Tuesday, 3 January 2012

American Vampire: The Beast In The Cave

American Vampire #19-21

"The Beast In The Cave"

Story: Scott Snyder
Art: Jordi Bernett

With issue 21 American Vampire wraps up its latest storyline, "The Beast In The Cave", notable for featuring the first appearance pencilling on this series by seasoned professional Jordi Bernett. More famous in Europe for his work on crime classic Torpedo, Bernett has been DC's go to guy for Western action for some time now, gracing the pages of Jonah Hex and All Star Western with his superior draughtsmanship. For that reason, Bernett is a superb choice for a story such as this, wherein we see a bit more of the adventures of the series' central vampire Skinner Sweet during the American Civil War. This seems like a perfect fit to me, so, it’s quite disappointing that this has turned out to be a rather uninspiring three parter.

American Vampire is a solid if unremarkable series that has earned Vertigo solid if unremarkable sales (actually jolly good sales by Vertigo standards) and a decent critical response over the last couple of years. I’ve stuck with it from the beginning, due to the fact that although it doesn’t make me wait with bated breath every issue, it is still a very good series. I particularly enjoyed the recent epic set in the Pacific Theatre of World War Two, I would even have said prior to this misstep that the series was going from strength to strength. This story unfortunately did not meet the heights of the WW2 Pacific story, or the other Western-centric blasts from Skinner’s pasts shown earlier in the run. "The Beast in the Cave" had by far more in common with the recent "Survival of the Fittest" mini series, which again squandered a great artist (in that case star in the making Sean Murphy) and again focussed too much on Snyder's newly introduced concept of giant magic vampire gods, which for my money suspends the disbelief far too far for me. Like so many vampire-centric franchises before it, Am Vam is branching out into different kinds of monsters, with limited success. One could argue that the evolution of the beasties' species is a main theme of the book, that is, the different kinds of vampire, but that’s not really why I like the series. If I’m honest I’d happily see them drop the whole vampire angle entirely and just focus on people in the period setting. But I'm an awkward so-and-so like that.

The premise of this particular story boils down to "Cowboys vs. Indians vs. Vampires in the Civil War" and when a premise that awesome is brought to you by western/crime comics legend Jordi Bernett and fan favourite writer of great expectations Scott Snyder it screams "Unmissable" but it doesn't quite hit the mark. Not a terrible story, but not a particularly satisfying reading experience either. The story starts simply, escalates quickly and ends up all over the shop. I actually thought there must have been some kind of printing error in the final issue, the story jumped from scene to scene with very little connection other than the fact that both story lines seemed to be leading up to evens the reader isn’t even allowed to witness at story’s end. Tension builds and builds and then... well stuff happens that we don't see then nothing happens that we DO see. I can see what Snyder's going for here but it just felt like a standard Jonah Hex short story dragged out into three issues.

So a rare failure from American Vampire, but it's still a strong series, and one that's well worth trying if you haven't already. Don't start here though, begin at the beginning, or try the excellent #12 with art by the inimitable (and fairly unpronounceable) Danijel Zejelj. Hopefully there'll be a return to form in the next issue, where series regular artist Rafael Albuquerque returns to kick things forward in time again to the 1950's for new storyline "Death Race". Bring it on daddy-O!