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American Vampire

Stephen King puts the bite back in vampires with the creation of a more robust American breed.

By Rich Clabaugh / December 4, 2010

American Vampire: Volume I By Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque, and Stephen King DC Comics 200 pp., $24.99

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Do you have a hankering for a vampire tale, but are worried that vampires have lost their bite? Who, in this current climate of hunky teen vamps, can transform them back into the monsters of old?

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Why, Stephen King, of course.

King joins creator Scott Snyder and artist Rafael Albuquerque to bring us the comic series American Vampire (six issues of which are now gathered together in this hardcover volume).

“American Vampire” is the tale of ruthless outlaw Skinner Sweet, who in 1880 becomes the first “American” vampire – the first vampire created on American soil. Now this is a totally new breed of vampire, able to walk in daylight and impervious to wooden stakes and silver. This frustrates the old-breed vampires from Europe, who are in the United States getting rich off our expanding country.

King and Snyder offer alternate chapters, Snyder writing Skinner’s tale in 1920s Hollywood and King providing Skinner’s origins in 1880 Colorado.

King's chapters portray a vicious, despicable murderer, who eliminates not only his enemies but his enemies’ loved ones. Skinner becomes even more monstrous as a vampire, destroying any man or vampire who crosses him. The 1920s chapters tell the tale of Skinner creating a new American vampire, a wannabe starlet, Pearl Jones. Pearl is left for dead by vampires running a movie studio. (Yes, where else can Euro vamps find eager young women and lure them to their casting couch... er... coffin?) Skinner transforms Pearl and then sets her on a path of revenge. Does he do this out of pity for her or just to vex his vampire enemies? I’d wager the latter.

The art by Albuquerque fits the book perfectly, telling the stories with historically accurate settings and costumes. There is plenty of action – and violence as well – but the art is restrained rather than gratuitous. Albuquerque has also come up with a cool, scary look for the American vamps when they put on their game face. A special note of praise is also due the colorist of the series, Dave McCaig. His muted palette gives the book an eerie atmosphere that’s original.

As a horror fan, I found this book to be a great read. It “bites” you from the beginning and doesn’t let go. While Skinner is a total monster, you can’t help rooting for him in his war against the “old blood” vampires who are literally bleeding the US. You root for Pearl; while her revenge is bloodthirsty, she has (for now) resisted succumbing to the monster inside her. We slowly discover some of the weaknesses of this new breed of vampire and are curious to see what other surprises await.
“American Vampire” is recommended for horror fans who prefer their vampires to be more like Count Dracula than Edward Cullen. It is not, however, recommended for young readers, as it contains some instances of harsh language, graphic violence, and minor nudity.

Rich Clabaugh is a Monitor staff artist.

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