By: Scott Snyder (writer), Rafael Albuquerque (art), Dave McCaig (colors), Jared K. Fletcher (letters), Gregory Lockard (assistant editor) & Mark Doyle (editor)

The Story: Hattie is back and takes the fight to Pearl and the VMS.

A few things (with SPOILERS): 1). That dirty bastard! – Of course, nobody is really surprised that Skinner has betrayed the VMS and Pearl.  He’s just a dirty, rotten bastard.  He was a lousy human and he isn’t any better as a vampire.  So, the betrayal itself is obvious.  In fact, it’s so obvious that you wonder why anyone would have trusted Skinner in the first place.  I mean, Pearl has been trusting him on dangerous missions when only ~10 years earlier she had stabbed him with a gold knife and left him for dead on a Pacific island.  I don’t know about you, but I tend to keep one eye on all the people that survive when I stab them and leave them for dead.

The reason this plot twist works and has such resonance is that Snyder and Albuquerque have built up Skinner so well.  It isn’t so much that they convinced us in this story arc that “Skinner is good” or that they made us believe that the VMS’s remote control gizmo could really control him.  It’s that over ~30 issues they made Skinner into a character that we wanted to believe in.  He is/was so cool and charismatic and competent that we readers just wanted him to eventually be a good guy.  We wanted him to be like Han Solo and that’s why it’s easy to understand why the VMS and Pearl trusted him.  Very nice character work!

2). Great art. – Albuquerque is really on top of his game in this issue.  He’s so good at drawing these vampiric monsters and giving them so much power and nastiness.  I mean, these are just static images on the page, but when Hattie rips the top off a man’s head, you really do believe that she’s super-powerful.  You can almost hear it and smell it.  Albuquerque also nails all the other types of panels he’s called on to draw in this issue: the subtly creepy panels, the old celluloid films and even a sad sequence where you actually feel kinda sorry for Hattie and her flower in the window.

3). Allegory gets put away. – As with the final issue of the recent Lord of Nightmares miniseries, all the allegory of the VMS rooting out hidden vampires in Hollywood (as in the Blacklist coming from the Red Scare) kinda melts away in this issue in favor of telling the personal dramas of Hattie and Pearl.  As I said with LoN, allegory is a wonderful tool, but it can be overused and we mostly want AV to be a good vampire story, not a line-by-line recreation of the history of the United States.  Allegory is fun when you can kinda see the underlying themes, but the story would suffer if everything were made to fit a template (I’m think of ham-fisted Biblical allegories).

4). Hattie is horrible (in a good way). – What a wonderful character Hattie is!  She’s just awful and creepy and insane.  What I think is so effective about her is that us guys have had at least one buddy who dated a girl like Hattie and ended up regretting it for a LONG time.  You shouldn’t “date” crazy people.  The way Snyder and Albuquerque have depicted her, you just know that Pearl will never be safe as long as Hattie is lurking.  Hattie will never stop.

5). Link with Lord of Nightmares? – This may be a dumb question, but how does this story with the VMS under assault vibe with the ending of Lord of Nightmares where Felecia Book takes over the leadership of the VMS?  Wasn’t the VMS facility she visited at the end the same one that Hattie, Skinner et al are trashing in this issue?  I’m sure there’s a good explanation that I’m missing because it seems like something that would be mentioned to Felecia if Lord of Nightmares happened a year or so after this issue, but it also seems like Felecia would be on-site if LoN happened before this issue.

6). Can’t believe AV is going on hiatus – As you may have heard, AV will be going on hiatus after issue #34.  I really hope those guys know what they’re doing–and I’m sure they DO, but it’s really hard to catch lightning in a bottle the way Snyder, Albuquerque and the rest of the creative and editorial teams have with AV.  That lightning isn’t always there when you come back.  Things can change, people can move on, passions can change…  Knowing the quality of the people involved, it’ll probably pick up right where it has left off, but you never know.  And if it does come back as something lesser, you’ll always have to wonder what would have happened if you’d just kept the comic coming out.  I’m sure there are behind the scenes factors that are very important, but it leaves a big opportunity for second guessing and regrets.

Conclusion: A great issue.  Several years of great character work with Skinner Sweet pays off in this issue.

Grade: A

– Dean Stell