“AMERICAN VAMPIRE: SECOND CYCLE” (Comic Review)
Launching careers, AMERICAN VAMPIRE started as a simple vampire comic in 2010 and has since become one of the most well-received horror series in years. Utilizing clever play on the creatures’ long-held mythos, while telling a compelling story that spanned a solid seventy years of American history and five volumes of graphic novel, AMERICAN VAMPIRE is new again. After a yearlong break, AMERICAN VAMPIRE: SECOND CYCLE sees original creators Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque return to finish what they started, claiming that this new creation is “the beginning of the huge machinations of the whole series, from here forward, toward the finale.”
Issue number one starts ten years after the #34 of the last story arc. The year is 1965 and long gone is the glitter and gold of Hollywood. Instead, we’ve the endless fields of wheat in the dry, Kansas summer. Pearl Jones stands with shotgun in hand as she helps a little girl escape a quite literal pitchfork-wielding mob. It’s here that we see what Pearl had been up to in the past decade: running a halfway home for runaway vampires and moving them to safer locations. As she welcomes the new addition, she quickly realizes that the girl is a strain of vampire she’s never seen before, something much older.
Of course, the story is also cut with the adventures of Skinner Sweet, now an outlaw along the US/Mexican border who spends his time shaking down drug runners for kicks. When news of a large and important shipment reaches his ears, he jumps at the idea, only to find himself in the middle of a very dangerous adventure.
The latest addition to this Eisner-winning series is the perfect beginning to the second half of this epic work. While both Pearl and Skinner have kept their personalities and quirks intact, it’s interesting to see how much one decade has changed their standings in life. Similar to the last books, “Second Cycle” is reflective of the time period. This time: the tremulous sixties, reflecting the emergence of drugs as the newest outlaw vice and the rise of civil rights, as seen within Pearl’s vampire house. Subtly inserting historical events with vampire lore is part of what made this comic so popular with fans and “Second Cycle” is no exception. It forces readers to think how far this work will travel in time. Will we see Reagan’s America, AIDS, or even the internet get inserted as a background to the bright hot action of AMERICAN VAMPIRE? Even the cover, a re-tooled version of the comic’s first issue (updated to reflect the sixties era) creates a clever message, as if tapping the classic Buddhist saying, “everything changes, but at the same time, nothing changes.” Perhaps, no matter how far our technology and society progresses, we will always fight the same fights.
Both Snyder and Albuquerque dive back into this series as if they never left. Pearl is still her same, moral driven character who stands for the weak and the lost while Skinner is still, well, Skinner. Tossed aside by both vampires and humans, the two continue to struggle to find their place in the changing world and with Snyder’s penchant for penning emotionally visceral story-telling, “Second Cycle” really shows his fearlessness to create a genre-defining work. On top of that, it also takes a special kind of talent to re-do the basics of vampire lore while convincing readers that it’s perfectly natural to mess with the norm, something that Snyder has done in spades. Not to be outshined, Albuquerque’s heavy shading and grotesque depiction of the classic monster is the perfect companion to the story. Easily switching from the calm expanse of the desert at night, to the vivid hellfire of Skinner’s victims begging for mercy, he is quickly becoming an old hand at the subtle medium of horror illustration.
Both creators, despite busy schedules and ballooning careers, merge and revisit AMERICAN VAMPIRE seamlessly. Available on shelves now, “Second Cycle” is not to be missed.