“Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque cordially invite you to a party to die for, along with special guests.” And then the cover lists the writers and artists who took part in this anthology of AMERICAN VAMPIRE stories. It’s amazing to see all the people Snyder and Albuquerque invited to play in the AV sandbox. And that’s a hell of a wonderful cover. But is it worth the price of admission?
It’s hard to say. Let’s take a look at the stories one by one.
The first complete tale is “Lost Colony,” written by Jason Aaron and illustrated by Declan Shalvey. This is the earliest in the AV timeline we’ve ever been. In 1588, a group of Native Americans make a horrifying discovery about the white settlers who have just showed up: they have a charnel house, where they drain blood from the natives. Yeah, it turns out that the Europeans are vampires, and they have brought their nasty proclivities to the New World. Of course, the significance of the title should not be lost on readers. Is this Roanoke? Eh … no. But the parallel stands out a lot, as you’ll see when you reach the ending. It’s a good story. Not great, but it helps get the juices flowing. Shalvey is definitely the star of this one. His art outshines the writing by far.
Next we have “Bleeding Kansas,” written by regular AV artist Rafael Albuquerque and illustrated by Ivo Milazzo. How does Albuquerque fare on this side of the drawing board? Sadly, not that well. Gil and Marie travel to Kansas in order to argue for slaves’ rights, and a vampire interrupts their plans for the future. The characters aren’t fleshed out enough for anyone to care about what happens to them, although the scene where Gil argues with the townsfolk about how slaves are human beings like everyone else is pretty cool. Again, the art outshines the writing. Milazzo’s style is reminiscent of some silver age western books, and when the vampire bites out the throat of one of the characters, it is sheer brutal beauty.
“Canadian Vampire” probably has the most amusing title, and it is written by Jeff Lemire and illustrated by Ray Fawkes. Jack Warnhammer is hired to wipe out a tribe of Native Americans in Canada so that a bunch of German businessmen can set up shop in the wilderness. Instead, Warnhammer finds that the Germans are actually vampires, and they have already wiped out the Cree in the area. It’s a neat little story, even though it doesn’t have a Canadian vampire in it. Here, the story works better than the art, which is a little slipshod and hard to decipher at points.
“Greed” is written and illustrated by Becky Cloonan, and it finally brings Skinner Sweet to the forefront. It shows how he decided to head out to Hollywood and get involved in the main story of the series. One day in the desert, he sees people filming a movie, and he somehow winds up getting cast to fill in for the ill star in a fight scene. There’s not a lot to this one, but Sweet’s charm just sucks you in. It’s a fun tale, and it looks pretty as all hell.
“The Producers” is next, and it is written and illustrated by Francesco Francavilla. As the title would imply, it involves the vampire producers who are the first villains of the series. Before they met Pearl, they made a deal with Chase Hamilton, who promises to set them up with nubile starlets to drain of blood if they promise to make him a star. This is the story of how that happened. Again, there isn’t much to this story, but it’s nice to see this little hole filled in. The producers also look so intimidating they radiate off the page.
Next is “Essence of Life,” written by Gail Simone and illustrated by Tula Lotay. This is yet another story that fills in a gap in the series. This one shows how Hattie got involved in pictures in the first place, and how she exacted revenge after she is turned into a vampire. Lotay also shows no fear, especially in depicting the fate of a certain Hollywood bastard. The guy’s head is chopped off, and it is placed in such a way that his cock can fit into his mouth. That last panel will make your balls shrivel. (Or your ovaries whine, if you don’t have balls.)
“Last Night” is written by Gabriel Ba and illustrated by Fabio Moon. This one depicts how a group of vampires decimates a New York nightclub in 1940. This is probably the weakest of the stories here, as it is a complete throwaway tale. The art stands a head and shoulders (and more) above the story. It almost seems like an old issue of CREEPY (but in color).
And then there is “Portland 1940,” written by Greg Rucka and illustrated by J.P. Leon. It’s another throwaway story, but this one has a bit more to it. A stranger shows up in Portland, OR, with a bullet in his guts, and some less-than-savory fellows decide to shanghai him in the classic sense. It turns out that this poor gut shot bastard has a surprise in store for these guys. The art is downright filthy, which is the perfect match for the setting, although it’s a bit murky when it comes to the identity of the stranger. You wouldn’t recognize him if not for that bullet … .
Lastly, there is a wraparound story written by Scott Snyder and illustrated by Albuquerque. “The Man Comes Around” is unsurprisingly the strongest story in the batch. Sadly, there isn’t a lot to it. Skinner Sweet stops by his favorite diner in the middle of nowhere to pick up a liquorish cake, and it turns out to be a trap. Yeah, it’s kind of a dumb story, but Sweet’s inner musings are what really sell this one. He thinks about his past, about how all he ever wanted as a kid was to have people tell stories about him. And then he hints at a few things to come. It’s a primer to get you ready for when AV comes back from hiatus.
All told, these stories don’t figure into the AV mythology much. They’re either throwaway stories, or they’re something to fill in an inconsequential gap. It’s a bit of fun, but it’s not integral to the AV experience. If you have the dough, it’s not a bad way to spend some time, but don’t expect too much.
AMERICAN VAMPIRE ANTHOLOGY
Written and illustrated by various artists
Published by Vertigo/DC