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"I have a lot of issues. . ."

I write comic book reviews that NOBODY has ever asked for!

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Welcome back to Longbox Junk, home of comic reviews that people don't USUALLY  ask for. That's right. . .it's another Longbox Junk Reader Request Edition!

A little while back, my comic lovin' daughter (and occasional Longbox Junk collaborator) challenged me to do some reader requests.  So I put out the call, got a nice list of suggestions, and put them in a hat (an actual hat, BTW) for a random draw.

Congratulations to Brucifer! Your suggestion for Vertigo's American Vampire is the next Longbox Junk Reader Request Edition.

BUT THAT'S NOT ALL!

As a Special Offer good for today only, if you order this wonderful Longbox Junk Reader Request Edition, you'll ALSO get the first entry in the Longbox Junk Halloween Celebration ABSOLUTELY FREE!

A bit of introduction before we get into these comics. . .

I've been a fan of DC's "mature readers" Vertigo imprint from Day One.  My favorite ongoing titles were Hellblazer, Books of Magic, and Preacher.  But they also put out so many great one shots and mini-series that I can't even think of them all!  And then they had popular titles like Sandman, Swamp Thing, Y: The Last Man, and Doom Patrol that I was less of a fan of, but were major critical slam dunks for DC.

BUT. . .

As more "Mature" stories started to filter into the mainstream, Vertigo started to sort of fade away.  That doesn't mean they weren't still putting out some great stuff.  Just look at Scalped and DMZ for some excellent later Vertigo comics.  Sadly, even after recent efforts at a Vertigo "Reboot", the imprint has finally come to an end.   American Vampire was one of the titles that came out during Vertigo's slow fade from the comic store shelves.

As the title suggests, it's the tale of a new breed of vampire that was accidentally created in the western United States during the late 1800's.  So in other words, Cowboy Vampires!  Well, at least for starters.  The story expands as the series goes on through the decades.   But at first. . .Cowboy Vampires!

There's a couple of things about American Vampire that might interest comic fans reading this.  The first is that it is superstar DC writer Scott Snyder's (Best known for New 52 Batman, Dark Knights: Metal, and The Batman Who Laughs) first professional ongoing comic series.  The second is that it was written in collaboration with bestselling horror author Stephen King. . .who is also the writer of a backup story in the first five issues.

Cowboy Vampires, Scott Snyder's breakout comic series, and Stephen King.  Is there any way this CAN'T be good?  Let's find out!

WARNING: American Vampire fully embraced its Vertigo "Mature Readers" label.  This series is NOT for kids.  It has nudity, violence, gory images, and bad language. None of it is gratuitous.  It's all part of the story and not just to be there because it can be there.  But once again. . .not for kids.  Some of the covers and pictures in this review might not be appropriate for all audiences.  Let's call this one PG-13.

Okay.  Everyone in that's staying in?  Let's do it.

AMERICAN VAMPIRE

VERTIGO (2010)

Issues 1 - 5

ISSUE ONE

COVERS: Rafael Albuquerque
 
BIG BREAK
SCRIPTS: Scott Snyder
PENCILS: Rafael Albuquerque

Our story begins in July, 1925.
In the desert East of Los Angeles, a young woman's body is dumped into a ditch. . .but she's still barely alive.  Shifting back to 3 days previously, we discover that the woman is named Pearl Jones.  Pearl and her best friend/ roommate, Hattie, are aspiring actresses grinding their way up through bit parts while working several jobs each.

An unexpected break comes their way when handsome movie star Chase Hamilton invites Pearl to a Hollywood party being thrown at the mansion of famous producer B.D. Bloch.  A mysterious stranger tries to warn Pearl not to go, but she ignores him.

Later, at the party  Pearl is taken upstairs to meet Mr. Bloch, but instead of getting the big break she's looking forward to, Pearl is attacked by a room full of fanged men!  

To be continued. . .

