"American Vampire" chose its title very specifically.
The storyline itself (which I will go much further into in the discussion thread later this week) is both metaphorically and literally about carving out a new definition of what it means to be a Vampire in America (specifically, turn of the century 1900's America), in a way similar to how "Zombieland" managed to carve out a space for the modern American Zombie tale in a way that even George Romero couldn't accomplish (as an aside, I see movies like "Shaun of the Dead" to be the last and greatest of the 'old wave' zombie movies, which I generously prefer).
I'll have to admit, I feel a little bit like an idiot. I had no idea Stephen King was attached to this project at all until the end of the first issue, where I had the good sense to turn over to the cover to catch the name of the author. Scott Snyder is the ongoing writer, with Mr. King only contributing a handful of stories throughout the book. I was looking for the name of the author because I was so enamored with the book I wanted to see if I had read anything else they had written. I am delighted to hear he will be writing the new Swamp thing series for DC, as I think his take on the supernatural in "American Vampire" (published by Vertigo and owned by Scott Snyder) will lend itself well to that book.
The writing is very crisp and clean. I got a sense of each characters voice very predominantly in my head, be it the roguish Skinner Sweet or the innocent Pearl Jones. With the story taking place in 1925, the writer is challenged with making it a history piece as well as a terror piece. I think Snyder does this in stride, conceiving a world that I am unfamiliar with on two levels but is nevertheless easily accessible to the reader. Volume 1 ( which collects issues 1-5 of the ongoing) also captures a decently paced mini-arc and ends with me wanting desperately to purchase volume two. I think the biggest fault in the writing is not really a fault at all - I wanted to know more about some of the subtler characters motivations, something that will undoubtedly come in time.
The art lent itself well to this story as well. Ultimately, it is a western (mixed with 1920's gallantry), albeit one where men become monsters and feast on flesh, and you have to reflect each part as much as the other. Artist Rafael Albuquerque nails the setting with a very rough linework. "American Vampire" straddles two time periods, and there are subtle differences in the way that each is sketched. The "wild west" story is rough and violent, with borderlines arching away from the subject as they move. The 1920's story gives itself away to cleaner, egalitarian lines (making the violent resurgence of the rough lines a reference to a rougher time in American History, as well as a more vivid showcase of vampiric bloodlust). The Covers are also gorgeous pieces of art, things I would not object to have hanging in my home. They are truly evocative of the story within, and I am shocked that I haven't been drawn to the series on this basis alone in the past.
I would encourage people to actually read this book. It is not easy to forget that there is something of a Vampiric craze right now. Twilight seeks to re-cast vampires as poofy-headed boyfriends, where True Blood tries to show vampires in the modern age. "American Vampire" is definitely closer to the latter than the former, but I think it stands on its own enough to warrant a glance by even the most thick-willed skeptic. This is something that exists in a vampire-craze, not something that exists because of it, or to cash in on it.
The theme of this story is Evolution - the evolution of vampires, yes, but also the evolution of America into how we recognize it. With the latter story taking place in the 1920's, we begin to see the literal evolution of the role of women in America (expertly played out in the character of Pearl Jones) as well as the story of a civilization coming to know itself against its former progenitors. I only hope Vertigo has the right mind to let Skinner Sweet into the 30's, 40's, and 50's as well.
TL;DR: "American Vampire" is a western/horror comic about change and evolution at the turn of the century, set in the backdrop of Vampiric horror. Highly recommended.
"American Vampire "Vol. 1 is a hardcover collected edition of issues 1-5 of "American Vampire", published by Vertigo Comics. It is written by Scott Snyder, with stories by Stephen King, and is drawn by Rafael Albuquerque. It is currently an ongoing series, so if you’d like to read it, check out your local comic book store. Volumes 1 and 2 of the Hardcover are also available on Amazon.