Saturday, November 12, 2011

Comics Quickies: American Vampire

Just read the first collection of American Vampire, a series co-created and co-written by Stephen King, though the other writer, Scott Snyder, seems to be a true partner (according to his afterward, he created the central character of Skinner Sweet). It's a clever "mosaic" story with two threads in each issue; the first, set in 1925 and written by Snyder, stars wannabe starlet named Pearl who falls afoul of an evil, bloodsucking Hollywood producer. And also he's a vampire. BA-RUM-PUM! The second is written by King, set in the wild west, and tells the story of the aforementioned Skinner Sweet, a particularly nasty outlaw who ends up antagonizing the same ancient vampire, at this point a railroad baron, and is seemingly brought to justice by a hard-eyed but good-hearted sheriff. The two stories interweave in all kinds of clever ways, slowly revealing more and more about the various characters and suggesting an epic story that will probably move forward across the 20th Century in later issues. In the meantime, King's really on his game here--I haven't read much of his stuff since the mid-90s, and nothing since the Dark Tower ended, so I don't know how his batting average is these days--but this has all the best qualities of his work with none of the flaws that used to rankle me (it actually has a tight ending! Which doesn't rely on the characters suddenly developing magical abilities!). His dialogue and characterization are strong as ever, with Sweet being an instantly memorable character, and the conflict between two evils, with a good man caught in the middle, being an interesting one. Meanwhile, Snyder matches him beat for beat in the Pearl storyline; I'd argue his dialogue is sometimes a bit too contemporary for 1925 (though I suppose Hollywood was the cutting edge of culture) but like King, his characterizations are sharp and the use of vampires as a metaphor for Hollywood is just cute enough without being overplayed. Then there's Rafael Albuquerque, who draws both stories. His art is kind of amazing, expressionistic and even "cartoony" without losing a realistic, gritty feeling, and his characters are just as instantly distinctive art-wise as they are in terms of the writing. Sweet in particular, who looks like Kid Rock's great-grandpappy, is always instantly recognizable no matter what timeline he pops up in, which is of course crucial to a story that jumps between decades and viewpoints.

For those of you who, like me, were rather disappointed by the Dark Tower comics, this is proof of how good a Stephen King comic can be.

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