This has to be one of the best introductory issues I've read in a long time!  The characters, setting, and situation are presented quickly and in a very cinematic manner.  I can almost visualize this story as playing out on my T.V. screen while I read it.  It's short (because these first few issues share page space with a backup story) and moves at a snappy pace, but the characters are sketched out nicely for being in such a small space and likeable enough that I REALLY want to grab the next issue and see what happens.

But the story is only half the story here!   Rafael Albuquerque knocks it out of the park with some slightly exaggerated, but realistic, art that perfectly captures the scene and fits Snyder's quick, cinematic storytelling style like a glove.  Kudos to the great colors and thick, dark inks as well!  


Overall, this is what a first issue SHOULD be!  It's a perfect storm of art and writing coming together to give a great introduction to this series that immediately grabs the reader and makes me want to jump right into the next issue and see what happens next.
 
BUT. . .
 
Not yet.
 
In these first few issues, there's also a prequel story by Master Horror Storyteller Stephen King! You were wondering where the Cowboy Vampires I promised were? This is it.  Let's take a look.
 
BAD BLOOD
SCRIPTS: Stephen King
PENCILS: Rafael Albuquerque 

The scene shifts back in time 45 years to Colorado, 1880.

We find ourselves aboard a train carrying notorious thief and murderer, Skinner Sweet, to a trial and eventual hanging in New Mexico.  Also aboard are the man who captured him, Pinkerton Agent James Book, as well as Special Agent Henry Finch, several deputies, a mysterious banker named Mr. Percy, and a retinue of reporters and writers following the story (including Will Bunting, the narrator of the tale).

As Sweet relates to James Book the true story behind the botched bank robbery and resulting murders 6 months previously that finally set the Pinkertons on his trail, Book and the rest of the train's passengers don't realize that the rest of Sweet's gang are laying an ambush to rescue their captured leader.

After the train derails on a section of track that Sweet's gang destroyed, Skinner makes his escape during the commotion, then he and his gang begin to brutally gun down the rest of the survivors of the wreck.  But there's more to mysterious banker Percy than they counted on. . .

He transforms into a vicious monster and attacks Skinner Sweet, killing him before fleeing.  The rest of Sweet's gang rides away as the few survivors of the wreck left, including James Book, turn on them.  Sweet is left for dead in the Colorado desert, but the narrator assures us that the story is only beginning.

To be continued. . .
Stephen King is one of my favorite writers, and he does not disappoint here.  Like the opening tale, this introduction to killer and thief Skinner Sweet is pretty short, due to having to share page space, but it's like a burning fuse sputtering its way to an explosive end.  The tension slowly builds until that final page where the narrator tells us that's this is only the beginning.  It's a fantastic introduction to an unusual take on the vampire mythos that easily stands alongside any of King's best short stories.
 
But as good as the story is, the art actually steps it up a notch from the opener.   It's the EXACT same art team, but somehow,  Rafael Albuquerque almost makes it look like two different artists worked on this comic! Instead of the bold, crisp lines of the opening story, there's a sort of watercolor look to this one that I really like.  Compare the page scan above with this one and tell me it doesn't look almost like two separate art teams.  Very nicely done.
 
 
Overall, this prequel story is a tasty little bite of Stephen King doing what he does best. . .putting a new slant on tried and true horror tropes with interesting characters you want to know more about.   Rafael Albuquerque delivers a surprising change of art that perfectly fits the flashback style of the story.
 
In my extremely humble opinion, with the two stories taken together, American Vampire #1 is about as close as I've seen to a practically perfect first issue.  Is there anything bad to say about this?  The stories are a bit too short.  Other than that, I've got nothin'.  What a great start! Let's get into the next issue. . .

ISSUE TWO

 
MORNING STAR
SCRIPTS: Scott Snyder
PENCILS: Rafael Albuquerque
 
Pearl's friend, Henry, and her roommate, Hattie, search for Pearl after she doesn't come home from the party at Bloch's mansion.  They find her stumbling through the desert covered with bites and barely alive.  At the hospital, the doctors say that there's nothing they can do. . .the blood loss from the "animal bites" is too great and Pearl is going to die.  Later that night, the mysterious stranger who tried to warn her away from Bloch's party secretly visits Pearl on her deathbed.
 
