The most startling element about American Vampire Volume 2 is how different it is from the first book in this series by Scott Snyder, Stephen King and Rafael Albuquerque. The first book introduced us to Skinner Sweet and Pearl Jones, both part of a new breed of vampires that grew out of the American frontier. Simultaneously telling their origins from 1925 (Pearl’s) and 1880 (Skinner’s), Snyder, King and Albuquerque began a story that would be at home on HBO, sitting on the channel next to Deadwood, Boardwalk Empire and maybe even True Love. American Vampire Volume 1 was about the new rising over the old, whether it be about vampires or a country beginning its transition into a rising world super power. With Stephen King’s stunt-casting co-writing gig over, the story in Volume 2 is all Snyder who fully takes over the reins of the book.
As if losing the draw of King’s name wasn’t enough, Snyder relegates Sweet and Pearl to supporting characters in this book as he shifts the focus away from the vampires and toward the vampire hunters. Snyder even jumps ahead about 10 years to when Sweet is set up in a nascent Las Vegas and Pearl is off in California, enjoying the quiet life with her human lover. In Cash McCogan, the Las Vegas sheriff who’s drawn into the violent dealings of business men and vampires. Snyder creates a man whose whole life has been surrounded and influenced by vampires, even if he didn’t know it. In Snyder’s America, vampires are all pervasive but extremely hidden. They influence business as much as the most shrewd businessmen and politicians. Vampires built the Hoover Dam; bet you didn’t know that?
Snyder shows the effect of vampires on people’s lives. The monsters are cool and all but horror stories work best when they concentrate less on the monsters and more on the personalities of all the characters. Snyder’s story is about how the presence of vampires affect characters like McCogan, the other vampire hunters or even vampires like Pearl or Hattie Hargrove, Pearl’s friend from the first volume. Take McCogan, a man who thinks he’s living a fairly normal life, taking over his father’s mantle of being the town sheriff while awaiting the birth of his own son. He’s a fantastic character because he knows as much about the vampires as the reader does. Snyder uses him to expand the world as we get to discover so much of it through McCogan’s eyes.
Las Vegas is still enough of a frontier town in this book to feel wild and dangerous but is already starting to become civilized and commoditized. Snyder’s writing about a country that’s changing and the secret forces behind those changes. Snyder mixes horror with a bit of a conspiracy story to create a somewhat plausible alternate history story if we’re willing to suspend enough disbelief about the existence of vampires. In that way, Snyder’s story isn’t so much about vampires as it is about obsession and greed.
Even Snyder’s second story in this book about Hattie Hargrove follows those same themes as he contrasts where life (or in both of their cases unlife) has taken Hattie and Pearl. Hattie wants what her one-time friend has. Their lives and deaths are very similar but Hattie clearly was never as strong as Pearl was. Vampirism or not, Snyder’s stories still work almost perfectly as tales of plain human drama without all of the supernatural hullabaloo thrown in.
If the book lost one writer, it picked up an extra artist as Rafael Albuquerque is joined by Mateus Santolouco. The two artist trade off scenes during the Las Vegas story with Santolouco doing all of the art on Hattie’s story. There two art styles are complimentary, never clashing or jarring as you move from one artist to the other. Albuquerque’s is has more character to it while Santolouco’s is more rendered. When you look at individual pages from both artists, you can easily spot the differences in their work. When you read the book, experiencing their pages interwoven together, there’s a great visual continuity created. Albuquerque has set the visual character that comes from the unfussy way he puts ink down on the paper while Santalouco’s artwork looks rendered so that each and every line fulfills an intended storytelling purpose.
Snyder, Albuquerque and Santalouco continue to expand the world of American Vampire with the second book. Snyder writes a rich tale of humanity using some of the most inhuman creatures that exist in fiction while Albuquerque and Santalouco make the past come to life without ever making the book feel like a cold and calculated period piece. The America that they’re writing about is still an untamed land but one that’s starting to look like the 20th century United States that we all knew. The western story of the first volume has given way to a story about how the west was won. Snyder, Albuquerque and Santalouco are telling a story about how America was settled while also telling about how the monsters are still always there.