American Vampire Anthology #1 – Friday Flash Review [Shadowhawk/Bane of Kings]
Shadowhawk and Bane of Kings review the first anthology issue set in Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque’s American Vampire series from Vertigo Comics.
“Scary, creepy vampires plus some of the best writers in comics right now. This is a fantastic mix of story and talent!” ~Shadowhawk, The Founding Fields
“An excellent anthology showcasing the best of what comics has to offer. Absolutely loved it. A must read whether you’ve read the original American Vampire series or not, American Vampire Anthology #1 is not only Pick of the Week, but Pick of the Month, and a very strong contender for Pick of the Year” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
I’ll preface this review by saying that I have yet to read any issue of Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque’s American Vampire for Vertigo. I’m not really into Vampire fiction in comics, and so I sort of tend to stay away from that kind of stuff. The only Vampire comics I can recall reading are some odd issues of Dynamite’s Vampirella and the first volume of Joshua Hale Fialkov’s I, Vampire for DC. However, given that the line-up of creators for this anthology is pretty stellar, and includes some of my favourites such as Scott and Rafael themselves, Gail Simone, Becky Cloonan, Jason Aaron, Jeff Lemire and others, there’s no way that I was going to pass on this book.
And I’m glad I didn’t, because I think this is a pretty solid first issue for what is hopefully going to be a regular ongoing.
Scott and Rafael both open and close this anthology with a short comic featuring who I guesstimate to be a primary protagonist for American Vampire, Skinner Sweet. What’s notable with this story is that we don’t get the straight-up lowdown on the character here, no obvious action. This story is about subtleties of narrative and letting the reader play things out in their heads rather than the writer and artist laying things out in a fairly obvious manner. The undertones of badassery shown were totally to my liking, and I loved how everything was built up, whether that be the opening comic or the closing one. Rafael’s artwork is among the best I’ve seen him do, and that includes the backups he’s drawn for Batman a title written by Scott himself and drawn by series regular Greg Capullo. The final panel, showing Skinner Sweet in all his vampire glory, was a perfectly illustrated panel.
Then we move on to a story by Jason Aaron and drawn by Declan Shalvey. This one features a tribe of Native Americans known as the Chowanoke. As a story about faith in the gods and self-empowerment, this was a perfect story I think. My previous experience of Jason’s writing is his excellent Thor: God of Thunder with artist Esad Ribic and Thanos Rising with artist Simone Bianchi. Its great to see Jason try his hand at something other than superhero comics, and I think he pretty much succeeds in writing a flawless story that is as much about revenge as it is the other things. Declan’s art also gets to shine plenty, particularly the scenes involving vampires. His art style is different to that of Rafael, but is just as good and this was another great story here.
With the next story, Rafael steps up for writing duties while artist Ivo Milazzo handles the pencilwork and other duties. I really liked the story here. It has a sense of adventure and exploration to it, tempered by the harsh realities of a world in which vampires exist and are always out for… sport. This is the first ever Albuquerque script I’ve read and I think that he rises to the occasion and delivers a fairly good story and with a cool character that I really do want to see more of, just like as with Skinner Sweet. The art however, was not to my tastes. Not at all, and that crimped by experience with this story.
Then we have Jeff and Ray on a story about a Canadian Vampire this time. As with the above story, I liked the story but not the artwork. Even Ray’s writing is hit and miss for me, and this is a case of the latter since I just could not get invested in the story at all. Jeff Lemire, usually on top form in Justice League Dark and in the pages of his new series Trillium for Vertigo, also falls a little flat here since there is almost no backstory of any kind on the main character minus some obvious, expected story beats. Sadly, not a story I enjoyed. But a good ending though!
Moving on, we have a story written and drawn by Becky Cloonan herself. My previous experience of her work is Batman #12 where she guest-drew in Greg Capullo’s place and did a great job of introducing Scott’s new character and delivered on a really good-looking issue. She does the same thing here, except she shows she has strong writing skills in addition to art that is just super-good. This is also quite a deceptive story, with a great twist in the last panel, so that was even better. Given the style of comics art I’m used to, this was the best looking story in the entire anthology, so hat’s off to Becky for being so great. Would love to see more from her!
Next we have another double-duty issue, this time with Francesco Francavilla which thematically ties in to Becky’s story but is original enough and is equally good in all respects. I liked the way that Francesco approached this story and his art really is fantastic here, setting a high bar for this anthology which, fortunately, most of the artists do match. The art is a bit iffy in places but not terribly so and the charm of the story is in its simplicity, which I enjoyed.
Then there’s Gail Simone and Tula Lotay’s contribution, another Hollywood-related story. This one was, extremely frankly, the creepiest story in the entire issue. Gail writes such a perfectly… normal story, right up until the final page where everything goes down and all the really good stuff happens. Honestly, as a fan of everything else that’s Gail has done to date (that I’ve read to date), including her brief run on Secret Six for DC, this was another standout script for me. At this point, all I can say is that Gail never disappoints. Tula’s artwork is a bit unusual for me and is not as polished as I expected it to be, being more along the lines of what I’ve seen from Ray Fawkes and Ivo Milazzo already. Still, a very enjoyable story all things considered.