Pearl wakes up and is horrified to find herself in the hospital's morgue.  She manages to make her way to her apartment only to find the stranger waiting there for her.  He tells her that she's dead, but he's made her into something. . .different.  He then explains that vampires are real, and that she was killed by a group of them.  But he and Pearl are a different breed of vampire. . .stronger, able to withstand sunlight. Weakest during the dark of the moon.  He tells her that he's given her what she needs to take her revenge. 
 
 
After he leaves, she discovers a note signed "Skinner Sweet".  She also discovers Chase Hamilton. . .the actor who gave her to the vampires. . .tied up in her closet.  Hunger overcomes her and she transforms into a horrific creature and brutally kills the actor.  
 
 
To be continued. . .
 
Moving past the introductions and setup of the first issue, the story picks up the pace and moves straight into horror territory with Pearl becoming the second of a new breed of American Vampire and being manipulated into doing Skinner Sweet's dirty work by his placing her on a path of revenge.
 
I really liked Snyder's angle of Sweet seeing an opportunity to create a weapon in order for him to avoid direct conflict with the European Vampires he is hunting.  It adds a devious layer of character beyond what was seen in the backup story with him just being a wild west sociopath that was in the wrong place at the wrong time.  
 
Once again, this story is incredibly cinematic and fast-paced. . .moving along quickly in the limited space given, but still managing to add new layers and elements to the story as it goes along.   Rafael Albuquerque's art remains outstanding, and his vision of the American Vampire is truly horrific as Pearl transforms into a feral, hissing creature with a gaping, fanged mouth and giant claws.  These ain't your sparkly Twilight Vampires, folks.  I love it!
 
Overall, the story keeps going strong and once again I just want to jump right into the next issue.
 
BUT FIRST. . .
 
Stephen King's Prequel backup continues.
 
DEEP WATER
SCRIPTS: Stephen King
PENCILS: Rafael Albuquerque
 
We pick up outlaw Skinner Sweet's story in 1880 shortly after his "death".
 
Pinkerton Agent James Book discovers that during his pursuit of Skinner Sweet, the outlaw killed Book's wife with a poisoned bottle of wine sent as a present from her husband.  
 
As the devastated Book and his most trusted deputy and friend return to New Mexico to grieve his murdered wife, we see that Skinner Sweet is not truly dead, but trapped and slowly going insane in a coffin underground.
 
The story moves forward to 1883, when the town Skinner Sweet is buried in is flooded underwater by a dam.  We see that Sweet is still alive as the graveyard is flooded.
 
The story moves forward another 2 years to 1885, showing Jim Book throwing himself into his work. . .capturing the worst criminals of the last days of the old west, along with his faithful deputy, Felix Camillo, and writer Will Bunting.  The story continues through various events in Book, Camillo, and Bunting's lives until the year of 1909 and Lakeview, Colorado. . .the town built to replace the one that the dam flooded in 1883.
 
A team of divers searching for Skinner Sweet's grave in hopes of finding his skull for a collector (Sweet has become a legendary figure of the Old West by this time) explore the flooded graveyard. . .and unfortunately, they find what they're looking for.  
 
When they find and open his coffin, they free Skinner Sweet from his prison.  He quickly slaughters the diving team and makes his way toward Lakeview, swearing vengeance on James Book and Mr. Percy.
 
To be continued. . .
 
This chapter of Kings Skinner Sweet prequel is pretty much what I would call a "Montage".  It quickly moves the story forward through time 20 years and into the 20th Century when Skinner Sweet is a wild west legend and James Book is practically forgotten.  It's still good and definitely bears the fingerprints of Stephen King's character-driven horror style, but it's told in passing snippets and flashes that maybe make the story move by a bit TOO fast. 
 
 I'm thinking maybe an extra issue here would have been nice.  Now that I think about it, a five part story arc is pretty unusual when most trades are built around six issue arcs.  I wonder if that was King's doing or DC's.  
 
