Tuesday, 17 June 2014

American Vampire, Volume 2 Review (Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque)

It’s all Stephen King’s fault!

The first Scott Snyder comic I read was American Vampire Volume 1, co-written by King. King’s folksy, down-home style of writing was so irritating (and is why I no longer read his novels) that it completely tarnished my reading experience so I ended up hating the book.

So I was surprised with how much I liked Snyder’s writing when I picked up Batman: The Black Mirror, and I’ve been delighted ever since with his and Greg Capullo’s New 52 Batman run, Superman Unchained, and even his excellent standalone horror comic, Severed.

After so many great books, I thought he’d earned the benefit of the doubt and decided to give American Vampire another shot - and, wow, what a difference no Stephen King makes (or “Uncle Stevie” as he creepily asks his “Dear Readers” to call him)!

It’s 1936 and a few years on from the wild, wild west of the last book. The Hoover dam is being constructed and the town that will soon become the sprawling mecca to vice, Las Vegas, is just beginning to grow. But the project’s financial backers are being picked off, their bodies left drained of blood – who could be the culprit in a book with the word “vampire” in the title?! Meanwhile Pearl Jones is living happily with her beau, Henry, but trouble is never too far behind…

Neither of the two stories are particularly bad but neither are especially brilliant – Snyder’s knack for originality seems to be strangely absent from his creator-owned series. Both the Las Vegas/Skinner Sweet (here calling himself Jim Smokes) and Pearl Jones stories are essentially vampires against vampire hunters, ie. the archetypical vampire story.

There’s a slight edge to the Skinner story as it’s told from the perspective of the sheriff whose life goes from being happy with a wife and a kid on the way and a good job, to… well, what happens when he crosses Skinner Sweet. I like that Skinner wasn’t the narrator and that his use was minimal, maintaining his mystique and impact when he does appear in the story. And Pearl’s story, while being straightforwardly dull horror, has at least the interesting character of Hattie who sets out after Pearl on a mission of vengeance.

Besides the unremarkable, and oftentimes predictable, plotting, Snyder’s dialogue is at its most stilted here. For example, when the sheriff calls up his wife at home and she reminds him that a) his father died recently, leaving him sheriff and b) that Jim Smokes killed his dad and that he can’t control his anger around Jim Smokes. Ouch, that’s a lotta exposition in one seemingly brief call between two people who both already know this stuff! There’s a lot of similarly trite dialogue peppered throughout which is surprising as Snyder’s usually more artful than this.

Reading the preview of Volume 3 at the back of this book, I’m beginning to see the idea behind the series which is following the misadventures of Skinner and Pearl through the ages – the first was the frontier days, the second is Depression-era America, and the third looks to be WW2 America, and so on, which does seem to be an intriguing concept. There are certainly a lot of roles Skinner could dress up as – vampire version of a CIA spook on the grassy knoll, Kurtz in Vietnam, Wall Street moneyman in the ‘80s and so on.

After reading the second volume I definitely don’t hate the series as much as I did after the first, and the second book was decent enough to make me want to keep reading the series, but I still feel that American Vampire ranks as the least impressive of Snyder’s output.

American Vampire Volume 2

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