By: Scott Snyder, Jason Aaron, Rafael Albuquerque, Jeff Lemire, Becky Cloonan, Francesco Francavilla, Gail Simone, Gabriel Ba, Fabio Moon, Declan Shalvey, Ivo Milazzo, Ray Fawkes, Tula Lotay, Greg Rucka, JP Leon, Dave McCaig, Jordie Bellaire, Jared K. Fletcher, Steve Wands, Travis Lanham, Dezi Sienty

The Story: A group of super-creators gathers to tell short stories set in the American Vampire universe.

Review (with very minor SPOILERS): Whoa! This was really incredible.  I knew I wanted to read this issue because I’ve read and loved every issue of American Vampire.  It wasn’t even a question for me, despite the $7.99 price tag.  I love AV and this was a MUST READ.  Even if it costs as much as two other comics, it was twice as long and probably ten times as good.

Even though I expected quality, I was still surprised by the excellence of the content.  I really didn’t know what to expect from the stories within.  I’m sure there have been interviews out there that detailed the content of assembled stories, but I quit reading such interviews a long time ago.  So, I went into this cold and couldn’t be more pleased.

The issue features a framing sequence by Snyder and Albuquerque (the regular creators on AV), set in 1967 New Mexico featuring everyone’s favorite American vampire: Skinner Sweet.  There isn’t a ton of content here.  Just a few little pages showing Skinner getting into a messy fracas that is surely a tease for when the ongoing series returns from hiatus.  I can’t wait to see more of this story.  Why did those bikers want to kill Skinner?  Skinner versus Hell’s Angels?  That sounds nifty.  I’ll read that.  Please hurry up and create those comics for me, sirs.  It also raised an interesting thought in my mind: Skinner sure hasn’t gone very far from home.  Except for his World War II excursion, he has never left the American Southwest and southern California.  I’m not really sure if that means anything except that Skinner was probably a lot like other Americans of that era: He mostly stayed around his home area except for war.  I mean, we haven’t seen Skinner in New York or South Beach.  Kinda interesting…

The rest of the issue tells two types of stories.  Some show the historical progress of Old World vampires across the American continent and some are splendid little stories that offer additional back-story of characters from the AV series.  The issue is really a love letter to fans of the ongoing series.  Are you curious about how Skinner ended up going to Hollywood where he met Pearl and Gang?  Becky Cloonan has that covered.  Are you interested to see how Chase Hamilton got mixed up with vampires such that he started feeding young starlets (like Pearl and Hattie) to them?  Francesco Francavilla would be happy to assist with that Faustian story.  Would you like to see Hattie before she became Pearl’s roommate?  Gail Simone has an emotionally wrought story for you.

The historical stories are interesting too as we see how the Native Americans learned about vampires the hard way…. and also how to fight them from Jason Aaron.  Or how some of those nighttime bandits might have been more than they appeared.  Or how some of the vampires settled in Canada.  These stories are a nice little back-story for the vampires themselves.  It shows how they came to America just like everyone else (in boats) and how they had to build housing and find food just like everyone else – or almost like everyone else.

There is not a weak story in the bunch.  I can’t think of the last time I read an anthology comic and didn’t have at least one story where I thought, “Well, that was kinda lame.  At least the other parts were good.”  This whole issue is aces.

Pressed for favorites, I’d have to go with (1) the framing sequence by Snyder and Albuquerque just because I am so eager for the ongoing AV series to return, (2) the Jason Aaron/Declan Shalvey story of Native Americans learning to fight the vampires while facing the realization that the vampires (i.e. the OTHER white man) would keep coming until their way of life was destroyed and (3) the Gail Simone/Tula Lotay story about Hattie’s sexual abuse at the hands of horrible movie producers.  That final one was a real punch in the gut and also showed Hattie’s penchant for revenge.  Yikes!

The art was also a revelation.  One wonderful thing about anthologies in general is that you get to see art that publishers probably wouldn’t allow in an ongoing series because it isn’t “mainstream” enough.  I think the world of artists like Rafa Albuquerque and Declan Shalvey and Becky Cloonan, but I’ve seen them before and it’s a rare month when you can’t sample their art in a contemporary comic book.  So for me, the real treat was seeing some of these different styles like Ivo Milazzo (a real master with this glorious mix of fine lines, hard blacks and watercolors… that BLUE!) or Ray Fawkes (an under-colored use of outlines and long, unbroken lines to tell the story) or Tula Lotay (a very poised line, very precise and delicate while dealing with such awful subject matter).  I’d love it if we can see more of these artists in the future.  I imagine some of them probably have successful careers doing something other than comic books.

Conclusion: A wonderful anthology without a weak story.  Well worth the price tag and a great appetizer for those of us eager for AV to return to regular publication.

Grade: A

-Dean Stell