Sunday, February 19, 2012

American Vampire, Vol. 2 by Snyder, Albuquerque, and Santolouco

Comics collections usually try to sell each brand-spanking new volume as something exciting, special and unique -- and not simply as a piece of a larger story -- so I'm surprised to see that this second installment of the DC/Vertigo American Vampire series is credited simply as Volume Two. (For vague details of the events of Volume One, see my review from last year.)

It's doubly odd to see that, since American Vampire is clearly "written for the trade" -- the practice generally disliked by the every-Wednesday-at-the-comics-shop audience -- with this book reprinting two discrete stories, one three issues long and the other one only two. (A more novelistic telling would avoid such things, treating every issue as something like a chapter -- here, the essential story-telling unit is, ironically, neither the single issue nor the collection, but pieces in between them in size.)

Both of those stories -- "Devil in the Sand," in which Las Vegas police chief Cash McCogan deals with vampires, series central character Skinner Sweet, FBI anti-vampire agents, and the in-process Boulder Dam in 1936; and "The Way Out," in which the past begins to catch up with Pearl Jones, slightly later that same year -- are written by series creator Scott Snyder. (As expected, Stephen King just scripted his piece of the first story and then went back to his own work.) Rafael Albuquerque, who drew the first storyline, comes back for "Devil," and Mateus Santolouco draws "Way Out" in a very similar style. (They're both basically in the modern-horror tradition defined by Guy Davis on B.P.R.D. over the past decade -- slightly smearier than a precise realism, but with a careful eye for markers of time and place and a willingness to go almost Paul Pope-ishly expressive in action sequences.)

Both of those stories are engrossing enough while they're going on, but they end up being entire middle in retrospect -- "Devil" sets up Cash (and his FBI pals) as potentially important characters for later stories, but doesn't do much with Sweet, and "Way Out" is entirely an extended fake-out, serving only to show what Jones has been doing for the past decade and getting her moving again. Again, if American Vampire were just telling a longer story to begin with, this wouldn't be a problem, but it tries to pretend that these are two individual stories, when they really aren't: they're both prologues to things Snyder will (one hopes) get to sometime later.

American Vampire is stylish and professional, in the usual Vertigo style -- lots of nudity, blood, danger, explosions and moral conundrums, to make it all as "adult" in the HBO vein as possible. But this is the rare trade that might actually read better as individual issues: if you're just getting a piece of the story anyway, it might be better to get those pieces more regularly.

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