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Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Rafael Albuquerque and Mateus Santolouco
Published by DC/Vertigo
I’ll admit first hand that I was a latecomer to the awesomeness that is American Vampire. When the first issue of the comic first came out, I had a lukewarm reaction at best and gave it a somewhat negative review on this very website. After hearing so much good buzz about it, however, I decided to check out the first trade, and while the story definitely improved from that debut issue, I still didn’t find myself drawn to the overall story or its two main characters, Skinner Sweet and Pearl Jones. Still, the accolades kept coming, so on a whim I decided to pick up the second trade collection at my local library, and that was when I truly became a believer in Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque’s historical horror epic. Originally published in issues 6-11 of American Vampire, the two stories contained in this volume contain the same amount of gore and intrigue that made the first arc such a hit with fans, but these stories also managed to tell very compelling stories with relatable characters, which is what I felt was missing from the first volume.
The first story, entitled “Devil In The Sand,” takes place in Las Vegas in the year 1936, during the construction of the Hoover Dam. In this tale, the recently-appointed sheriff of the then-fledgling Nevada town finds himself tasked with solving a number of bizarre murders of several of the contractors responsible for the dam’s construction. He is aided by a pair of federal agents who show particular expertise in the type of murder being investigated, and the case eventually brings them into contact with the local brothel owner, who also happens to be Skinner Sweet, one of the main characters of American Vampire. As the truth behind the murders becomes more apparent to the sheriff, he begins to discover some harsh truths about his adopted father and about the evolution of Las Vegas from a small desert town to the city of sin we know it to be today.
The second story, entitled “The Way Out,” follows the book’s other protagonist, Pearl Jones, who is now living in rural California with her mortal husband Henry Preston. This two-issue tale does even more to develop Pearl as a sympathetic protagonist as the entire five-issue introductory arc of American Vampire, as it shows how she tries to eke out a normal life with a normal human being who knows her dark secret. As expected, Pearl runs into a group of blood-suckers who have managed to track her down, and she is forced to give into her monstrous side in order to protect herself and her beloved. Meanwhile, an old friend of Pearl’s from the first arc and who shares her “condition” escapes from her captor and embarks on a road trip to try to avenge her former roommate’s betrayal.
The aspect of American Vampire that I always found interesting was the way Snyder incorporates mythic creatures like vampires in the middle of actual historical settings. This is done to even greater effect in the first story in American Vampire Volume 2, but here it seems that the concept was fleshed out enough in the first volume that Snyder can now afford to focus on character, which rises the material above the concept in a way that the first one never could in my eyes. Snyder injects a more emotional hook into the stories via the sheriff character in “Devil in the Sand” and in Pearl and Henry’s relationship in “The Way Out.” This ensures a deeper investment in the story and creates an ultimately very satisfying reading experience. The quiet moments between Pearl and Henry manage to tell a truer and more realistic love story between a human and a vampire than the entire Twilight series. It’s moments like these, as well as a handful of moments in “Devil In the Sand,” that give more heft and meaning to the more violent sequences in the trade.
In addition to making me care more about the characters, I am enjoying the fact that American Vampire is following them from one specific era in American history to another. Rafael Albuquerque’s linework is just as gorgeous as it is in the first volume, and guest artist Mateus Santolouco manages to evoke the same warm yet creepy mood on his pages. Judging from the preview pages contained in this volume, it appears that American Vampire Volume 3 tells a story set during World War II, which is one of my favorite historical eras, so I will definitely be picking up that trade as soon as I see it. While the first volume does an admirable job in introducing the concept and the two main characters, American Vampire Volume 2 wonderfully fleshes at least one of them out and makes her a compelling and sympathetic lead. My only complaint is that I still have yet to see Skinner as more than a sneering villain, but after reading this volume, I have no doubt that Snyder and Albuquerque will delve even further into his character in further issues. For giving me a bloody good time with no shortage of depth and substance, American Vampire Volume 2 gets 5 out of 5 Surprise Decapitations.