Visiting Trades: American Vampire (Volume 1)
I had an English teacher this year that was something of a scholar when it came to Vampires. That sounds ridiculous (and it is ridiculous, but in a nice sort of way), but it’s true. And, because it was an English class, there were thorough amounts of dicking around and generally not getting any work done. One of those instances lead to a surprisingly compelling tracing of the sexiness of Vampires. How exactly, did our culture take us from Dracula (the book) to True Blood and The Vampire Diaries? The obvious (and wrong) answer is Twilight, and while those movies were aberrations all alone, they don’t get to take the credit (entirely) for the cultural phenomenon.
I won’t bore with the details, but it started with Bella Lugosi. He made Vampires sexy. Soak it in; revel in it. Bella was too sexy for his role, and now Vampires are too sexy for their shirts.
So it goes.
Unless your Scott Snyder and Stephen fucking King. Then you can do whatever the fuck you want. And that’s exactly what happened.
American Vampire is Vampire cultures saving grace. Vampires aren’t supposed to marry teenage girls and sparkle, they’re supposed to hunt and kill, to get revenge, to defend themselves and to feed when they have to. Vampires are supposed to have incomprehensible strength and power, not prance around and fight with werewolves, and Snyder and King know exactly what Vampires are supposed to do and what they’re supposed to be.
And that is, on a surface level, what makes this volume so fantastic. But it goes much deeper than that, and that’s what really jumping like a school girl witnessing Taylor Lautner sans a top.
Every vampire in this book, without question, is ruthless, dangerous and a murderer. They have little semblance of a moral standing and pretty much only act in their own self interests. Collateral damage is usually of little consequence and there isn’t much that won’t justify the ends.
But these characters, the American Vampires, are affecting. They’re wrong in an absolutist moral sense, but what’s happened to them, what led them to be who they are, it substantiates a lot of anger and it makes the characters, for lack of a better term, relatable.
Even with that complicated emotional and moral groundwork, Snyder and King delight in making things foggier. The running commentary throughout the book comes from an old author recounting his experiences, which he sold as fiction but is now explaining to be true. And he spends time with the mortals who come up against the Vampires, he’s on their side and he tells their story. And the reader has little choice but to care about them as well. And the writers make no effort to clear anything up. The reader has to make the choice, and that’s always compelling.
It’s, to me, akin to what goes on between Magneto and Professor X, if we weren’t told over and over who the good guys were. The reason that particular struggle was so interesting is because, deep down, whether we admit or not, Magneto might be right. Morally? He’s not and it’s hard to argue otherwise. But he could very well be right about what the mutants need. And knowing that irrefutably complicates things, and when done well, that’s wonderful.
And the art, well there’s not much to say about the art except for the fact that it’s truly tremendous. It’s visceral and dangerous; it perfectly captures the feeling of the story and adds powerful depth and range to the words on the page. There are some things in this book that don’t resonate until it appears in the form of art on the page, and those panels, and they’re plentiful throughout the volume, are dazzling. The capturing of the violence and the intensity is unparalleled and truly admirable. There’s something ironically human about the way the Vampires in this series fight one another, and it’s portrayed in an absolutely magical fashion.
So, the guy who's now writing a Batman epic, Stephen fucking King (who, for the record, I don't actually like that much, but is still Stephen motherfucking King) and art that truly takes on a life of it's own, and readers are left with a first volume of a series that good enough to save vampires from Twilight and HBO. L'Chaim.