The latest issue of "American Vampire," the second of the "Death Race" arc, operates on three levels. Travis continues to push himself and his vehicle to the limit in the titular race, we see a prior altercation between Travis and a girl he once saved -- who needs such aid again -- and we get a glimpse into the formative years of Travis and perhaps some understanding of why he is who he is now. In only his second appearance, Travis is well on his way to becoming an intriguing and very entertaining character.
The first thing to hit you when the issue opens is the continuation of the frenetic car race begun last month. Rafael Albuquerque makes this look so gorgeous, you can almost skip the words. The cars, shooting over cliffs and spitting out sparks as they slam into each other, are objects of beauty, the pace and tension in Albuquerque's panels is palpable. As the frame and hook of this arc, they work a nostalgic magic that plays with the perceptions of a time half a century ago, delivering it through a modern lens of storytelling.
The voice of Travis, our hero, carries the story by making you care and just flat out entertaining you. There is a line the character could easily cross over to become a joke or a pastiche of too many hard-edged heroes, yet he stays firmly rooted on the right side of it. There is something of a James Dean-esque quality to Travis, but he's original enough not to leave the reader wondering what the rest of the influences on his character are. He's a likable character, and when he's on the page you don't think about anything but his actions, his motives and his decreasing options for success and survival.
The flashback sequences depicting Travis' childhood are exceptionally well-crafted and executed. Scott Snyder's economy of words combined with Albuquerque's ability to convey large amounts of information on a single page is something other comics creators should study. What happens to Travis is presented in plain sight, but so is the effect it has on him at this young age and why he responds as he does. It's sad and it's sick and it might make you squirm just a little.
Dave McCaig's color work is simply amazing. He makes some bold choices with facial tones to play up the emotions and responsibility held upon these people. One panel in particular shows the oppositional driver in the race, his eyes bleeding out yellow as if he's a demon, barely containing the fire within. It's a nasty effect and one that sticks with you.
"American Vampire" continues to consistently deliver spectacular quality no matter what time frame or narrative tone it aims to set. The agility of Snyder and Albuquerque is one of their title's keenest strengths. This month, they deliver the straight up thrills of the road race, taking a few pages to illustrate the personal demons of our lead. This is a lonely man, perhaps still a boy, acting tough and playing out a revenge fantasy he might not yet be ready for. If you think this is a book just about vampires, you need to look closer.