DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint release of American Vampire: Lord of Nightmares issue #1 by writer Scott Snyder (Batman and Swamp Thing) and artist Dustin Nguyen adds an interesting wrinkle to Snyder’s acclaimed series.
Taking a detour from the main characters of Skinner Sweet and Pearl Jones of the current American Vampire series, Snyder focuses on the Vassals of the Morning Star and its two most important agents – Agent Hobbes and Agent Felicia Book. Both of these characters have seen extensive time in American Vampire, but were always secondary characters.
Lord of Nightmares begins with Hobbes meeting with the condescendingly perky Tommy Glass, who may be an American version of Bram Stoker’s Renfield, as evidenced by Agent Hobbes being cut off by Glass mid-word as he only manages a “Ren”. Why does this matter? Agent Hobbes is about to find out that Mr. Glass is just there to rub his nose in the fact that The Vassals are about to lose possession of the most deadly vampire in history: Dracula.
Snyder creates an interesting entry point into the history of vampires by giving Stoker’s Dracula a nod and making it his own. Part of what makes this so successful is his ability to take something utterly familiar and turn it on its head. It’s fresh and works in a seamless way that has a strong internal logic.
Another aspect of the story’s beginning that works really well is Snyder’s juxtaposition of two prevailing characterizations in Glass and Hobbes. It’s the ultimate old-school attitude versus the cocky upstart. Glass epitomizes the common perception of Americans from that era – brash, cocky, and downright condescending. He’s the perfect foil to Hobbes’ reserved British manners and haughty arrogance.
Glass has the smarts and plan to back up his words as he puts Hobbes on notice that his crumbling old-world has been surpassed by America’s ascent. With a push of the button, Hobbes’ world is turned upside down.
From there, the story picks up with Agent Book and Gus, the vampire child of the deceased Agent Cash McCogan, who she has cured of being a vampire. Snyder shows a moment of tenderness between Agent Cash and Gus as she has taken up the role of mother to him and picks him up from school. In these moments, Snyder shows his gift for taking the mundane and making it eloquent.
Dustin Nguyen’s artwork deserves significant praise for all it adds to Snyder’s storytelling. He has a talent for showing the personalities of each character in a way that lets the reader see shades and nuances most artists aren’t capable of rendering.
Also, Nguyen’s ability to render the macabre feel of Snyder’s story is right on level with other American Vampire alumni. The feel is right and doesn’t change the carefully crafted aesthetic of the series. Praise should also be heaped upon colorist John Kalisz and letterer Steve Wands for making this first issue a standout.
Overall, this beginning issue is lights out in setting up its spin-off from the main series. I grade it a solid A on all levels from Snyder’s writing to Nguyen’s artwork.