Coming in at number 6 is a really small-scale story by Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon. This was a straight-up story, much like Francesco Francavilla’s, so nothing that particularly impresses here. All the same, this is also the bloodiest and most violent story yet, the only such in the anthology other than Jason Aaron and Declan Shalvey’s own contribution. And that’s remarkable enough for me. It brings back the utter badassery of a group of vampires out on a feeding spree. The art, also by Gabriel and Fabio, was just as good as the script itself.
Rounding off things at number 7 (with the final story by Scott and Rafael already covered above) is Greg Rucka and JP Leon’s contribution to the project. This is another story featuring Skinner Sweet (I think), and I loved this one as well. This is the first horror comic from Rucka that I’ve read, and I have to say that I wouldn’t mind seeing more. Great titght, focused script, and with some great art by JP, this was another winning entry in the anthology.
Overall, American Vampire Anthology #1 is quite a good issue, packed with some really great stories with some great art. Minus all the ones that I didn’t enjoy as much. And another bit of criticism I’d level is that the transitions between the various stories were awkward at best. There should have been a clearly credit line on the first page of each issue, to make it easy to tell who is writing and drawing each script. This would have prevented some of the confusion I had while going through the issue.
That’s really it though. Can’t wait for issue #2, whenever that is! And once again, I really want to check out the main series now!
Bane of Kings:
Story: Scott Snyder, Jason Aaron, Rafael Albuquerque, Jeff Lemire, Becky Cloonan, Francesco Francavilla, Gail Simone, Gabriel Ba & Fabio Moon, Greg Rucka | Art: Rafael Albuquerque, Declan Shalvey, Ivo Milazzo, Ray Fawkes, Becky Cloonan, Jordie Bellaire, Francesco Francavilla, Tula Lotay, Gabriel Ba & Fabio Moon, JP Leon, Dave McCaig | Cover: Rafael Albuquerque
You are cordially invited to a party—to die for! This special features eight amazing stories set in the world of American Vampire, with “lost tales,” new characters and old favourites.
Don’t miss these stories brought to you by series creators Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque, as well as other awesome comics talent like Becky Cloonan (BATMAN), Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon (DAYTRIPPER), Jeff Lemire (SWEET TOOTH), Greg Rucka (The Punisher, BATWOMAN), Gail Simone (BATGIRL) and many more!
I’ll admit it right off the bat, I wasn’t a big fan of the first American Vampire Anthology, which I didn’t really find enjoyable to read, and to this day it remains the only Scott Snyder comic that’s let me down. Maybe it was the involvement by Stephen King? I was a bit cautious therefore, about picking up American Vampire Anthology #1, especially with the extra cost. However, that did have a few bonuses. Not only does this collection benefit from being 80 pages long, but also – you gain the expert creative talent of not only Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque, but also the legendary writers that aren’t just limited to Jeff Lemire, Greg Rucka, Jason Aaron and Gail Simone – all of whom who rank as ‘must read’ artists for me, but also art from the incredible Francesco Francavilla, Becky Cloonan and Jeff Lemire. Whilst the likes of Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon I’m not that familiar with, that doesn’t harm the experience of the anthology and instead allows for several great diverse tales that really make this a collection that is pretty much essential reading.
Opening the anthology is the first part of The Man Comes Around, written by Scott Snyder with art from Rafael Albuquerque. It works as an absolutely stunning opener with both A-List creators giving their A-Game. Following on we get a Jason Aaron tale in Lost Colony which is nonetheless spectacular, before Rafael Albuquerque takes to the writing duties with Bleeding Kansas. Then there’s Canadian Vampire with Jeff Lemire reinforced by Ray Fawkes’ art, before Becky Cloonan takes over both artistic and story duties for Greed, and Francesco Francavilla brings his story and art for The Producers. Then there’s Essence of Life by Gail Simone with Tula Lotay on art, followed by Last Night with story and artistic duties both covered by Gabriel Ba & Fabio Moon. Portland 1940 is Greg Rucka and JP Leon, with the latter on artistic duties, before The Man Comes Around wraps up with its second part. If this paragraph or the creative talent hasn’t convinced you yet, then let me continue. If it has convinced you to buy this, and you still haven’t brought it yet, please do. You won’t regret it.
It’s not often in an Anthology that you’ll find yourself loving each and every instalment but I think that can be said about this one. I couldn’t pick a favourite, but a few that are standouts are Francesco Francavilla’s The Producers, about an unknown actor who thinks he can make himself famous by dealing with the vampires, Scott Snyder’s main story The Man Comes Around was also very strong and Gail Simone’s Essence of Life, which focuses on a Hattie’s downward spiral from fame.
One thing’s for sure, even though I didn’t like Volume 1, American Vampire Anthology #1 has got me interested enough to go and give it another shot – as well as read more. Excellent stuff, and you don’t have to be a long-term reader of the series in order to understand what unfolds. This Anthology is essential reading for pretty much every comic fan, and thus it gains my second five-star Verdict of the day (behind Tad Williams’ The Dirty Streets of Heaven).