By: Scott Snyder (writer), Rafael Albuquerque (art), Dave McCaig (colors), Pat Brosseau (letters), Joe Hughes (assistant editor) & Mark Doyle (editor)
The Story: Henry goes to war with his secret little group of vampire hunters masquerading as Marines on the Pacific island of Taipan during WWII.
What’s Good: It’s another good issue for Snyder, Albuquerque and company. With new creator-owned/controlled series, one of the hallmarks is how long they can sustain their initial excellence before tossing out an average issue. Hitting that wall doesn’t mean that series sucks, because lots of series lose some momentum and regain their footing (see: The Unwritten, Promethea, Fables). As readers, we’re also really familiar with the phenomena of the AWESOME #1 issue that quickly peters out in issues #2, 3 & 4. So, one of the kindest things I can saw about American Vampire is that it is still hitting on all cylinders on issue #14: We haven’t had an “average” issue yet and the story still seems fresh and new.
So, how does AV #14 keep the momentum going…? Well, some of it is just really nice story construction and a writer knowing how to work with his artist. As with Snyder’s Detective Comics this week, AV grabs you with a well-done first page that starts with a tight panel of a toothy/bloody mouth. As the panels progress and pull back, we realize we’re looking not at a vampire’s mouth, but toothy mouth painted onto a U.S. Navy landing craft (although I’m not sure those landing crafts had glass windshields) with Henry’s narrations boxes talking about how you sometimes cannot recognize things when you are standing too near to them… such as his relationship with Pearl. I think too many comics waste page #1 on some dramatically posed superhero that doesn’t do much to get the reader invested in the story and this sequence really sucks the reader in. It’s just good storytelling.
From there, the mission is just an entertaining ride as the team heads off to find and eradicate some “nest” of vampires before the vampires can interfere with the Marines invasion of the island. One of the fun things about this issue is that because Snyder is playing so much with the different types of vampires, this is really a journey into mystery as neither the reader or the characters has any clue what the enemy will actually look like. Along the way, the team (of course) runs into Skinner Sweet. The team doesn’t know that he’s a vampire, but we know that Skinner is going to have some personal motive for being there and it’ll be fun to see what his goal is.
Albuquerque and McCaig really sell the visual aspect of the story. Albuquerque again gets to draw some things that aren’t just vampires or period characters, such as the scene when the ramp of the loading craft drops and the Marines have to get out. This splash page could have come from a war comic and I really like that AV gives Albuquerque a chance to stretch his legs artistically. But, the real fun starts when he draws the vampires in their partial transition with their distorted features and elongated fingers. Humans are innately unsettled by warped human forms (probably because it makes good evolutionary sense NOT to mix your DNA with people with funky arms and fingers) and Albuquerque really plays this up.
What’s Not So Good: Minor things…. I had a hard time getting invested with any of the other Vassals of the Morning Star soldiers because they all feel kinda like redshirts to me. Snyder kinda tipped that “everyone is dead” angle in the opening pages of this story arc in issue #13, so I’m searching for a reason to even learn their names and give them an identity beyond “beaded guy”, “black guy”, etc.
Along those lines, the other area where this issue struggles a little bit is that once all of the characters put their helmets on, they all look kinda the same. I spent some of the issue wondering which Marine was Henry because there were a few too many “white dudes with helmets”. Hint to the creators: You didn’t have “facepaint guy”, “cigar guy”, “soulpatch guy” and “muscle-shirt guy” on the squad. 🙂
Conclusion: Minor quibbles aside, this is another really strong issue of AV. This series hasn’t slowed down a bit since it started over a year ago. How many series (creator-owned or superhero) put out 14 consecutive issues that all grade out at a B or better? That’s why you should really be reading AV. It’s right up there with The Walking Dead and Scalped as the most consistently outstanding series on the market right now.
– Dean Stell
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