American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest #1
Written by: Scott Snyder
Art by: Sean Murphy
I've already spent a considerable amount of energy raving about Scott Snyder's American Vampire, so you can imagine that I was excited for the new 5 issues spin-off, Survival of the Fittest, by Snyder and artist Sean Murphy. You would be right in your postulation, and even better, my excitement was well-rewarded by a fantastic first issue.
This series, like the main book at the moment, takes place in the midst of World War 2. The difference for Survival of the Fittest is that it takes place a few months earlier, before the US officially entered the war. And instead of being set in the far-flung locale of Hawaii, Survival of the Fittest #1 begins in New York City.
The first issues focuses on Felicia Book, a member of the Vassals of the Morning Star, a secret society dedicated to fighting against the vampire menace around the world. Though Felicia has appeared as a minor character in issues of the main series and though the Vassals have been relatively important since early on in American Vampire continuity, Snyder manages to present both the character and the organization in a manner that gently reminds old readers and naturally informs new readers who and what they are without being didactic. It's quite refreshing, in fact.
The book itself opens with a tense (and intense) scene in a local newspaper office, where Felicia tries to convince the paper owner that his organization has been infiltrated by vampires. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the newsman is entirely unconvinced, leading directly to a well-crafted and well-executed fight between Felicia and the vampire infiltrator in question that gives the reader a taste of what could be to come in the series. The scene is well-done on all fronts and shows that Felicia Book means business, can take care of herself, and will not suffer fools.
From there, the book slows down a bit for some exposition to spend some time setting up the goals and motivations of the characters that the next few issues will be following. It does make for some "talking head" scenes, but the writing and art are of a caliber that it doesn't drag. Frankly, I wish other comics could have such interesting and engaging conversations between their characters.
One minor nitpick I had was that Felicia comes off as a bit obtuse, as it seems to take her forever to make a glaringly obvious connection during these conversations. However, though this bit of dramatic irony was a bit frustrating, it was by no means a deal breaker and, realistically, will probably go a long way towards developing Felicia's character. I'll just have to wait and see what Snyder does with it in the coming issues.
I tend to focus a lot on a comic's writing, when reading and when reviewing them, but I would like to take a moment to praise Sean Murphy's brilliant work on this book. He first came onto my radar with Grant Morrison's Joe the Barbarian, and Murphy stole the show on that book. Well, the skill that he demonstrate there is on full display throughout Survival of the Fittest #1. His layouts are really effective, doing a lot to keep a sense of momentum going, even through the latter half of the issue, which is a lot of talk from the characters. It also doesn't hurt that Murphy can happens to be incredibly talented. As I said, I am far more inclined to notice a comic's words, but Murphy's art is wonderful and really grabs me in a way I can't quite describe. His work really adds to and supports all those little words, making the comic far better than it would have been in the hands of a lesser artist.
Final Thoughts - If you've been waiting to start reading American Vampire, but are intimidated by its numbering, this series looks like it will make a great jumping on point to help you familiarize yourself with the world Snyder has been crafting. Additionally, Murphy's amazing art, doesn't hurt in the least. Survival of the Fittest promises excitement, adventure, and some Nazi fighting. If that doesn't sound good to you, I don't know what would.
Seriously though, you should buy this. And you should buy American Vampire. You won't regret it.