This week, the hit Vertigo series American Vampire starts its second storyline, moving the comic's characters to 1930's Las Vegas and expanding its universe.
In the "AmVamp" universe, vampires can evolve into new species. For example, the older vampires from Europe must stay out of the sun, but descendants of the relatively new vampire Skinner Sweet thrive in the sunlight and have powers that are distinctly American.
American Vampire's first storyline covered almost 50 years of time, introducing readers to a varied cast of compelling characters. With a story that explored the Old West and the Hollywood of the roaring '20s, AmVamp wowed readers with its stories by series creator Scott Snyder and best-selling author Stephen King.
As the series heads into its second arc, Snyder takes over alone, working with artist Rafael Albuquerque. This week, we'll finish up our series on the comic's characters, focusing this time on a couple of people Snyder calls the "House of Book."
And readers beware, there are spoilers below. This article will bring you up to speed with what's happening in American Vampire, but the revelations of what happens to the House of Book are greatly tied to the end of American Vampire #5.James Book
Origin: Skinner Sweet, while still human, was a notorious outlaw of the Old West, but was eventually captured by a Pinkerton agent named James Book. Skinner takes revenge on Agent Book by poisoning his girlfriend. After Skinner gets free, he's turned into a sun-loving vampire.
"When Book's story starts out, he has a deputy named Felix, and they’ve been very close and gone on a lot of adventures and he’s sort of a star lawman who’s getting ready to get out of this whole business when we first meet him," Snyder said. "And that’s when Skinner changes those plans by killing his fiancée, leaving him almost nothing to go back to afterwards.
"And when Skinner is resurrected as an American vampire and comes back years later, Jim comes out of retirement to come hunt him down, essentially."
When Book and Sweet meet again, the brutal fight takes place during a moonless night, giving Book an advantage against the vampire. But as the battle ensues, Sweet's blood drips into James Book's eye.
Archenemy: Skinner Sweet. "Book is sort of Batman to Skinner’s Joker in a lot of ways," Snyder said. "He’s been chasing Skinner obsessively for years.
"What Book fails to realize, but Skinner realizes way ahead of him, is that they’re locked together," Snyder said. "There was a line that I loved that we wound up cutting just for space where Skinner at one point tells James Booke – he says, 'I’m all the bride that you’ll ever need,' when he reveals that he killed his fiancée with a bottle of poisoned wine in Issue #1.
"And that’s really true; they’re locked together," Snyder said. "That’s why the House of Book will carry on as a kind of villain to Skinner and his plans. And they’re locked together. They really are kind of married to each other, those characters, in a lot of ways because they’re iconic against each other, the outlaw and the lawman."
Appearance: "Scott said we need a tough guy, like Kurt Russell, or Kevin Costner," Albuquerque explained of his design for James Book. "I always liked Dances with Wolves, and i really based Book on Costner's look in that movie. He ended up going more toward Clint Eastwood (in The Unforgiven) by the end of the story."
"Rafael did a great job on not making him look like Clint Eastwood or kind of the classic, you know, Old West bad-ass, but we wanted him to look a little bit more vulnerable, a little bit more human," Snyder added. "He looks, I think, a little more soft shouldered – like somebody who has been doing this a bit too long."
"This is one of my favorite characters," Albuquerque added. "I love the way he deal with his own disgrace."
Personality: Book is a lawman, and he's obsessed with killing Skinner Sweet. "Book is a character who represents kind of the flip-side of the coin of Skinner," Snyder said. "Skinner’s all about trying to keep the West wild and trying to make it this place of violence and anarchy, because he thinks that’s what the American spirit is about as opposed to this kind of overly civilized Euro-centric idea, whereas James Book is all about law and order. He is about civilizing the West. He’s about bringing order to chaos."
The King Connection: Although the character was originally created by Snyder, his origin story was told by best-selling author Stephen King. The prolific writer was originally asked to pen an introduction for the Vertigo series, but when he saw Snyder's outline, he instead offered to write a five-issue story to introduce readers to Skinner Sweet and James Book.
Now Snyder takes on the character solo, but he's keeping everything King added to the mythology. "He's definitely added a ton of great story material," Snyder said. "But he's also been good about following a general outline we had planned. So there wasn't any problem taking the baton from him as he finishes his Skinner story and moving forward with it."
What's Next: At the end of the first storyline, Book's life ends, but he fathers a child with his god-daughter, Abilena.
"His spirit certainly carries on in Felicia and in other characters, too, that are part of that House of Book," Snyder said. "The House of Book will always be an enemy to Skinner Sweet."
Origin: Felicia Book is the daughter of James Book and his goddaughter, Abilena.
"Abilena and Jim were together right before he died," Snyder said. "And he was infected with Skinner’s blood. So he was fighting that infection, trying to have his blood cleaned by a very early form of dialysis, but it wasn’t working well.
"So he gave her what she wanted, which is, essentially, a piece of him, in the form of a child," Snyder said.
Powers: It's unknown if Felicia has any powers. Her father was in the midst of slowly becoming vampiric when she was conceived, and her mother was human.
"That’s the big question," Snyder said. "That’s part of the real fun of this coming cycle, I think, is that’s part of the mystery behind it.
"I'll tell you this: She has very interesting color eyes. I’ll give her that," Snyder said with a laugh. "She might have some tricks up her sleeve.”
Archenemy: Skinner Sweet. Her mother, Abilena, raises Felicia to be obsessed with getting revenge on the vampiric outlaw.
"Abilena carries on too," Snyder added. "She's behind Felicia's obsession with Skinner. So she's also a very single-minded person about seeing revenge on Skinner. She doesn't play as central a role as Felicia, but she definitely plays a role coming up."
Personality: Felicia is a real firebrand when we see her in the ‘30s," Snyder said. "She has two strikes her against her. A. She’s a woman, and B. She’s half Mexican-American. So she has to be really tough and has to exceed everybody’s expectations to gain respect.
"She is extremely tough and determined," he added. "We wanted her to be somebody who’s, you know, really capable, in the same kind of mold as somebody like Pearl who has like a lot of spine to her, but somebody who also has a bit of a flaw in the way that she’s singularly after Skinner for what he’s done to her family. She’s young in that way."
Appearance: "I'm just starting the second arc, so the character should grow up with the run," Albuquerque said. "But she will be pretty much like the mother, but as tough as her father. Well, her mother was pretty tough too, so, yeah... she will be bad-ass."
What's Next: "In the final panels of Issue #5, Felicia and Abelina are sort of staring after Skinner, vowing to get revenge soon. And so, she as a character plays a major part in this upcoming cycle," Snyder said. "She’s going to play a major part in the entire series, you know, in the mythology of American Vampire."
Snyder said there will always be a Book to fight against Skinner, no matter what the fate of Felicia is. "We’re really into the idea of the House of Book carrying on through the years as an antithesis to Skinner. There’ll always be a Book to fight Skinner. The human bloodline of Book will carry down through the years as an antagonist to Skinner and his plans."More AMERICAN VAMPIRE UP-CLOSE: