This article was originally published at DC Infinite on July 9, 2014.
This site’s previous reviews of American Vampire: Second Cycle have focused on the concepts of building tension and rising action as they relate to the horror genre. Both are key concepts to creating scares and drama in a story. Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque have done a magnificent job of capturing both ideas in their storytelling so far. The purpose of building tension in a story though is to eventually release it. American Vampire: Second Cycle #4 releases much of the tension built throughout its first story arc for a thrilling climax.
Issue #3 ended with both the Gray Trader and a massive tornado bearing down on Pearl and her charges. The two major antagonists established in the series thus far were present together for the first time, promising a significant conflict. Neither Snyder nor Albuquerque disappoint in delivering that conflict.
Albuquerque structures the fights using wide panels that capture the momentum and scope of the action. There is no longer a need for the previous issues’ dark and claustrophobic panels. Here, the monsters have are revealed and show off the breadth of their power and capabilities. The resulting sequence is impactful. With gunshots, explosions, and gale-force winds, every action beat lands with power.
The fast paced action doesn’t take away from the horror elements of American Vampire: Second Cycle #4. The antagonists still make for excellent studies in body horror. Both the Gray Trader and his flying minions are grotesquely twisted forms with enough humanity remaining for readers to recognize a piece of themselves. Their mouths, splayed out with rows of teeth or vertically contorted, are particularly horrifying. Albuquerque’s backgrounds help play to the chaos and fear of the sequences as well. Dust, flames, and smoke cloud the page sometimes hiding nearby events and other times obscuring the monsters so that only their most fearsome features are evident.
Dave McCaig enhances the mood of these sequences perfectly. Much of the fight with the winged vampires is lit in an eerie green that is reminiscent of stage lighting. The coloring on the comics page provides the same effect it does on the stage, acting as a symbol of death and otherworldly forces.McCaig’s amber and burnt oranges convey the light of fire without overwhelming Albuquerque’s line work. The result, when Pearl looks back to see the Gray Trader standing amongst flames, is terrifying. He is only defined enough to be clear amongst the fury of flames, wind, and smoke.
Snyder structures all of this climax to be framed by a prologue and epilogue of sorts. The prologue picks up on a scene set in 1811 in Second Cycle #1. The inclusion of short stories that become connected to the central plot much later has become an idiosyncracy of Snyder’s scripts, present both here and in Batman. The tone of the prologue justifies the reader’s fear of the Gray Trader and the inclusion of the story in Second Cycle #1. It’s a small mystery that manages to be engaging without becoming a distraction.
The epilogue also fits into the overall issue, walking a thin line between ending one story while simultaneously providing a beginning to the series ahead. The central cast is established and their motives, acquired over the course of this opening story arc, are put into action as they make a plan. The closing scene featuring the battle weary companions preparing for what is next borders on cliche, but in the context of this issue it feels earned.
American Vampire: Second Cycle #4 is an excellent conclusion to the first story arc of the new series. It presents the best aspects of the series in its well defined characters, striking visual sense of action and horror, and grand sense of mythos. It manages to bring all of these elements together to create a climax that is a satisfying pay off to the tension and stakes built over the first few issues. Furthermore, it serves as a thesis statement for American Vampire: Second Cycle as a series – presenting what it is about and showing that the creative team is fully capable of delivering on the series’ promise. American Vampire has returned and, based on this story, its second act should be even better than the first.