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

The Story: After the personal loss of The Blacklist, how will American Vampire move forward into its hiatus?

Review (with SPOILERS): I’m so happy with how this issue turned out. Because the “main story” wrapped-up in issue #33, I worried (a little) that this issue could be a maudlin look back at what had transpired: Pearl sitting by Henry’s grave, Skinner getting into some kind of mischief, the Vassals trying to rebuild, etc.  I expected that because that’s typically what comics do in wrap-up issues: some character acts as a tour-guide as we visit the entire cast to see what they’re doing.  It can be well done, but I’m not a huge fan of reflective storytelling when the actual issues/stories we’re reflecting on are sitting right there on the bookshelf to be re-enjoyed again.  It just isn’t necessary and comes off more as the creators taking a victory lap (perhaps deserved, but a victory lap nonetheless).

Thus, it was very pleasing to see Snyder and Albuquerque take a forward-looking attitude with this issue.  Even though there are slight links to the past, this story is all about what sorts of horrible things could be coming in the future.  This issue feels more like the first chapter of the second book in the series than a coda on the first.

Getting down to the merits of this particular issue, this threatened “Gray Trader” is a villain that I definitely want to know more about.  This whole concept about how the Gray Trader can command a legion of monsters who reach up from underground to pull you into the Earth is so creepy because the best horror comes from our primal fears.  For example, Jaws was only partially about fear of being eaten by a shark and was more about fear of the water where we know there are BIG things out there that we can’t even see.  This is a similar primal fear.  And I just loved the nonchalant attitude of the Gray Trader as he hopped down into the hole after his monsters and sealed the hole behind himself.  Yikes!  Consider the fear button pushed!

We also get to meet a cool returning character.  I know that Abelina Book played a role in the second story cycle of AV (when they were out in Las Vegas) and that she is the mother of Felecia Book, but that history isn’t that important.  We see here that she’s a tough and nasty former agent of the Vassals and has a history with Skinner.  I’m definitely looking forward to more of her too.

The art is – once again – stellar stuff.  Even if Snyder came up with the words and basic concept behind this Gray Trader, it’s up to the artist to execute and make sure the reader feels the horror.  Albuquerque aces the discomfort of creatures coming out of a hole in the ground to snatch you up!  It’s almost more horrifying that we don’t get to see what actually happens down in the hole.  The rest of the issue is strong too.  He makes you feel the anger and rage of Old Lady Book in the opening scene and he even gets to design this really cool vampire-serpent monster that we see in a flashback.  If this hiatus allows Albuquerque to do all future issues of AV, this hiatus will have been worth it.  My only artistic quibble with Albuquerque is that side-by-side shotguns don’t have a front sight on each barrel; they just have one bead in the middle.  It’s a small thing, but it’s a little like seeing a car with two steering wheels.

Conclusion: A very strong issue.  Snyder and Albuquerque could have made this a maudlin and reflective story, but instead they chose to look toward the future.  I’m very much looking forward to what AV brings us when it returns.

Grade: A

– Dean Stell