It’s the last week of new comics for 2011, and the best-of lists and year-end wrap-ups around the Internet are mostly finished and published already. American Vampire probably won’t need much help to get on those lists, since its “Ghost War” story arc would be top-ten worthy in any year, on any planet, in any universe. But, just in case Scott Snyder’s tale of bloodsuckers and vampire hunters isn’t already one of the best books of the year, American Vampire #22 should make it a lock.
This latest entry in American Vampire, “Death Race,” introduces Travis Kidd, a nineteen-year-old greaser in 1954 Glendale, California. He’s a vampire hunter who likes to “bite them back” with a wooden set of vampire teeth. It’s something that I, at least, have never seen in a vampire story. Snyder continues to reinvent vampires and here he’s reinventing the people who hunt them.
American Vampire is a huge story, spanning a bunch of different time periods. From the 1800s to 1954 (so far), there is a big difference in the way people talk and act. Snyder seems to have done his research, because he nails the different slang and accents that his characters have, without making it seem forced (for an example of the opposite, check out Constantine’s dialogue in Brightest Day Aftermath: The Search for Swamp Thing). Snyder’s writing shines in the form of Travis Kidd’s dialogue. It’s 50s with a slight southern twang, and all of it feels natural. Snyder’s great at telling a huge, epic story, but sometimes it’s the little things that help make a book stand out.
Snyder starts out this new arc on a killer pace, the exact opposite of his other horror book, Severed. We get to see Travis in action on two separate occasions in the same book, both as exciting as the other. We also get a good idea of who Travis is (a smooth vampire-killer), what he wants (dead vampires), and how he operates (alone, and with wooden teeth).
After three issues off the book, Rafael Albuquerque is back on pencil duties. It’s a welcome return, as his art is synonymous with American Vampire (Snyder gives him co-creator credit). His art is distinct: his pencils, characters especially, have clear edges, and often the shapes he uses come to a sharp point, fitting for a book about vampires.
Albuquerque’s characters also each have a personality that you can understand without even reading the dialogue. Their facial features expressions are exaggerated just enough that they all stand out, without being cartoony. A lot of that goes back to Albuquerque’s style, with sharp points and defined edges.
For a book that rarely, if ever, has a bad issue, Snyder and Albuquerque have a lot of expectations to live up to. While nothing earth shattering happens in this 22nd issue, it’s still the best-written book on the shelves, and Albuquerque’s art does Snyder’s script the justice it deserves. They work well together, and never has it been clearer than now, after three issues with Jordie Bernet on art duty. Bernet is a good artist in his own right, but his style of art doesn’t fit the script nearly the same way Albuquerque’s does. The way their styles compliment each other makes them one of the best, if not the best, collaboration in comics today. Snyder and Albuquerque go together like Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, or, for lack of a better metaphor, peanut butter and jelly.
American Vampire is the best book on the shelves, to put it frankly. It’s the book I look forward to the most every month, and it’s the one that always delivers, often surpassing its already high expectations. Snyder builds on his characters and world to make each arc somehow better than the last, and while it’s too early to tell how this newest story will end up, it’s definitely off to a good start. If you haven’t been reading American Vampire, first of all, what are you doing with your life? But second, this is also a great jumping-on point. Almost no prior knowledge is required to get the most out of it.