The art maintains the more painted style seen in the first issue.  I'm still sort of amazed at  Rafael Albuquerque's ability to make it almost look like another art team was working on the backup when the exact same people are credited!  I particularly liked the underwater scenes of the doomed diving team exploring the flooded frontier town of Sidewinder.  
 
 
Overall, the second issue is still running on all cylinders.  The opening tale of broken Hollywood dreams is moving toward becoming a blood-drenched revenge story, while the backup story of the strange death of an outlaw is moving in the same direction, but on a different path.  I like the sort of warped mirror being held up between the two main characters.  
 
That said. . .two strong issues don't complete a five issue story.  There's still plenty of room for this to go off the rails, and I've seen it happen many a time in my days of Longbox Junkin'.  Will Snyder and King keep a steady hand on the wheel and drive this home to an end as good as the beginning?  Let's get into the next issue and find out!

ISSUE THREE

 
ROUGH CUT
SCRIPTS: Scott Snyder
PENCILS: Rafael Albuquerque
 
Pearl Jones warns her friend, Hattie, that she needs to leave town because anyone close to Pearl is going to be in danger.  In the meantime, the European Vampires debate on what to do when the slaughtered body of Chase Hamilton is discovered. . .wrongly assuming that it was the work of Skinner Sweet.  They send two younger vampires to investigate.
 
As the vampires leave the mansion, Pearl follows and attacks their car, easily killing them both and their human driver in the daylight.  Later, as the sun sets and the moonless night begins, a weakened Pearl seeks refuge on her musician friend Henry's boat.  
 
Pearl tells Henry the truth of what's happened to her.  He doesn't believe her, but says he'll still help.  After Pearl falls into a coma-like sleep for a full day, the next night Henry gets a phone call from a terrified Hattie.  When Pearl takes the phone, a Vampire answers and tells her that he will exchange Hattie for Pearl near the Hollywood sign that night.  
 
Henry tries to keep a still-weakened Pearl from going, but she steals his car and heads for the meeting, determined to save her friend and get her revenge.
 
To be continued. . .
 
This third issue begins to slip a little bit.  I'm not saying it's bad.  Not at all.  The story is still strong and moves along at a quick pace, adding more layers of detail in the short space given as it goes.  The art is also still extremely strong, with the contrast between the decadent European vampires and the fierce, feral American vampire being probably the best aspect in this particular issue.
 
BUT. . .
 
Like I mentioned in the review of the backup prequel story in issue two. . .I think maybe another issue might have been needed about here in the series.  It seems to me that the story might be moving a bit TOO fast through the middle.  
 
In particular, Pearl goes from being a mentally-exhausted wannabe Hollywood starlet to a snarling anti-hero bent on vengeance WAY too quickly.  There's very little transition.  
 
Skinner Sweet turned her and told her what was going on last issue and she just sort of accepted it and moved straight into being a hell-bent revenge monster fully in control of her new powers in this issue. . .cracking jokes as she easily slaughters vampires after a high-speed chase.  
 
I get that Snyder is telling a fast-paced story in an extremely cinematic style, but an issue of Pearl coming to terms with her new state of being would have been nice about here.
 
 
Despite the story seeming to move a little TOO fast in this issue, great art and an entertaining take on the tried and true vampire mythos are enough to keep me fully on board.  
 
BLOOD VENGEANCE
SCRIPTS: Stephen King
PENCILS: Rafael Albuquerque
 
Stephen King's Skinner Sweet prequel story continues right from where it left off in issue #2, with the newly-freed Sweet coming into the town of Lakeview after being imprisoned in a coffin underwater for 20 years.  Sweet is confused by signs advertising motion pictures and telephones. . .not realizing he's been trapped for two decades.
 
After killing the owner of a candy shop and satisfying his blood hunger (and sweet tooth), Sweet has a run-in with the local police, who he brutally kills in the street in full view of the town. . .and the European Vampires led by Mr. Percy watching from the bank.  
 
