American Vampire by all accounts is an allegory about the rise of American society out of its European roots, but somewhere between the first storyarc and this last one, before the self-imposed hiatus, the horror series became a deeply engaging character-driven epic. While the various time-period stories have pushed the bounds of overdone horror-near-melodrama, relishing in trite issues as opposed to deeply connecting with the complexity of history, it has ever expanded its universe to encompass very personal perspectives on decades gone by. Issue #33 provides a breakpoint, a point where all the major players have a say in the direction going forward.
Writer Scott Snyder’s microcosm of the United States’ transformative years—from the Old West to the second industrial age to the modern age—has been an examination of heroes, villains and everyone in between. It’s about legends and legacies growing old and finding that though the world has passed them by, perhaps they are still a necessary cog in the wheels of time and progress.
The cast is ever expansive and connected, creating a plethora of directions for the series to go, but it always returns to Skinner Sweet, Pearl Jones and Henry Preston – an ungodly and godly trinity of sorts. American Vampire #33 is a conclusion of their tripartite relationship and the last two and a half years of the series.
Skinner Sweet has been and will remain the villain of the series, although, as an antagonist he works as a shade-of-gray character despite his scoundrel-like nature and behavior. Perhaps it’s his fan favorite status? Perhaps it’s his delusion of self-reliance? Perhaps it’s his status as an anachronism and a symbol of progress—the first of his sub-species? Whatever the case, his dastardly ways and slick presentation are what draw readers in.
The star-crossed lovers Pearl and Henry have been the heart of the series, and here we see the heartbreak. It has already been heart-wrenching for them, having to deal with the inevitable issues of a couple out of sync—one aging and one not. Times change, people grow, and while the love they share defies the boundaries set by the natural order, it could never last. Henry is a study in the intrinsic human spirit of knowing that life is finite for a reason.
The confrontation between these three, surrogated by the outright villainous Hattie, is that of a clash of generations and time periods. The stubbornness of the very American Skinner, the eternal youthfulness of Pearl and the aged grace of Henry are only supplanted by the spitefulness of Hattie—the Hollywood backdrop and subtext serving to guide and reinforce the allegorical quality of American Vampire.
The American way forward was always westward, encompassing the dream and nightmare of manifest destiny. While the rise of the United States as a global superpower was established in the post-war years, it was the exporting of American popculture through movies and entertainment that showed our European roots that the U.S. had surpassed its forbearers. The kids always do better than their parents. And the West was where that happened like no place else. That Snyder uses this backdrop serves two purposes. To bring what we’ll call the first half of the series full circle and to reemphasize the American story that has dominated the globe for so long.
Series artist Rafael Albuquerque limits the backgrounds and incidentals of this issue, choosing instead to focus on the confrontations and its participants. While this panel perspective serves to emphasize and enhance the personal nature of the issue’s narrative, it also works to tone down the allegory. We don’t want this to hit us over the head like a bottle coming down in an old saloon. That would put the clichés of historical narratives to far forward. His steady aesthetic, often copied but never duplicated, is steadfast in its delivery.
The action is kinetic, the drama is sublime. Dave McCaig’s color work is muted; reminding us this is about loss, not victory. His use of brown tones actually works to show the geography so that Albuquerque’s pencils and inks can remain focused on the characters. A tandem effort that aids Snyder’s script and the story’s overall affect, and is proof that subtleness works better than bombastic violence.
There is a point when you realize that despite Snyder’s work to bring out the personal fear in horror narratives, that what frightens us is a way to get at character driven stories, his true deep seeded intent is to tell the American story he’s always relished in, to move from his mind the historical personification of monsters as the drivers of progress. This is the point where Snyder the person and Snyder the storyteller merge. Much as the monsters of American Vampire merge with our history. As with all of history, we have to leave some behind.