American Vampire Book 8 – Scott Snyder

american-vampire-8The last book set up one of the most intriguing and deadly threats encountered so far. This book runs with it.

It’s the 1960’s and that means outer space and nuclear bombs. Both of which are effortlessly folded into the story in a way you couldn’t imagine. The sense of jeopardy has never been greater either and you are really worried at how many, if any, of the characters will survive.

Albuquerque is with us through the whole book and is on top form. Lots of drama in the action scenes and a brooding matt palette throughout.

Double Thumbs Up!

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American Vampire Book 7 – Scott Snyder

American Vampire 7Here are two tales that kick off another promising story arc moving the action to the Swinging Sixties. It looks like an uphill battle creating a bigger vampire than Dracula but things look hopeful.

Pearl returns, along with Skinner and a few other supporting cast members in the first tale. There is a palpable sense of danger and mystery and things are nicely paced throughout. The action stops abruptly and you definitely want more. The art is classic Albuquerque and his dark pages do wonders for the feeling of menace throughout the tale.

Then you have a one shot that is related but is more an exercise in storytelling. Sequential art and an in-character journal from 1850 are interleaved in an uneasy mix that does actually work. The diary feels very much like a Lovecraft tale. Unfortunately, mentioning Lovecraft as an actual historical figure does pull you out of the world for a moment. But the whole thing is well told and has you quite gripped considering the low page count.

A great first chapter for a fresh and exciting new chronicle that reenergises the brand.

Thumbs Up!

American Vampire: Volume 6 – Scott Snyder et al

American Vampire 6This slim volume is in two parts. The first is a standard story, and a good one too, with Albuquerque getting a script and story credit as well as an art one. Like all good vampire tales this is a romance, but with the usual bittersweet aftertaste.

The second is an anthology with one-shots of various lengths by Jason Aaron, Jeff Lemire, Becky Cloonan, Francesco Francavilla, Gail Simone, Garbiel Ba, Greg Rucker and another outing from Albuquerque on art and story. They are bookended by some Snyder pages that are just dressing really.

As with all anthologies there will be some you like and some you don’t but the standard is pretty high with each author taking a strong hook and using as much or as little of the Snyderverse as they feel necessary.

The art is great and we see some new names such as Declan Shalvey, Ivo Milazzo, Ray Fawkes, Tula Lotay, Fabio Moon and JP Leon, getting involved in the anthology. There are certainly a lot of different styles at work and the Albuquerque piece is very different from his usual fare. The star is Francavilla whose story is told almost entirely in block colours of blue and red.

It might be that Snyder is interested to see what others make of the world he has created, after all his initial book was a collaboration with Stephen King. Or it might be that he is so caught up in his extensive work for DC that he must neglect one of his finest and most original works. The next volume will probably tell us.

Thumbs Up!

BONUS REVIEW American Vampire Volume 5 – Scott Snyder

American Vampire 5This book contains three stories. The first is Snyder’s take on the granddaddy of all vampires, Dracula. This is executed very well as he finds his own path rather than messing with what has gone before. It is a good chase/ road movie with some of the secondary characters we have taken a shine to.

This story is illustrated by Dustin Nguyen who briefly exhibits his own style before coming into line and adopting the Albuquerque template. There are a lot of neat little artistic touches and some lovely sketched flashbacks. Even the lettering for foreign languages has some good ideas.

The second story concerns Pearl and what has happened following the attack on her home. This is a top quality piece of writing showcasing the emotions and relationships Snyder has a knack for. Where Pearl is, Skinner isn’t far behind, but he does feel criminally under, or even ill, used. The great thing about vampire stories is you get to bring people back from the dead. But do it too often and death loses its punch.

The third story is a one-shot that works as a fine interlude between bigger stories and dusts off some previous characters ready for a future storyline.

Albuquerque draws the second and third stories and his style has come to define the wonderful look of American Vampire. There are few surprises in his work but we like the comfort and dependability of his craft.

Overall this isn’t a bad volume. Snyder does historical America very well and being set in the 1950’s this leads to the great line of “undeads under the bed.” There is enough topical material to give you a sense of place and as the stories reference each other you do get the bond of a cohesive world. Unfortunately Snyder doesn’t do so well outside the US and adventures in Britain and Europe exhibit some clangers. Some are partly conceits to smooth things over for an American readership but Gaelic is an adjective describing a language or culture not a noun for a person or nation. Small things.

There is a sketchbook at the back and variant cover gallery too.

Thumbs Up!

BONUS REVIEW

American Vampire: volume 4 – Scott Snyder

This volume dovetails neatly and often very subtly into the American Vampire universe so make sure you re-read the previous books. There are three stories here, the first goes way back into Book and Skinner’s history and the other two move the story into the 1950’s.

Snyder is a master of storytelling, slowly planting seeds and drip feeding you clues until you work out what is going on in a satisfying epiphany. Rather than passively reading along you are encouraged to put together the pieces and work out the story for yourself.

Regular artist Albuquerque only draws one of the stories but the other artists are able to honour his style enough that you soon lose yourself in the world. All of them know better than to compete with the narrative and bide their time until a full page or double page spread gives them a chance to shine.

The world of American Vampire has grown beyond Skinner Sweet and most of the characters we have met previously have some impact on the story here. There are no gratuitous cameos or clumsy crossovers. Everything happens for a reason, and usually one you hadn’t suspected, but kick yourself for not seeing.

