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

The Story: A final showdown between Pearl, Hattie, Skinner, Cal and a bunch of normal vampires.

The Review (with SPOILERS): American Vampire can be a complex story and sometimes plays with deeper allegorical themes, but it was nice to see this issue be all about characters.  As we head into this planned hiatus for the series, it was interesting what messages Snyder and Albuquerque wanted to leave us with.  Here’s what it comes down to: Hattie is evil, Pearl/Cal are good and Skinner has his own agenda.  Remember that and you should be fine to pick this series back up when it returns.

That’s really smart storytelling.  I’ve mentioned a lot in these reviews my enjoyment for the way AV has served as an allegory for the growth of the United States, but sometimes that stuff can get heavy.  Likewise, the relationships between this web of characters is also pretty complex between Skinner, these Euro vampires, the Book family, Pearl/Hattie, etc.  It’s very smart to put those issues on the back shelf for now, remember who the vital characters are and let the complexity creep back in once this series gets ramped back up next year.

The major theme for this issue was loss and moving on.  I’ve always wondered WHY Pearl didn’t just turn Henry.  Snyder never really got into that question before this issue.  Traditional vampire-fiction has always prattled on about the “loss of humanity” or the “horrors of being a creature of the night” and that’s always rung so hollow to me: getting to be immortal with someone you love sounds like a pretty good deal.  So, I loved the way that Snyder finally addressed this in Henry’s good-bye letter.  His explanation that he always knew that Pearl had more life in her than could be used in one lifetime but that Henry was already a little tired when he met her was very fitting.  I get it, and, more importantly, I believe that this is something Henry would think given his characterization over the course of the series.

Henry’s passing is obviously going to be a major impact for Pearl and surely that’s what the comic will examine when it returns.  Pearl has always been a vampire in name only.  She basically functions as a human and only vamps out when she needs to kill someone.  For her, it’s always been life as usual (except for sucking blood out of her husband).  Her links with humanity are pretty much broken now and she has some obvious issues with Skinner.  What does she do now?  It’ll be interesting to find out….

As for Skinner, his motives just aren’t clear at all, but that’s how he’s always been.  He’s a very interesting character.  Fiction is FULL of “scoundrels with a heart of gold” (think Han Solo), but Skinner is not that.  He really is a scoundrel and if he does good deeds, it’s because it temporarily suited his needs.  On the other hand, he isn’t an evil mastermind either.  He doesn’t have it in him to “think big” and he isn’t evil; he’s just a guy who used to rob banks and now he’s a vampire.  What does a guy like do now that he’s ~100 years old?

The stated reason for the hiatus on AV is to allow (a) some time for recharging batteries, (b) to knock out a couple other projects and (c) to allow Albuquerque to do all of the future art… he needs to get ahead.  I’ve talked at great lengths about how well Albuquerque handles his vampire action scenes.  His ability to convey all that kinetic activity is just nuts.  Since this issue is at least 50% vampires fighting, you can imagine how impressive this issue is visually.  But, Albuquerque also is really strong on the quiet scenes and makes good choices about how to layout a page and frame the action.  A really good example is the three panel sequence when Henry actually dies.  In the first, you see Pearl banging on Henry’s chest, trying to get him to revive.  In the second, it’s a tight shot of their faces: she’s crying and anguished–he’s dead.  It’s very intimate.  And then the third pulls back to a distance where you can see her cradling him in her arms as Albuquerque also drops the panel border for this panel only.  That’s really clever.  A lot of artists just screw around with dropping panel borders to add variety to the page, but here it serves a purpose with all these tight and intense panels followed by an open, airy one where spirits leave the body and all that sort of stuff.

Conclusion: A very fitting end to the first half of the AV story.  I’m looking forward to the coda in issue #34.

Grade: A

-Dean Stell