Wednesday, April 21, 2010

American Vampire #2 - A Review

American Vampire #2

Publisher Vertigo

Morning Star
Writer Scott Snyder
Art Rafael Albuquerque
Colors Dave McCaig

Deep Water
Writer Stephen King
Art Rafael Albuquerque
Colors Dave McCaig

Format 32 Pages of Story and Art

Price $3.99

If you want to skim read this, I’ll save you the trouble, the second issue was as good as the first and maybe even better, so the grade is another “A”, the Scott, Steve, Rafael and Dave show continues.

As I write reviews I find myself trying to play editor and critic all at the same time. Recently I read an article on politics where the author was complaining that we had a dearth of thinkers in our government today. His point being that people no longer make well thought out arguments it is just this is good or this is bad. No explanation, no rationale. In doing comic reviews I don’t think you always have an intellectual basis for your opinion since emotional reactions can be just as valid, but as much as possible we should be able to explain why we like and don’t like something. I’m trying to set the bar a little higher and not only say this is a great comic or not, but what makes it work in my view.

One of the things I have become very conscious of when reading comics is how much of a unique marriage the art form is between words and pictures. The old adage is a picture is worth a thousand words. Still we need the words sometimes to learn just who the characters are in the drama we are engaged in and how they are feeling about what is happening. Knowing when to insert words and when not to add captions and dialogues has been something going on in comics for years. Read comics from the sixties, seventies and even till the nineties and you will see many writers have captions which are totally meaningless as they are just describing what the artist drew. I’m almost certain that with writers doing full scripts that someone thought it would be good to include almost every word that was written. Under the Marvel way I can read old Marvel comics and see where Stan was forcing a story into a book that had nothing to do with the art as he scripted it after the art was done. To make a comic truly work well the marriage has to be one of knowing when to step on the gas and when to let the art do the work.

For a newcomer Scott Snyder has gotten it right apparently from the jump, especially with this book. The opening four pages is my evidence to support my view. Page one we open with Pearl’s friends coming into her room wondering what has happened to her. The pictures give us the setting and the words let us know her friends’ concern. It immediately made me recall that we ended last issue with Pearl being attacked by vampires and thrown into a ditch. Cut to page 2 and 3 side by side and we see Pearl torn up and staggering around in the desert obviously more dead than alive as her friends drive up in a car. The dialogue is at the bare minimum as Rafael’s pictures carry the drama and magnitude of what has happened to Pearl. Page 4 we are at the hospital and the doctor provides details as what is happening to Pearl and why she is dying. The dialogue is conveying needed information for the reader, but is conveyed in a natural way as to make it part of the story.

Other writers may have framed the desert scene with excess captions like “The hot desert sun is beating down on Pearl. She is staggering and barely knows that her friends have arrived looking to help her”. While valid it destroys the essence of letting the art tell the story and interferes with pacing, which is always critical to storytelling. Page 4 having the doctor talk makes why Pearl is dying more real and relatable and also serves to slow down the pace after the dramatic opening.

The story continues from there and we see Skinner show up and turn Pearl into a vampire and we see Pearl take revenge on the man who set her up. We also start to learn the difference between American Vampires and the old school vampires. In a flash the story is over and you are left wanting more. Scott and Rafael are laying a beautiful foundation for another winning series from Vertigo.

The first five issue of American Vampire have two sixteen page tales every issue and while it is almost sacrilegious to say this Scott’s half of the book is a better read then Stephen King’s half of the book. Now I’m expecting some monster from under my bed to climb out and attack me for saying such a thing, but I’ll be bold and continue. Steve’s half deals with Skinner Sweet’s origins as he is the first American Vampire. I think the story suffers from the burdens of being more of a straight origin story and perhaps no way to avoid it. Plus Skinner’s affection for candy is overplayed in the story. What is good about it is we learn about the vampires who killed Skinner and the man Jim Book who I’m guessing will be Skinner’s nemesis for a time. In fact when Book goes to Skinner’s grave is a great scene and a truly memorable moment in comic book history. The old west is giving way to the modern world as the story unfolds and I’m curious to see how we get from a Skinner in 1909 who has just awaken as a new vampire and the confident and crafty Skinner we see in the front half of the book in 1925.

Rafael Albuquerque as artist and Dave McCaig on color art both do a great job. Rafael is using a slightly different style from story to story but is consistent in his ability to tell a story. The flow of the panels and artwork is smooth and makes reading the book a pleasure. He does little and big moments with equal ability. What I am most impressed with is how his art continues to grow from his Blue Beetle days to now. Dave McCaig does equally well and sets two distinct tones with his color work that makes each story distinctive.

Finally, and for me most important, is that after I’m finished reading this book I want to read the next one. It also makes me want to buy Scott’s prose work Voodoo Heart and read Stephen King’s new book Under the Dome.

Overall Grade A – American Vampire joins Sweet Tooth, Joe The Barbarian and Daytrippers as another newer series from Vertigo that is a winner. I would also recommend Iron Man Noir from Scott Snyder as another good comic to read. I hope DC gets Scott working inside the DCU and does not lose him to Marvel as they did Andy Diggle and Jason Aaron as I think Scott has the ability to work both genres.

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