Brilliant storytelling deserving of a Thumbs Up!

254/111

Tomorrow: Americus – MK Reed

American Vampire: Volume Three – Scott Snyder

This is a sizable volume containing three parts. New artists draw the first and last stories making characters look slightly different. This is most notable in the opening story. With the different time periods there is a little leeway in such matters and the spirit of American Vampire ultimately shines through.

We begin with is a single issue tale concerning Skinner’s early years. Whist it doesn’t contribute too much to the details of Snyder’s world it is a wonderfully poignant tale of nostalgia and mortality. It has a lot to say and is most eloquent about it.

Next is an odd concept indeed. Vampire and vampire hunters join forces to combat an unholy menace in wartime Japan. It is a massive gumbo of every war story you can think of with elements of Band of Brothers, Dirty Dozen, Predator and more. Real places and events (Unit 731, the atomic bomb) are here but given the Vampire spin. At first sight it could easily be mistaken for a war story or ensemble buddy movie, but underneath is a beating emotional heart about the lives and loves of real people (some of whom are vampires). The art is great with regular artist Albuquerque doing the whole story. The signature bold mono-palettes and murky tones do a great job of translating from wild west to jungle warfare.

Finally you have Vampire Nazis. Or should that be Nazi Vampires. This alone should be enough to convince you get hold of this book. The tale is homage to Where Eagles Dare complete with snowy mountain castles, sleeper agents and daring rescues. And Motorbikes! But this isn’t an action-fest, or just an action-fest, I should say. We learn a lot about Snyder’s Vampire mythos and their ethnic cleansing agenda. We have some previous characters returning and doing a great job of telling an emotional and riveting tale. Sean Murphy steps in as artist and does sterling work maintaining a seamless style. Look for a great take on the familiar red eyes in the darkness. This is the best of three great tales.

There was a small blunder of the type Americans make when writing about Britain but you probably won’t notice it. Overall this is very good indeed. You aren’t quite sure where – or more accurately when – Snyder is going take you next and even though the choices might seem to be unlikely at first they all prove to be winners. Absolutely a Thumbs Up!

102/263.

Tomorrow: Hero 9 to 5 – Ian Sharman

American Vampire: Volume Two – Scott Snyder

After his contribution to volume one Stephen King has departed leaving Snyder to carry on alone. Gone is the dual format story that worked so well last time to be replaced by a more conventional narrative.

This volume contains two tales. The first is an action thriller and the second a more personal but still just as exciting tale. Both of them use characters from the previous book, some of whom we are very surprised to see.

The timeline has moved on to the 1930’s and it is interesting to see what has become of those we left a decade ago. New characters are introduced and although we might not see them again in the next instalment Snyder doesn’t skimp on the characterisation or emotional resonance. We also learn a lot more about the world of the vampires, both from the vampires themselves and the humans who hunt them.

The two stories are quite different in style and delivery but both are equally well suited and effortlessly told. The second is shorter and is mostly conveyed through various internal monologues, but it is a much more emotional piece. Both are full of surprises and very well paced. Snyder seems to be developing a style of slow burn start and frenetic finish.

The art is just as good as the first volume. A second artist was brought in (presumably for deadline reasons) but you don’t see any disparity in style. An interesting technique used is where scenes change rapidly the text will spill over from the previous scene into the new one. This does a great job of binding it all together and ramping up the pace.

Another great addition and a further Thumbs Up!

101/264.

Tomorrow: American Vampire: Volume Three – Scott Snyder

American Vampire: Volume One – Scott Snyder & Stephen King

This is the story of the first Vampire created in America, back in the 19th century, and his subsequent unlife through the following decades.

It is an unusual format in that it contains two stories. One is the titular vampire’s origin story in 1880 and the other is that of his “offspring” in 1925. The two never mix and each issue is divided squarely down the middle with half each. Each is written by a different writer (with Snyder taking overall control) but drawn by the same artist.

This interesting technique pays off. You get twice as much narrative, drama and excitement, plus the joy of piecing the story together as you see places and people decades apart. The two books in one are carefully structured so that you could read them separately and neither feels weaker or dependant on the other.

It is very much a slow burn, eschewing the flashy hooks or rapid pacing of modern comics, but you can feel there is a novelist at the helm. Once the time is right it shifts into high gear and the solid foundations and characterisation catapult you into frenetic action. There are some great twists and cliff-hangers and plenty to keep you interested.

With vampire fiction there are all sorts of questions about sunlight, mirrors and so on. There are classic European vampires with all the familiar traits but Snyder’s setup of the first of a new breed of American vampires allows him to bring his own rules without stepping on any toes.

The art is good and uses a murky watercolour-wash feel for the older story and cleaner, crisper colouring for the 1920’s. The layout is traditional straight edged panels but each page has a different composition with less or more art depending on the story needs. The words never dominate the page and there are plenty of mute panels to break things up and show you what you need to know.

This definitely has the feel of a saga. This promises to be an epic, like the Godfather, sprawling down through the generations; each new volume visiting a different period with new characters and fresh stories to tell.

There is a forward, afterword, full cover line-up, concept art and script pages. It is even printed on sustainable paper too. Definitely a Thumbs Up!

100/265.

Tomorrow: American Vampire: Volume Two – Scott Snyder