When they see Sweet walking in full daylight, Percy realizes that he accidentally created something new and extremely dangerous.  The police chief. . .former Special Agent Henry Finch and one of those responsible for Sweet's capture in 1880, along with Mayor Camillo. . .the father of James Book's trusted deputy Felix Camillo, gather a posse to confront the killer roaming their streets.
 
Sweet blows up a building with dynamite, and then brutally slaughters the posse after realizing their gunfire isn't harming him.  He tortures the location of James Book out of Henry Finch before killing him, then beheads Mayor Camillo and mails the head to Felix Camillo, telling him to bring Book and meet him at an old mine that Sweet used to use as a hideout.
 
In the meantime, the European Vampires contact Sweet's old gang, who know exactly where Skinner will be heading. . .to the old mine where they used to stash their loot.  And so James Book and company, Skinner Sweet, and the European Vampires all begin moving in the same direction.
 
To be continued. . .
 
Moving forward from the "montage" style story of the last issue, this chapter of Skinner Sweet's story sets the pieces in place for what will surely be a bloody showdown.  There's quite a bit of action in this issue as Sweet kills his way through the unfortunate town of Lakeview, and Rafael Albuquerque's art doesn't flinch from showing the gory results.  When Skinner Sweet transforms into the feral American Vampire,  Albuquerque's vision of him is truly horrific!  Like I said before. . .these ain't your sexy sparkling Twilight vampires here.  
 
Although King's story is still strong, the coincidences needed for the pieces to move into place for the final showdown between Sweet and Book ARE a bit hard to swallow. . .namely the FIRST town Skinner stumbles into after being imprisoned for 20 years having both one of the men responsible for his capture AND the father of another AND having the very vampire that made Skinner Sweet into the creature he's become. 
 
It seems like maybe Stephen King could have done this a bit differently and in a way that doesn't require so much suspension of disbelief.
 
 
Maybe I'm just having a hard time finding things to pick at in this highly-entertaining take on vampires, and I'm just pulling at little threads.  But in my extremely humble opinion, the main story turns Pearl Jones into a revenge-driven monster in full control of her new powers way too quickly and the backup is propped up on unlikely coincidence.  
 
Even given those flaws, this is still a great story backed up with some great artwork.  I'm just hoping that the few bad things I've noticed don't begin to magnify as this series moves into the final two issues.  
 
An extra note that may be of interest to readers of this blog who haven't read these comics is that on the last page of this issue is an excellent and heartfelt tribute to the then recently departed Dick Giordano by Vertigo Executive Editor Karen Berger.  It's a great little memorial to a comic industry legend that you'll miss if you read these online or in trade.
 
NEXT!

ISSUE FOUR

 
DOUBLE EXPOSURE
SCRIPTS: Scott Snyder
PENCILS: Rafael Albuquerque
 
After a short flashback showing how Pearl and Hattie met at a diner, the scene shifts to the present and Pearl arriving at the Hollywood sign to confront the European Vampires that have taken her best friend hostage.
 
After freeing Hattie, the head vampire (movie producer B.D. Bloch) informs Pearl that she will be imprisoned and experimented on until they discover the new breed of vampire's weakness.  As Pearl readies herself to fight, she is taken by surprise as her best friend Hattie attacks her from behind!
 
Hattie reveals that she's been working for the Vampires the whole time, and it was she who dumped Pearl's body in the ditch and left her for dead.  While Pearl is distracted by this upsetting turn of events, the rest of the vampires go on the attack.
 
Pearl's friend Henry arrives just in time to grab badly-wounded Pearl and make their escape in his car, but the vampires pursue them.  One car chase and narrow escape later, as the sun rises, Pearl is near death and Henry lets her drink some of his blood to heal herself, and in the process a bit of romance begins to bloom.  NOW he believes in Vampires.
 
Pearl is defeated and depressed at her betrayal and narrow escape.  She wants to run and hide.  Henry convinces her that she'll never be safe and the vampires will always find her eventually.  The only thing to do is for them to go on the attack during the day when they're at their weakest. 
 
