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American Vampire Second Cycle #5

Review by Paul Bowler

The California Gold Rush saw thousands migrate west in hope of striking it rich. One poor unfortunate miner’s quest to make his fortune uncovers a horror unbound in Nevada, at a mining operation, where something ancient and evil has awakened. The miner’s journal survived, passing through many hands over the generations until it finally came into the possession of a Mr Gene Bunting, the west coast bookkeeper of the Vassalas of the Morningstar, the ancient clandestine organisation dedicated to the destruction of all manner of dark abominations. Now in 1954 Gene Bunting’s desire to uncover the truth behind the story held within those dusty linen pages of the journal has brought him to the Nevada desert, where untold horrors await at the Royal Forkes drift claim…

American Vampire #5 is a one-shot story in this critically acclaimed Vertigo series written by #1 New York Times best-selling writer Scott Snyder, featuring brilliant artwork from rising star Matias Bergara, that brings us ever closer to the mystery of the ancient evil that reunited Pearl Jones and Skinner Sweet to face the menace of the mysterious Grey Trader. Ever since Skinner recalled his terrifying experience about what happened to him and the bus of vampire refugees to Pearl in American Vampire Second Cycle #3, where Skinner described how he managed to escape from the hellish depths of an old mine shaft, the mystery and lurking dread of this moment has lingered unexplained, until now in American Vampire Second Cycle #5, as the sinister legacy of the event that chilled even Skinner Sweet to the bone is finally revealed.

American Vampire Second Cycle #5 (Cover)

The Miner’s Journal is a wonderfully dark and macabre story by Scott Snyder. Even though it’s classed as a one-shot story, this untold tale offers a new insight into the events we’ve already seen in Second Cycle, and the way Snyder weaves this issues story into the ongoing narrative of the series and its characters is fiendishly clever. Gene Bunting’s trek into the Nevada desert in search of the old mining project, the Royal Forkes drift claim mentioned in the pages on the journal he has acquired, takes him to a lonely gas station, where an old woman gives him directions, until Bunting finally arrives at the site to begin his search. I really like how we also learn how the journal has taken its own journey, heightening the brooding air of menace even further, while Snyder keeps us hanging on every word as the pages turn and history divulges its dark secrets.

Indeed, the story within the journal itself is exquisitely macabre, beginning with the blind optimism of youth and friendship, before hope gradually melts away, and the creeping horror of the situation begins to sink in. Dodger and Seb are beautiful written characters, even though we glean only scant knowledge about them, Scott Synder makes them seem totally real and believable, so as the final pages of the journal unfold you not only feel that you know them, you’ve completely invested every ounce of your imagination to their horrendous fate.

The art by Matias Bergara for this one-shot issue of American Vampire Second Cycle is excellent, which together with David McCaig intricate colors and letters by Steve Wands, ensures this issue is one that you will want to read and enjoy many times over simply to savour the intricacies of the story that Snyder has so masterfully constructed. From its bleak opening moments in the desert, where you’d swear you can almost hear the dusty wind billowing around the creaky rundown gas station, to the beautifully crafted pages of the ancient journal, and right through to Bunting’s descent to the cavernous depths of Royal Forkes, Matias Bergara’s art is stunning and he captures the tone and style of Snyder’s and Albuquerque’s vampire series perfectly.

With its gorgeous cover by Rafael Albuquerque, spellbinding half prose story and art from Snyder and Bergara, American Vampire Second Cycle #5 is a master class in horror, frightening, intense, and utterly compelling from beginning to end, brilliant!