American Vampire: Volume 5
Review by Mike Finkelstein
It seems like any time a vampire series runs long enough it eventually has to invoke Dracula. He is the main man, as far as vampire literature. Not the first vampire ever written about but certainly the most famous at this, all thanks to Bram Stoker. You can generally rely on any series, that goes on for any length of time, to eventually getting around to doing their version of Dracula, with the likes of Blade: Trinity, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Sherlock Holmes all taking their shot. And we can now add American Vampire to that list.
As with many of the more contemporary works that have added in Dracula, our fiendish Lord of Nightmares (who makes up the first half of American Vampire: Volume 5 with his series "Lord of Nightmares") can't just be Dracula. The series makes a reinvention of the character, taking concepts from his original story and reworking them to suit the way American Vampire tells its stories. Thus, Dracula isn't just a vampire lord that once called Wallachia his home, he's the first and most powerful Carpathian vampire who also poses an existential threat to all of humanity... and vampire kind as well.
Set in the 1950s, one can sense a kind of "Red Scare" mentality to the way Dracula is depicted here (as befits this series and the evolution of its story). Dracula is viewed as an invasive force here, one that gets into the minds of ordinary folk (in this case, the common Carpathian vampires) and molds them to his will. If you swapped in "Communism" for "Vampire Mind Control" you could sort of make a case for the way people in that era viewed the "other" in society. And, when "Lords of Nightmares" is paired with companion story "The Blacklist", which focuses on he feud between Pearl Jones and Hattie Hargrove, that whole concept for the story is made more explicit. These two stories tie together in theme, if not directly in story, making for a very cohesive look at the 1950s in American Vampire.
The first half of the book, "Lords of Nightmares", focuses on Felicia Book, the half-vampire who used to work for the Vassals of the Morning Star before she adopted little (former vampire) baby Gus. When her old boss, Hobbs, comes for a visit, Felicia gets sucked back in. Apparently the vampire known as Dracula (by some at least) had been kept in the Tower of London, buried deep in the darkest basement foundations. However, one of his vassals found a way to free the elder vampire, with the help of the Soviets, and now they're taking him across the ocean to setup his power base and, well, be a master vampire in control of all his lesser vampires. It'll take a team of misfits and weirdos, Vassals and other Vampires alike, to stop Dracula and save the world.
This story is decent, if not amazing. The parts with Dracula are only okay, mostly because the book keeps Dracula as more of a concept, as spooky haunt from under the bed, than an actual character. We never really see the Lord of Nightmares, never have our heroes come fully into contact with him or his powers, such that when he's written out of the story (at least for now) he feels more underwhelming than he should. The book does a great job of building him up as a real menace... and then does very little with that.
With that said, the team of vampires the remnants of the Vassals (those left at the London field office and weren't killed by Dracula's men) put together is pretty cool. The whole series has so far done a great job of building up different vampire species and making each one interesting and dynamic, and this team is no different. I frankly could read about new vampires in this series, every book, and I don't think it would get old. American Vampire knows how to build up its mythology.
The back half of the book is "The Blacklist". We go across the pond, to America, to focus on Pearl Jones, American Vampire, and her husband Henry. When Pearl is out one day, vampires attack Henry and leave him nearly dead in their home. Distraught, Pearl turns to the one group that can help her: the American office of the Vassals. They take him in and protect him, giving him the best medical aid they can, while Pearl signs on to find the vampires that did this and hunt them all down. To that end, the Vassals pair her with their newest agent: Skinner Sweet. Somehow the Vassals found a way to control Sweet, and now he does their bidding. Between Pearl and Sweet they have a seemingly unstoppable team to take on the Carpathians that are embedded deep in Hollywood.
This part of the book feels much more like a conclusion of a long running storyline, one that's been building since Volume 1 of the series. The story brings together Sweet and Pearl, along with Pearl's one-time friend and now bitter rival, Hattie Hargrove, for their final confrontation. This story ties a bow on that plot line, which is good because I don't know how much longer the book could have dragged out the Hattie story without it seeming tired. It still manages to leave threads going that will reverberate through the rest of the series, but this is a great finale for a major thread to the book, one that treats Hattie like the proper threat she was meant to be.
There is also one backup issue, "The Grey Trader", which was actually the last issue of the first cycle of the series (before it took a year off, picking back up in 2014). I actually don't have much to say about this one issue just yet as it was a tease for more story to come. Had to just it on the back of one odd, but creepy, single set of pages. Still, the promise is there, and with further volumes you can read them and find out the pay-off down the road.
I think in general this was an improved collection over Volume 4. That one had a lot of promise but it was all build up for something further, while here we get a lot of conclusions with only a little bit of dangling material to cover in the next cycle. It's a good first arc for the book and a finale for days gone by. If you're read up this far than Volume 5 will be a great read.