On Vampires and Keys

The Pull List:

Justice League Dark #10 - DC

Also Read:

American Vampire #28 - Vertigo
American Vampire: Lord of Nightmares #1 - Vertigo
Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft #1-#6, Head Games #1-#6, Crown of Shadows #1-#6, Keys to the Kingdom #1-#6, Clockworks #1-#6 - IDW

My pull list for the forth week of each month is usually pretty weak. It is my version of Fast Sunday. (In the Mormon church, one Sunday a month is Fast Sunday, which means you don't eat anything for a few meals. In my head, Wednesday is the sabbath and a small pull list is like fasting.) And last weeks experience of going without any superhero books really did carry over into this weeks reading. I'm not going to spend time with Justice League Dark, if you want to know about the series, check my post from four weeks ago.

When I teach my English 2010 comics class, I am sure to point out to my students (especially those who have no experience with comics) that the medium of comics and graphic novels has so much more to offer than people in tights. It seems like this last few weeks I am reteaching this fact to myself. I understand why it is easy for me to forget this fact.

I started reading comics at around the age of 11. Before the whole direct market thing, I could get comics off the rack at Kanab Drug. The only thing they carried there was DC and Marvel superhero stuff. Of course that was most of what was being published at the time. I also spent most of my reading based on the characters that showed up in the books. Any hint that I would be picking up something with Batman or Wolverine in it, automatically was deserving of my allowance. As I have matured, I don't follow characters so much as I follow writers. It is true a lot of my favorite writers I first found while they were writing superheros, but not so much anymore. There is also a trend of writers making their debut with creator owned work.

I've talked about Scott Snyder and how much I have been enjoying his current run on Batman, but where he started out was with the incredible American Vampire. You have to respect Snyder's reason for coming up with and writing American Vampire; he really hates Twilight. While many people have complained about the tween series, or recommended other things to read, Snyder simply said, look I can do it better. What is even more impressive, is he succeeded. Snyder wanted to bring the vampire away from the sparkling, emo, watching girls sleep thing to the blood drinking things of nightmare they are best known for, but he also understood that Myers attempt to evolve the vampire (however weird and poorly written it might be) was something that needed to be done. In  American Vampire, the vampires are literally evolving. The traditional vampires do exist. They are all European and very old, but see the potential in a new country known as America. Skinner Sweet, an outlaw and train thief becomes infected by the European vampires and becomes the first American vampire. The idea is that different cultures and countries create different vampires. Vampires with different strengths and weaknesses. The European vampires though hate the new breeds and are usually able to wipe them out, but the American vampires are sturdier things.

If you've never read any American Vampire, issue #28 is a good place to start up. It is the beginning of a new story and Snyder does a great job of giving background into the main characters and where they are at, so it is easy for new readers to jump in. I will admit, there is a big reveal near the end of the issue that, if you have been reading, is quite predictable, but I was still giddy and yelling things at the comic when it happened, while if you have never read the series, you may be asking yourself, "And?". At least Snyder sets things up so that you know it's an important plot point. He really does take a large audience into consideration when he writes. I wish more comic writers would actually do that. So frequently I run into panels and dialog that are the writers way of saying, "Hey, look, only me you and eight other people just got that". They seem to be simultaneously trying to alienate readers who don't have an encyclopedic knowledge of comics and looking down on those people for not just bucking up and getting it. Snyder doesn't do that, I always feel like he is about to have a lot of fun telling me a story and wants me to have as much fun reading it. American Vampire: Lord of Nightmares is a miniseries that takes place in this world that Snyder has created, but  requires a bit of background knowledge to get into it. It is inevitable in most vampire stories to bring up Dracula at some point, and this is Snyder's way of doing it. The first issue is promising, and I can't wait to see what Dracula is like in a world were Vampires are examples of Darwinism on crack.

Don't let all those different names of Locke & Key series throw you off. They are just one consecutive story. Clockworks #6 actually came out a while ago, but I wanted to give the series another run through after my nephew realized that I had the issue and he hadn't read it yet. I'm not sure if you've heard of the writer of this series, Joe Hill. For the longest time I hadn't, but I got into this series about a year ago and it quickly moved to the top of my must read list. Most people have probably heard of Joe Hill's dad, Stephen King. I can understand changing the last name, the last thing you want is to be a writer constantly compared to a dad like that. Joe definitely isn't as prolific as his dad, but who could be. King can churn out a book every year to two years, while Hill will take a few months of break between release of six issue chunks. But here is a little secret, I personally think Joe is a better writer than his dad. Every time I try to read a King book, I get to this part where it feels way too sappy, and I have the hardest time muscling through. I never run into that problem with Hill. Even when the book gets emotional, it feels natural and right.

Locke & Key is basically the story of three kids who are forced to move with their mom to their dad's childhood home after he is brutally murdered. Soon the kids start finding keys that do strange magical things when used, like making your spirit leave your body, change your gender, your skin color or open your head so you can root around in it. The great thing with Hill is that he makes it flow so smoothly. Yes there are some hard to believe magical moments, the story is steeped in fantasy, but it isn't drowning in it. The best comparison that I can make is with the magical realism of Marquez or Borges. The series starts out slowly introducing you to things that don't feel real so that by the time there are twelve or thirteen magical keys, it seems so natural and expected. I'm not exactly sure how long the series will go, but everything that has been released so far can be found in trades.

I guess horror is the theme of the week. And sometimes it is just what you need. Good horror is at times very hard to do, but these guys do it very well. These aren't comics that are filled with splatters and guts all over (Don't worry, there is that.) they are filled with characters that you actually care about, and when bad things happen to them, you feel it. You fear for those people, you don't want that horrible thing to happen to them. And when it does happen, you are scared because of it. Now, that is good horror.


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