Scott Snyder’s excellent “American Vampire” has been giving readers a fascinating fresh look at vampires over the past year – no easy feat. With his new mini-series “American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest,” he shows us the other side of that world, through Felicia Book, a vampire hunter and agent of V.M.S. (Vassals of the Morning Star).
In this first issue, we’re introduced to Felicia Book, a vampire hunter of sorts in New York City in 1941. Book has been around for a while and is the most celebrated (literally to the point of celebrity) vampire hunter in her organization, the V.M.S. After persuasively (and violently) convincing a powerful newspaper mogul that his publication is infested with vampires, Book returns to base (under the Natural History Museum – very cool) and is waylaid from her planned sabbatical with an important mission. Nothing short of a cure for vampirism would stray Book from her plans, but exactly that pairs her up with fellow agent Cash McCogan on a mission to find the cure and bring it back.
Snyder expertly puts all the pieces we need for a satisfying story on the board in this first issue. Felicia Book is a great character from page one, layered and emotional but believable and flawed. We learn just enough about her to pique our interest and draw us in for more. The use of the V.M.S. as monitors and hunters of vampires is a well-worn trope from “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” and “Highlanders: The Series” watchers and Anne Rice’s Talamasca to “Hellboy’s” B.P.R.D. and beyond, and Snyder uses it to good effect here. Snyder hints in this first issue at all the mystery and history that he’s clearly already laid down, and gives us just enough to come back for more. It’s the mark of a masterful writer when a reader can be compelled and curious but also feel confident that all will be revealed in due time. Snyder manages it all here with apparent ease.
Sean Murphy’s art in this issue is nothing short of spectacular. The book has a gritty feel fitting of the 1940’s and of a book that straddles the supernatural and crime genres. Felicia Book is a beautifully designed character, all sharp angles and determined jaw, long lean silhouette and painfully stylish clothing. Her short hair is particularly wonderful and it’s hard not to fall in love with her before she even opens her mouth. In a single issue, Snyder, Murphy, and Dave Stewart have given me one of the most exciting new female protagonists in serial comics that I’ve encountered since Greg Rucka’s P.I. Dex Parios debuted in “Stumptown” in 2009. The other characters are given the same careful and considered visual treatment by Murphy, as is the universe they inhabit from the V.M.S. headquarters to the city of New York. The colors by Stewart are particularly effective – a subtle, largely brown palette with powerful pops of saturated red. Overall it creates a fantastic look and feel that breathes life and unique personality into the book.
Snyder has, in just the last year, made an impressive mark in comics with his powerful storytelling, fine craftsmanship, and detailed character work. This latest book is no exception. Next to his exceptional work on “Detective Comics,” “American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest” is easily Snyder’s most compelling work to date.