To be continued. . .
 
I read these comics as they came out monthly, but it's been a while and I didn't remember Hattie's villain turn so it caught me by surprise.  It's a great twist!  The later scenes of Pearl agonizing over the attack really hit a good character spot.  Pearl is less upset at being betrayed and attacked than she is at the thought of losing her best friend.  Henry steps in to fill that space, but it's still a great story moment in a chapter that is pretty action-heavy as it leads up to the final confrontation.
 
Unfortunately, among the great action scenes of Pearl escaping the vampire trap, there's a glaring plot hole that took me right out of what was happening. In the last issue, Pearl steals Henry's car and leaves him behind to confront the vampires alone.  In this issue, Henry comes to the rescue in the nick of time driving his car.  
 
Now, I MIGHT just be nitpicking my way through an otherwise excellent issue here, but this is the sort of sloppy plot moment  that captures my attention and won't let go.  The good thing is that if this is the only thing to complain about in the whole chapter, it's fair to say that it's not really that big a deal.
 
 
Overall, despite a glaring plot hole, this action-heavy chapter of the story of Pearl Jones is highly entertaining. It features a surprising twist, some good emotional story moments, and outstanding art by Rafael Albuquerque as strong elements that overshadow the minimal flaws and perfectly set up the final part of this first American Vampire story arc.
 
ONE DROP OF BLOOD
SCRIPTS: Stephen King
PENCILS: Rafael Albuquerque
 
Retired Pinkerton Agent James Book, along with his former deputy, Felix Camillo (as well as Felix's daughter Abilena and writer Will Bunting) arrive at the devastated town of Lakeview.  Bunting gives the group some background on what he knows about vampires before they head for the old mine where Skinner Sweet waits for them.
 
The European Vampires and their human agents, Sweet's former gang members, lie in wait at the mine, watching for Book and company or any sign of Skinner Sweet.  Inside the mine, Sweet finds himself growing weaker as the moonless night falls.
 
When Book and his group arrive, they take Skinner's former gang by surprise and quickly dispatch them while the European vampires stand by unseen and allow their human agents to be taken down.  Sweet hears the commotion outside and calls out to Book and Camillo.  Felix goes into a rage when he hears the voice of his father's killer and rushes inside by himself.
 
Inside the mine, Felix falls into Sweet's trap and is quickly killed by the weakened vampire.  James Book runs into the mine to support his friend, but is surprised when Felix's daughter (and Book's God Daughter) passionately kisses him before he goes in.  Distracted by the forbidden moment between himself and Abilena, he goes into the mine a few moments too late and discovers Felix's dead body.
 
Sweet attempts to ambush Book as well, but doesn't succeed.  After putting a few shots into him, Book quickly discovers that Skinner is able to shrug off gunfire.  Sweet takes advantage of the surprise and gets the upper hand on Book, knocking him unconscious with a rock. 
 
Skinner decides that forcing Book to become the same kind of creature he's become will be a more painful fate than just killing him, so Sweet drips some of his blood into Book's eye.  Abilena hears the gunfire and rushes into the mine, shooting at Sweet, but hitting some of the mine supports instead.
 
 
As the mine collapses, Book, Abilena, and Will Bunting barely escape. . .leaving Skinner Sweet buried and assumed dead.  The watching European Vampires leave, also convinced that they'll never hear from Skinner Sweet again.  Of course, this is a vampire story, so we see that Skinner is once again imprisoned alive in the wreckage of the mine.
 
When it's all over,  Book, Abilena, and Bunting ride into the sunrise, seemingly at the end of their adventures with the vampire Skinner Sweet.  But the narrator once again assures us that this isn't the end of the story.
 
To be continued. . .
 
The conclusion of this story is an action-packed, cinematic comic book gem!  Stephen King pulls out all the stops and gives readers an ending that stands up right beside any of his best short stories.
 
Wait.  What's that?  I said "To be continued"?
 
