Aside from being a beautiful tribute and reexamination of vampire, monster legends, and other horror traditions, Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque’s American Vampire is a historical meditation on the rise and influence of Western culture and its deep connection to European ancestry. The first storyarc is both an establishment of the title’s mythology, but also an examination of Manifest Destiny and American Western Expansion. Each subsequent arc expands on the mythology and highlights particularly important moments in US culture and history. With American Vampire: Anthology, celebrated creators from across comics take the moment to celebrate the Vertigo title, vampire-horror traditions, and also pay tribute to the historical relevance at the core of American Vampire.
Much of American Vampire is about how intimately tied the individual pursuit of the American dream is to larger cultural movements and historical moments. The use of horror to examine personal and societal fears is rather apropos. It exposes perspectives that take a deeper look at the harsh truth of American society.
The anthology model employed here allows for short, poignant and raw narratives that cut to the emotional heart of the property. We’ve seen it used traditionally in comics countless times with varying degrees of effectiveness. The particular effectiveness of American Vampire: Anthology is that it acts as a testament to the vast scope of the mythology. It’s limitless. It’s also a well thought out reminder while the title is on hiatus. It will be back soon enough.
Snyder and Albuquerque bookend the Anthology with an explosive and intimate character study of first American vampire Skinner Sweet. He’s the legend of Johnny Cash with fangs. He’s Billy the Kid with a licorice addiction. He’s the promise and nefariousness of expansionism. And it looks like someone(‘)s (may be) trying to put this legend to bed.
The majority of the rest of the stories in the Anthology metaphorically deal with various historical and cultural moments from the vast history of North America since European discovery.
Jason Aaron and Declan Shalvey contribute a bloodthirsty tale inspired by the various theories surrounding the Roanoke Colony mystery, when in the 16th Century the colonists of Roanoke Island disappeared. More recent theories suggest that the colonists mixed with the native population and left the island for another location with better resources. But Aaron and Shalvey metaphorically make a point about European conquest of the continent that displaced native populations and exposed them to deadly new diseases. It’s a story that uses horror to investigate the vicious underbelly of colonialism, a common theme that will emerge time and again, whose impact is felt even today.
Another story by Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon looks at corruption of the fourth estate and to an extent the use of political manipulation to repress minority populations. African American nightclub and cabaret entertainers are exploited and eaten by vampires. A representative of the press covers it up. It’s not an overt rundown of US societal inequality, but an extension of the story example certainly casts a harsh light on the systematic racism that has been a blight of American culture. While historically the press has at times been a powerful tool to promote reforms–The Jungle by Upton Sinclair is a clear example of that–there have been unfortunately times when journalism has been used to push some political and social agendas while suppressing others.
A few of the stories in American Vampire: Anthology examines characters from the American Vampire universe. The most common is Skinner Sweet, but Gail Simone and Tula Lotay take a horrific look at villain Hattie Hargrove and her motivations to become a vampire just like her rival Pearl Jones. The story gives us the most terrifying and nightmare inducing image of the entire Anthology. It also features inspired subtext on the rise of feminism and women’s suffrage, as well as the inequality and harsh treatment women face under patriarchal dominated societies. In many ways it is a revenge story, but in other ways it is a harsh criticism of the repression women feel in pursuit of their own dreams.
All of these issues and the stories that they are packaged in make a formidable presentation in support of the vast scope of American Vampire. There are countless moments in this collection of stories that underscore the themes, metaphors and subtext of the main series and even its separate mini-series. Yes, it’s scary and terrifying horror, but it’s also a fascinating look at the impact of historical and societal moments that have defined the American character.