By: Scott Snyder (writer), Rafael Albuquerque (art), Dave McCaig (colors) and Steve Wands (letters)

The Story: The Gray Trader comes after Pearl.

The Review (with SPOILERS): This has been a very challenging review to write.  Anytime that happens it is a sure sign that the comic is one that I had high hopes for that has let me down in some way.
What’s weird about writing this type of review is that they easily veer heavily into what is wrong with this issue and the ways that it has disappointed me.  Then I proof-read the review and realize I have written 1000 words about the shortcomings of the issue, and then given it a “B” for a grade.  Which is weird…
So, just know that there is a longer analysis of the negatives of this issue as it relates to the prior run of American Vampire.  It was deleted, but this issue has slightly disappointed me for a couple of reasons.  One is that it really misses Henry.  Not only was the Henry/Pearl relationship fascinating, but Henry was interesting with everyone else too.  Great character.  He was also kinda the reader’s eyes into the world of vampires.  We could identify with him because he was a human and without him, there isn’t a similar anchor for our perspective.  And the Skinner/Pearl relationship isn’t anywhere near as interesting as Henry/Pearl.  In fact, Skinner just isn’t that interesting.  He’s just an anti-hero and while I think he was fine as a cool supporting character, he’s not quite strong enough to carry the series.
The other thing that hurt this story arc is that it felt less anchored to a point in American history.  It’s set in either the late 1950s or early 1960s, but there is no big theme to help me fix this story in time.  It sounds like that will change in the next story arc as our vampires get sucked into the space race.  THAT sounds very, very cool and not just because “Duh….vampires in effing SPACE!!!” but because the space race is an important part of American history.  I hope that we’ll also get some civil rights movement (possibly involving Cal) and some Vietnam War stuff in there too (again, Cal is a former soldier and could play a part).  But this story didn’t have that historical anchor and it suffered for that.

Now, pushing that aside, it’s still a snappy issue and story.  Snyder and Albuquerque have done a wonderful job of creating this Gray Trader character.  I mean…..who the heck is this entity?  I think he’s basically the devil, right?  And I love how the Gray Trader is looping back with the wonderful arc with guest illustration by Jordie Bernet that showed a pre-vampiric Skinner and the interactions Native Americans had with this entity.  I’m dying to know more about this dude.  I love how they have revealed enough about him to not be a tease, but have keep him secret enough that there is more mystery.  And…holy heck…..Skinner has been bitten!  That won’t work out well at all for Pearl.
The art in this series remains strong.  Given my druthers, I’d rather see Albuquerque go back to his old style that was more detailed and tighter, but that’s just a matter of personal preference.  In this era where more and more of the comic art is being created digitally, it’s nice to see art that shows so much organic brushwork.  It’s almost like gray watercolors in places.  I’ll bet these pages were a pain in the neck for Albuquerque to scan and send to the colorist because you KNOW they were all kinda of warped by all the wet inks he slapped on to them.
Conclusion: A solid issue, but not the pinnacle of the series.  The series misses Henry’s humanity and a solid anchor in time.
Grade: B
-Dean Stell