) in small doses.  But while the Skinner portions of the story wore me down, the titular beast's story helped hold my interest.

If you've never read any of American Vampire before, then this definitely is not a good jumping-on point; there's not much time devoted to revisiting the events of previous volumes, so the brief appearance of Pearl and Henry or significance of Book's relationship to Skinner would be lost on new readers.  So, if you're intrigued by the premise, please check out the first volume, which was partially scripted by Stephen King along with Snyder; and if you're already a fan of the series, rest assured that volume 4 does the series proud.

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