Scott Snyder's "American Vampire" may have launched with an extra promotional push in the form of an opening arc co-writer by the name of Stephen King, but with today's issue #6, the Vertigo series breaks into its first fully solo run for the creator and artist Rafael Albuquerque. And as Snyder told CBR News, the new story looks to break more new ground in a big, bold way.
"[King and I] both got to tell the story we wanted to tell, and it didn't feel compressed too much to us," the writer said. "But having that breathing room with Rafa and being able to give him more pages to do in splash and more pages with bigger vistas is a lot of fun. We intend for this cycle to be as epic or more epic than the last one, with new characters, old characters, new kinds of vampires, old kinds and ancient species. We're going to bring in new human characters and human/vampire relations and more mythology. Our hope is to make this a real fun page-turner that's substantive and epic in scope."
Synching up with the creative team's goal of expanding and establishing the broad commentary on American legends and myths is the setting for "American Vampire's" second arc: 1930's Las Vegas, where series leads Skinner Sweet and Pearl Jones will meet a new cast of characters. "Part of this, thematically, was the idea of who we make into our legends and folk heroes. That's the fun of following somebody like Skinner and following somebody like Book [in the first arc], is that there's a lot of grey area which makes us uncomfortable to think, 'I'm really enjoying reading about this sociopath.' While I sympathize with this lawman who's going after him, they both kind of retain this iconic echo," Snyder explained.
"What we're doing in the 1930s is trying to do something really similar. We're bringing back all the main characters – so you'll definitely see Pearl, and you'll see Skinner in a big way. But we also didn't want to just do 'Pearl's Greatest Hits.' As popular as she's been and as fun as it's been to deal with these characters, we wanted to show you the breadth of the series and broaden the mythology. We give you some revelations about vampire history and vampire evolution as well as some of the human history with vampires. It takes place in early Las Vegas because we wanted an iconic place and an iconic time period, so we're right in the heart of the Great Depression. It's about the building of the Hoover Dam as well. This is Las Vegas becoming the Las Vegas we know. It's not like in 'Bugsy' and all gangster-run, yet. We tap into the late '30s and early '40s. It's Vegas being born. It's a murder mystery that takes place in that town where prominent citizens end up being drained of blood, and the young chief of police who's just inherited the job after his father's gunned down is a bit overwhelmed.
"The city has just tripled its population in a few years and has this massive red light district," the writer noted of the new police chief's challenge. "He's trying to keep things under control, and in doing so falls down the rabbit hole of 'American Vampire.' He himself is someone we've really tried to make – as individual of a character as he is – we wanted to make him into an echo of an iconic figure of the small town cop. He's got that Roy Hobbs from 'The Natural' look, a blonde guy you think would be a baseball player. He's the kind of guy who finds it impossible to accept that his town has gone to hell in a hand basket. We're very excited about introducing him, because he's got a very big role to play in the story. We're never going to do these stand-alone cycles that come and go with stories that are totally peripheral. His name's Cash McCogan, and he'll really play a large role in the whole mythology along with the villains we introduce."
While certainly not "heroes" in the traditional sense, readers can expect to get a greater understanding of vamps Pearl and Skinner as they work their way into the Vegas intrigue. "One of the major parts of the cycle is catching up with Pearl and [her companion] Henry. And, of course, Skinner will appear very, very quickly in the cycle. Pearl appears right after the first issue," Snyder said. "What we wanted to do was not to have the story be all about them all the time, but have it deepen their relationship within the events of the cycle. They push the plot forward and are very involved. The role that Skinner plays is completely central to what's happening, and the role that Pearl plays is very important to Vegas as well.
"But we also wanted to play with their relationship, because to me, they're the two strains – they're the only two American Vampires as far as we know, but they also represent to very different American ideals," the writer noted, drawing his central story theme into light. "With Skinner, I think a lot of people compare him to the Joker as if he's all about chaos, but that's not really true. He believes that civilizing and the kind of civilization of the West makes us less us, somehow. What makes us what we are is this wild and free landscape where you forge yourself out of violence and will. He is, in a lot of ways, an agent of chaos and violence, but he has his own ideology.
"On the other hand, Pearl is about striving to be the best person she can while she has these dark impulses that come with the blood in her. She's about how what makes us special individually is our capacity for everything, from love to being responsible. She's the other side of the two different points of the American identity. I don't want to give away how they're relationship grows, but Pearl and Henry definitely do something that's going to reverberate with Skinner for a long time."
The new arc also plays with the concept of Vegas being the first example of that American idea of the melting pot as race relations and societal influences will grow to be more and more a part of the series. "In the '30s in Las Vegas, there was this situation with the Hoover Dam where they were using a lot of Native Americans for a lot of the high, super-dangerous work on the dam," Snyder explained for the history buffs in the audience. "That integrated community of workers is something you see in that time, partly out of desperation because of the Depression. It was really interesting to see how Las Vegas sprouted its own world with a unique demographic. One of the things we are wanting to play with is this notion that there is this grinding, crushing desperation everywhere but in this town. Las Vegas lucked out in some ways in that they got the biggest Public Works Association project in the history of the country with the New Deal approval of the Hoover Dam. It's this massive construction project right down the road.
"The government didn't want those workers living in Las Vegas and drinking there because the city immediately saw the profit in legalized gambling and prostitution. So instead, they built Boulder City, which was a clean, dry city for everyone to live in, but all the workers would come to Las Vegas whenever they got their paychecks. That's how it got transformed in some ways from a cow town in 1910 into what we know now. A lot of that stuff was supposed to be a temporary way through the Depression, and they never thought it would become a part of the fiber of the city."
"American Vampire" #6, the first chapter in the series' new "Devil In The Sand" arc, is in stores today from DC/Vertigo Comics.