Page 45 Review by Stephen
"Mein Gotte, I'm so hungry... Let's get someone to eat!"
The American vampire is a rather different beast from the pretty young posers the genre's been reduced to, and so is the cracking first book here. It's horror novelist Stephen King's first original work for comics and he is ridiculously modest and self-deprecating during the introduction in which he places all credit at the feet of Scott Snyder, the series creator and author of the first half of each chapter set in July 1925 on the cusp of the advent of talkies. Here two young friends, Pearl and Hattie, are playing extras on a Hollywood film set and receive their instructions:
"Okay, extras! Into character! Action in 5! And remember -- we want terror!"
"Terror, take nine. Say something scary, will you?"
"The rent's due tomorrow."
The rent's for their women-only boarding house where, for the last three days, a "creepy cowboy man" has been accosting them from his chair across the communal swimming pool. He's handsome as hell but ragged round the edges and more than a little cocky. Back on set Pearl finds herself in the right place at the right time to act as a stand-in with leading actor Chase Hamilton which leads both ladies to be invited to a swank do being hosted by movie producer B. D. Bloch. It's a party which "creepy cowboy man", still there on his chair and strangely acquainted with B.D. Bloch, nonchalantly warns them away from. A few pages later they wish they had listened, and you're going to want to turn back to the grimmest of opening pages set later that night. If there's an element there you still can't decipher then just hold your horses: Snyder's got a few slights of hand up his sleeve.
Snyder's economy is admirable, covering a great deal of contemporary territory in a tiny amount of time which in turn keeps the story rolling at an entertaining rate, whilst Albuquerque's art evokes the period with grace and charm before the horror kicks in, at which point he lips rip with an almighty frenzy of fangs, claws and in two notably instances, one well aimed stiletto and a cactus. He shifts styles noticeably for Stephen King's half, a western set forty-five years earlier in Colorado where a by-now familiar young man revealed to be Skinner Sweet is being escorted by train with an armed guard. It's not for his protection. He is, after all, a notorious bank-robber ruthless enough to shoot a three-year-old child without compunction. He's also intimidatingly self-confident. Turns out he has good reason to be, as Special Agent Jim Book and his Mexican Deputy Felix Camillo are about to find out to their cost. But if Sweet was difficult enough to contain before, one fatal error on the part of another member of the party, a bald business man with a low tolerance to daylight, is going to kick into gear over four decades of bloody miscalculations which few will survive.
"Time to meet my maker..."
Hindsight is going to play a big part in your enjoyment of this series, and paying attention here has its rewards. That both time periods aren't readily associated with or overpopulated by vampires is refreshing, as are the two different forms they take. Stephen King doesn't need to write comics - I don't think he'll ever be short of a dollar - so his enthusiasm to be a part of this project is quite the endorsement to which I can only add my own. It's a good couple of decades since I enjoyed vampires outside of the re-release of BLOOD & WATER, but I've been bitten once more.
"Everything tastes better when you're dead. Who knew?"