With this week's American Vampire: Second Cycle #6, Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque are officially launching vampires into space.
And although that might sound far-fetched, the story behind the space launch cleverly mixes the real-world history of the Cold War and Space Race with the rich mythology behind American Vampire.
Readers learned in past issues of American Vampire that the powerful and frightening Gray Trader serves an underground, devil-type beast. In this week's issue #6, readers learn that Americans have been secretly trying to kill the beast under the guise that of conducting "underground nuclear testing" in Nevada. Meanwhile, Russia — which has dealt with the creature on its own soil in the past — is monitoring the U.S. with its spy satellite, ready to drop a nuclear bomb should the beast emerge.
As the characters in American Vampire are now teaming up to battle the Gray Trader and his master, Snyder is gearing up the comic for its planned conclusion in a few years.
It's easy to forget that American Vampire is what first introduced Snyder to the comics-reading world. Currently, Snyder is one of the most successful writers in comics — from his best-selling work on Batman to his hit Image series Wytches — but it was Vertigo's American Vampire that launched the his comics career in 2010.
Featuring Albuquerque's art since it began, American Vampire explores the concept that vampirism can evolve and create new species — from the more ancient European kind that stay out of the sun, to a more modern type of American vampires who thrive on sunlight. Over the last five years since it began, the comic has showcased several decades in American history, although it's been expanding its mythology to encompass places around the world, reaching back into ancient times.
As the comic gears up for its vampire launch, Newsarama talked to Snyder to find out more about this new addition to the book's mythology and what's coming up next.
Newsarama: Scott, it's time for vampires in space, and in this week's issue we finally get to learn why they're going into space. And it's actually a pretty good reason, with not only the threat of the devil arising with its demons in America, but the concurrent (and linked) threat of nuclear attack from space by the Russians, in an attempt to eliminate the devil from earth. Which part of this idea came first? The space race setting, or the story of the devil?
Scott Snyder: I never thought we'd actually do vampires in space. I imagined we'd do something in the '60s that had to do with the Cold War and nuclear annihilation. But when I got to the arc, I knew we were going to do Area 51, and I knew we'd have this weapon there that Americans had secretly been holding before the Johnson administration, in case this beast was real, in case it was under the ground. And that all the nuclear testing done up until the early '60s is part of that attempt to kill or find this beast.
And so the space element just came in at the last minute, as I was talking to Rafael. He was like, well, the Russians would be monitoring it with a satellite, wouldn't they? And I was like, yes, they would.
And then I did some research into spy satellites back then, and it's fascinating. They actually took physical pictures, and they would eject the film. And the film would come down from space, sort of with a heat shield, and a plane would catch the film or pick it up.
So I was like, there's no way we can not use that sort of information.
Of course, that would mean somebody's going to have to go up there and get that film. So right away, we were like, you know what? Vampires in space. I know we swore we'd never do that, but just to be fair, I always meant futuristic vampires in space, because the question was always about whether we were going to go to a sci-fi future, you know? Whether we'd catch up to now and then go further. So… not to take a cheap way out, but we never quite said we wouldn't do the space race, and once we got there, it's like, OK, this is going to be my favorite arc.
And I have to say, I think it's both of our favorite arcs so far.
Nrama: The art in this arc feels like it's tweaked yet again by Rafael, yet it's not he kind of space race style we'd expect. What was the feel you guys were going for in this arc?
Snyder: Yeah, Rafael changes his style every arc. There's a more ragtag feel. It's meant to feel like, you know the V.M.S. are the group that we established as a major force in the series, this kind of monster hunter group that goes all the way back to ancient times, as you learn in this issue. They're really down and out. They've been kind of thrown out by the government.
So the feel is meant to be threadbare and wild and rebellious. Nothing established. You're working on no budget. That whole feel of these guys being down and out, black ops-type characters.
So it's meant to have this kind of real, desperate feel that I think he captures, that I think you see a lot in some of the movies of the '60s too. Rafael is a really big fan of a lot of the Westerns from that time period, and he wanted to incorporate a certain looseness and kind of quick, kinetic, violent style for this arc. And I think it fits just perfectly.
You know, Rafael has become one of my best friends over the years. I've visited him in Brazil in December for a con there, and got to hang out with him and see where he lives. He's been up to visit me many times. He's coming up again when the weather gets warmer. And working with someone that you're genuinely close to — there's nothing better than that.
And in terms of his talent and skill, I'm so lucky to be with this guy.
And he's a huge fan of American history too. When we got together in Brazil, we were talking about the fun of the series, and how every arc, we get to explore a different decade and new secrets of how monster history weaves in and out of American history.
Nrama: Yeah, this really is, like, an alternate version of the Cold War.
Snyder: Yeah, like a secret Cold War, in that the Russians and the Americans had their fingers on the button not just because of the kind of events that you know about, but really because the Russians are watching, knowing that there's this monster in the ground, deep beneath Nevada, and if it comes up, it'll be something a lot worse than a nuclear exchange.
So they're willing to go all out and start World War III if they see this thing peek its head up.
Creating those sorts of historical abnormalities and monstrous interpretations of historical things is just something that Rafael is so great at portraying. And I think this arc really, really allows him to flex his muscles. And Dave McCaig's colors have never been better either. I just love that guy to death.
Nrama: In this week's issue, you compared the creature to a virus. Since one of the premises of American Vampire is that vampirism is like a virus, was that a conscious choice on your part, to compare the devil and it's creation of demons to something as scientific as a virus?
Snyder: Yeah, we've always tried to take a scientific approach to vampires and monsters in general. We imagine them as this huge family tree. And every monster in existence, whether they're mummies — and we actually get to do mummies in this arc, the monster that touches Pearl. But every monster, whether they're mummies, werewolves — they're all from the same initial infection, the same monster.
And so it would make sense, then, that model, as much as it's also kind of a genealogical chart, that it could be something that could be seen as a kind of infectious topography too.
So here, if you're fighting it, you think of it as a virus. If you're one of them, you think of it as a family tree.
Either way, you have sort of the granddaddy patient zero — the original spark, the original infection in that one beast that's under the ground.
Nrama: With the Gray Trader (or as we learned in this issue, the "great traitor") now set up as the big bad, and the beast or devil revealed as such a huge, major threat, you've now got several of the key characters — some who were enemies in the past — teaming up to fight the main threat. This is feeling a lot like the climax of the whole series. Was it always the idea that you would get to this point in the series, where the sort of street-level fighting amongst vampires would morph into this battle against a worldwide threat in the form of this devil beast?
Snyder: Oh yeah. It's in the initial pitch, that eventually all the monsters we introduced and all the different characters would eventually come together to fight this thing at a certain point in history, at a certain point in history, at a certain place.
And then the series would be transformed for a bit, around that time and afterwards.
Without giving too much away, it was all definitely part of the plan, but I think the way it's going to happen, and what's going to be lost along the way — the casualties and all of that — will be pretty surprising to people.
And the allies made.
There's also a whole spectrum of new characters that are about to be introduced – not just in this arc, where there's a good host of new characters, like the mummy, and a zombie elephant, lots of things. Vampire chimps. But the coming arcs as well go back to a lot of the ideas we established in the first half of the series, the Lord of Nightmares, the Ancients, monsters that you haven't seen yet, the Council.
And then the story also gets a much wider scope, but with a more intense pace and real focus. This half of the series, there's not a lot of meandering. All of the years have been sort of placed, and then now they're beginning to turn very fast toward this big, big confrontation.