Yes, yes. . .there's still another issue to go, but it's more of an epilogue that perfectly sets Scott Snyder up for the entire rest of the series (I'm only reviewing the first 5 issues here.  There's 34 total issues, plus a couple of spinoff mini's).  
 
THIS is the actual ending to this story and the answer to the question I was previously pondering about the unusual 5 issue arc.  It's actually a 4 issue arc with a somewhat separate 5th issue to set up the rest of the series. 
 
If I can find anything wrong with this finale, it would be that the European Vampires are just sort of. . .there.  They don't do anything but watch and then leave when the mine collapses.  Sure, they're only supporting characters but King makes them interesting enough that I'd have liked to see a bit more of them (and we do in the next issue).    But once again. . .if that one little thing is all I can find wrong with this, then it's just me nitpicking at an otherwise excellent story.
 
AND FINALLY. . .

ISSUE FIVE

 
CURTAIN CALL
SCRIPTS: Scott Snyder
PENCILS: Rafael Albuquerque
 
Having decided that running and hiding will only delay the European Vampires' hunt for Pearl, she and her new lover, Henry, attack B.D. Bloch's Hollywood mansion during the day when he and his fellow vampires are at their weakest.
 
After a desperate and bloody battle where the rest of the vampires are taken by surprise and destroyed, Henry is taken hostage by Bloch, but Pearl finally defeats the head vampire by breaking a window and letting him burn in the sunlight.  With the battle over, Henry is ready to leave California with Pearl, but she has one last thing to do first. . .
 
At the movie studio where the former friends played bit parts while looking for their big break, Pearl confronts Hattie, who is now a rising movie star thanks to her servitude to producer/vampire B.D. Bloch.  Hattie surprises Pearl by transforming into the new American breed of vampire.  She used Pearl's blood off the knife she attacked her with during her betrayal at the Hollywood sign in last issue and infected herself.
 
 
Unfortunately Hattie is no match for Pearl, who quickly kills her former best friend. . .finally ending Pearl's short and brutal quest for revenge.
 
EPILOGUE:  Later, on a pier at the beach, Pearl and Henry enjoy a bit of peace at the end of the madness they've experienced and discuss where they will be going next when they leave California.  When Henry leaves for a moment, Pearl realizes that Skinner Sweet has been watching them. 
 
He tells her that he WAS going to kill her there on the pier, but decided not to, since she did such a good job doing his dirty work for him.  Sweet tells Pearl she'll see him again someday, then leaves her to her new life with Henry.
 
 
The End.
 
Snyder delivers a great ending to the strange tale of Pearl Jones, American Vampire!  Of course, this isn't the last we'll see of Pearl and Henry in this series, but for now the story comes to a very satisfying conclusion with equal parts bloody action and quiet character moments.  If this was all there was to American Vampire, I think I'd be happy with it.  
 
But there's a bit more to go in this issue. . .
 
IF THY RIGHT HAND OFFEND THEE, CUT IT OFF
SCRIPTS: Stephen King
PENCILS: Rafael Albuquerque
 
Like I said in the review of issue #4, this issue's story is really more of an Epilogue to the story of Skinner Sweet and James Book that also serves as a prologue to the remaining 29 issues of American Vampire.
 
We pick up the tale in New Mexico 3 years after James Book's final battle with Skinner Sweet (the year is 1912) with the former lawman living with the daughter of his slain deputy.  Book is NOT in a good place.  Skinner Sweet's final cruel act before his "death" has resulted in Book becoming a vampire.  
 
But James Book has a strong will and has tried to resist the blood hunger by feeding on animals and subjecting himself to various quack doctors trying experimental blood transfusion therapies. . .all of them unsuccessful. 
 
Feeling control slipping away from him and fearing he will start killing innocent people, Book desperately enlists the aid of Abilena to commit suicide during the moonless night when he is most vulnerable.  
 
IN THE MEANTIME. . .
 
We see that the European Vampires have taken more of a hold on the American West.  They use human agents to dig Skinner Sweet out of the rubble of the collapsed mine where he's been trapped for 3 years and offer him a chance to join them and share in the vast profits gained from the growing nation.  Sweet is concerned less with profits and more with revenge and savagely destroys the European Vampires before leaving to live his own life.
 
AND THEN BACK TO NEW MEXICO. . .
 
Where Abilena sadly agrees to help James Book end his tortured life as a vampire on one condition: that they spend one night together so that she can have a baby to remember him by.  Since Abilena is Book's Goddaughter and he's known her since she was born, Book is understandably reluctant, but Abilena insists and he finally agrees.  Afterwards, she keeps her part of the bargain and ends the life of James Book (and his part in the story of American Vampire).
 
 
A year later, Abilena sets out for parts unknown with the baby daughter that came from that night.
 
EPILOGUE:  The story moves forward in time to 1925, where an aged Will Bunting is holding a discussion of the best-selling book he wrote about the life and strange death of Skinner Sweet, "Bad Blood".  During the book signing at the end of his talk, he is given a note signed by Sweet saying that he's still alive and enjoying watching Bunting grow old.
 
As Sweet leaves the book store, he doesn't realize that he's being watched by Abilena and her (now) 12 year old daughter, Felicia.  Abilena tells Felicia that now's not the time for their revenge on Sweet, but soon. . .
 
 
 
The End.
 
Even though Stephen King actually ended his story in issue #4, in this issue he provides Scott Snyder a perfect prologue for the continuing tale of American Vampire as an ongoing comic series.  
 
Felicia Book is one of the main characters in the following "Devil in the sand" story arc, as well as the two American Vampire mini's, "Survival of the fittest" and " Lord of Nightmares".  I haven't read the short, 11 issue followup series "American Vampire: Second Cycle", but she's also part of that as well.
 
There's not much action here, except for the short interlude with Skinner Sweet killing the European Vampires as thanks for digging him out of the mine he was trapped in, but this is a solid issue with some great character moments. . .especially in the sad fate of James Book.
 
Overall, King couldn't have handed Snyder a better going away present than this Epilogue.

CONCLUSION

I've already said a lot of good things about American Vampire in this review, so there's not much more that I can say in this conclusion, so let's just take it on down to the bottom line:
 
If you are a fan of horror comics, vampires, Stephen King, Scott Snyder or any combination of those things, then American Vampire is a MUST read.  You will not be disappointed.
 
These first five issues tell two entertaining stories written in a fast-paced and highly-cinematic style backed up by some of Rafael Albuquerque's best artwork.  This is a fantastic introduction to a comic series that presents a fresh take on the tried and true vampire mythos.
 
Is this story perfect?  No comic is perfect.  There are times when the story is moving TOO fast.  There's a couple of plot holes that stand out.  There are some parts that are propped up on unlikely coincidence. There are some underused supporting characters.  Despite those few flaws, the first five issues of American Vampire stand on their own as a little nugget of comic book gold.  
 
It's a shame that this series came out during Vertigo's slow fade from comic stores because it really deserves to be better known than it seems to be.  In my extremely humble opinion, the cinematic nature of these two stories make it a perfect fit for television.  This story could be and SHOULD be AMC's next great horror series.
 
Once again, if you are a fan of horror comics and have never read American Vampire, do yourself a favor and find it NOW.  But don't stop at these first five issues.  I just stopped at the first arc so I can do a few other Halloween-Related Longbox Junk things.  These issues tell the tightest story and pretty much stand alone, but the entire series is well worth looking for.
 
Up Next. . .
 
It's October, and that means it's time for some Longbox Junk Halloween fun!
 
Work has slowed back down to a tolerable comic readin' and reviewin' pace, so I'm going to be tossing out as many Halloween and Horror-related Longbox Junk entries as I can over the next month.
 
Be there or be square!

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One of my favorite old comic anthologies gets a modern (90's that is) update!

Unfortunately, it's Vertigo. . .which means (Like everything Vertigo) it's 1 part great to 2 parts crap.

WEIRD WAR TALES

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