The Long Road to Hell
Review by Paul Bowler
Although the critically acclaimed American Vampire ongoing series by Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque is still on hiatus at the moment, this week our thirst for blood is sated a little as Vertigo release American Vampire: The Long Road to Hell, a one-shot special by co-writers Snyder and Albuquerque, with art by Rafael Albuquerque. This eagerly awaited release has a striking cover by Albuquerque, and a variant cover is also provided by Tony Moore.
American Vampire: The Long Road to Hell also marks the return of fan-favourite Vampire Hunter Travis Kidd, who was introduced during the Death Race story arc. Travis Kidd was a character who not only hunted down Vampires, he also chose to “bite them back”, by equipping himself with a set of wooden Vampire teeth.
This special issue sees Travis Kidd hunting down the Heartbreak Killers, two young lovers who have just been turned into Vampires. They have stolen a car and taken to the open road, fleeing across the heartland with a pack of Vampires hot on their tails, while they desperately try to fight the bloodsucking thirst that threaten to consume them. They befriend a young boy from an orphanage, who is searching for the father he’s never met, and he joins them on their journey to Vegas. With time running out, Travis Kidd must find them before their young lives end in a terrible tragedy.
The hiatus for American Vampire enabled Albuquerque to have plenty of lead-time to write and draw The Long Road to Hell. In developing something outside the main storyline, it gave Albuquerque the chance to explore some new characters in a love story engorged with violence and blood, as well as the welcome return of Travis Kidd. The Death Race arc ended with Kidd armed to the teeth and breaking down the door of a coven to fight over twenty vampires. Travis ends up playing a very different role in The Long Road to Hell, he has never been portrayed quite like this before, and it offers a new insight into this popular character.
The Long Road to Hell introduces us to Billy Bob and Jolene, two love struck teenage thieves who plan to get married one day on their ill gotten gains, but a fateful attack by a group of Vampires in Nebraska in 1959 changes their lives forever. After being transformed into Vampires they go on the run from Oscar Brood and his gang, stealing the ring he uses to maintain control over his coven, before embarking on a blood-soaked crime spree. Having learned that a cure may exist in Vegas, they set out to find this mysterious initiative, but they are unable to resist their growing thirst for blood. They quickly gain notoriety as Heartbreak Killers, feeding whenever they can as they make their way to Vegas in the hope of finding the cure. After stopping for gas Billy Bob and Jolene meet Jasper, a boy with a special gift, he helps them and they in turn promise to take him to Vegas to find his father. But the long journey begins to take its toll on Billy Bob and Jolene. They struggle to cope with the horror of what they have become, enduring agony and torment while desperately trying to resist the bloodsucking urges within them. Fortunately Jasper has a special knack of finding “bad people”, and he uses it to find people for them to feed on, but even this is unable to quell their hunger for long.
Now as they drive across the heartland Billy Bob and Jolene find they are being pursued by Oscar Brood and his savage pack of Vampires, time is running out and now the rockabilly Vampire Hunter called Travis Kidd has set his sights on the Heartbreak Killers. The Long Road to Hell ends in Vegas where Billy Bob and Jolene must resist the terrible thirst that drives them, or risk losing their last hope of salvation forever.
Rafael Albuquerque has created an enthralling tale that captivates your senses from the very first page, as he sends the lives of the young pick-pockets Billy Bob and Jolene spiralling into the empty abyss of despair, leaving their hopes and dreams of a better life shattered beyond all recognition after their induction as Vampires. Essentially a love story, The Long Road to Hell provides a fantastic adventure for fans to enjoy as well as offering a blood spattered introduction to the world of American Vampire for new readers.
Rafael Albuquerque serves up a fascinating cast of characters, each with their own tragic story to tell, which gives them all some small shred of hope to cling onto. Billy Bob and Jolene are a pair of lovable rogues, their dreams of getting marries are blighted when they are turned into Vampires. Their struggle to cope with their bloodlust is heartbreaking, but they manage to find a kindred spirit of sorts in Jasper, who uses his unique abilities to help them. There is a subliminal moment where Jasper meets Jolene for the first time, he is like a bright beacon of light for her, and later when they talk in the motel she opens up to Jasper about a particularly dark time in her life.
A headline in a newspaper catches the eye of Travis Kidd in a shadowy motel room, heralding the return of everyone’s favourite badass Vampire Slayer. This is where the story really begins to sink its teeth into you, the action never letting up for a moment as Travis Kidd’s blood smeared katana cuts a swathe through all who stand in his way.
Back in 2011, Scott Snyder started to list artist Rafael Albuquerque as “co-creator” for American Vampire, in recognition of his significant contribution to the hugely successful Vertigo comic series. Now with this giant-sized special, Snyder has given Albuquerque the opportunity to write The Long Road to Hell. This is Rafael Albuquerque’s first foray into writing for Vertigo, offering the Brazilian artist a perfect opportunity to bring a new take on the AV universe, as well as introducing some new characters and the return of Vampire Hunter Travis Kidd. Albuquerque first became noticed for his work in American comics with Boom! Studios, and then later with Blue Beetle for DC, before receiving critical acclaim following the release of his Oni series Mondo Urbano (created with studio mates Mateus Santolouco and Eduardo Medeiros) in 2010 and starting on American Vampire.
The Long Road to Hell takes place in the 50’s, the same decade in which the most recent storylines, Death Race and The Blacklist, were set. In doing so, Albuquerque not only recaptures the essence of these stories, he also maintains the individual tone and style of each decade of American Vampire. Its fantastic how Rafael Albuquerque’s art brings the 50’s to life, every page is sumptuous to behold, and Dave McCaig’s colors shift dramatically as the story grows increasingly darker as it hurtles towards its bitter sweet ending.
Rafael Albuquerque has excelled himself with American Vampire: The Long Road to Hell, this is brilliant addition to the series, and his skills as both storyteller and artist are phenomenal. Although we may have a while to go as yet before American Vampire returns in earnest, this one shot by Albuquerque more than makes up for it, and I hope that The Long Road to Hell is just the first of many writing contributions that he will make to this remarkable series.