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American Vampire: The Long Road to Hell #1 – Review

AMERICAN VAMPIRE: THE LONG ROAD TO HELL #1

By: Scott Snyder & Rafael Albuquerque (story), Albuquerque (script & art), Dave McCaig (colors) and Jared K. Fletcher (letters)

The Story: American Vampire returns with an extra-length one-shot about a young couple who run into some vampires.

Review (with SPOILERS): This was a really good issue.  Given that AV has been away for a few months and isn’t quite ready to return as a regular, monthly comic series, it’s really smart to give readers this appetizer to remind us (a) what a special series this is and (b) of some of the general themes of the series.  This issue is also a great sampler if you haven’t been reading AV and want to give it a try.  No previous knowledge of the series is needed.  Read it, and – if you like it – I’m sure when the series restarts in a couple months, it will be pretty new-reader friendly.

The story itself is really sharp.  It follows a young couple in love, who are trying to raise enough money to get married.  Mostly they seem to raise money via minor pickpocketing and through this, they run into a next of nasty vampires.  Along the way, they run into a young, abused boy who has a knack for pointing out wicked people, so they are able to satisfy their blood lust Dexter-style.  But, eventually they realize what monsters they have become and come up with a clever – and heartbreaking – plan to end things.

Also featuring in this story is the 1950s-era vampire hunter, Travis Kidd.  We met Travis back during the Death Race story arc (issues #22 through #25) and he’s just as cool and capable now as he was then.  Although Travis isn’t the main actor in this issue, it’s nice to see that there are plans to keep him as part of the ongoing story.  The only “new” character in this issue who might become part of the cannon is the little boy.  I’m not sure what use the 1950s-era vampire story would have for a little boy, but knowing the way the Snyder & Albuquerque have enjoyed arcing all these various AV stories together, perhaps this boy will have a role to play once the story reaches the 70s or 80s.  I mean, at some point, the world has to run out of descendants of John Book, right?

At a deeper level, I appreciated that this particular story explored how horrible it would be for a good person to be turned into a vampire.  Much of the history of AV has revolved around the lovers Henry and Pearl and how Pearl has stayed young (and vampiric) as Henry has aged.  I always wondered, “Why not just turn Henry into a vampire?  Then he and Pearl could both spend forever with the person they love.  That sounds great, right?”  Well, this issue explores that a little bit.  At first, you might think you can only eat bad people who deserve it, but there will come a day when it doesn’t work out that way and you’ll be forced to eat a true innocent.  I guess I’m not wholly convinced that a vampire couldn’t plan ahead a little bit better, but I see the point.

This issue is also interesting because it gives artist Rafael Albuquerque a chance to script an issue.  It’s always a little weird when readers act like a series such as AV is wholly conceived by the writer and the artist is just presented some scripts: “DRAW IT MONKEY BOY!”  Often the artist has input on the story too, so it’s nice to see Albuquerque get to stretch his legs a little and get formal credit for a script.  He does a really nice job and – honestly – this is probably the best conceivable environment for an artist to take a first step into scripting since he’s being backed up by capable editors and a co-creator who teaches creative writing at Columbia.  We’ve all see series from less-edited publishers (i.e. Image) where a long-time artist takes a turn as a writer and we think, “He could have used an editor….”  What really makes Albuquerque’s writing function is that he keeps it simple and succinct.  And this isn’t even his native language–bravo!

And the art is glorious–but we expected that.  The thing that always stands out to me about Albquerque’s art is how much emotion he captures.  I’ve always given him a lot of credit for drawing vicious and primal-looking vampires.  And he is great at that.  But he is just as adept at showing us two people in love.  It’s a subtle thing, but consider the two main characters: We meet them when they’re dancing in a club and you can just kinda tell that they’re in love.  There are subtle things about the way they stand and the way they look at each other that tell you they are a real couple who wants to get married and not two people who just met each other and want to fool around in the parking lot.  It’s a delicate difference in the art, but it makes all the difference to the story.  The story just wouldn’t work if the protagonists are two randy kids.

Conclusion: A wonderful issue.  Whether you are a longtime AV reader who needs to wet your whistle OR someone who hasn’t ever read a page of AV, there is a lot to recommend this issue.

Grade: A

- Dean Stell

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