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Best of 7 | Oni’s 2014 plans, new ‘American Vampire’ and more

best-of-7-march23

Welcome to Best of 7, where we talk about “The best in comics from the last seven days” — which could be anything from an exciting piece of news to a cool publisher’s announcement to an awesome comic that came out.

This week is pretty packed, as we have news, reviews, a con recap and a whole year’s worth of announcements from one publisher. So buckle your seat belts and hold on tight as we aim our DeLorean at the last seven days …

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Comics A.M. | Author, ‘Vermillion’ writer Lucius Shepard dies

Lucius Shepard

Lucius Shepard

Passings | Award-winning science fiction and fantasy author Lucius Shepard, whose work included Life During Wartime and The Jaguar Hunter, passed away March 18. He was 66. Shepard ventured into comics writing on a few occasions, with the series Vermillion, part of DC Comics’ short-lived Helix imprint, and with contributions to Vertigo anthologies Gangland and Flinch. [Tor.com, BoingBoing]

Creators | American Vampire artist Rafael Albuquerque talks about the upcoming “Second Cycle” of the Vertigo series, which returns after a hiatus of more than a year. [Hero Complex]

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Grumpy Old Fan | 10 from 2013, 10 for 2014

Lead On, O Bat Eternal

Lead On, O Bat Eternal

Time once again to revisit some thoughts about the year just ended, and offer some thoughts on the year to come.

First, let’s see how I did with 2013:

1. Man of Steel. Last year I asked “a) how well will it do with critics and moviegoers; and b) yes, of course, will it help set up Justice League?” It got a 55 percent (i.e., Rotten) ranking from Rotten Tomatoes (although 76 percent of RT visitors who cared to vote said they liked it).  Financially, Box Office Mojo called it a “toss-up,” putting it in the same category as Star Trek Into Darkness, World War Z, The Wolverine, The Hangover Part III, Pacific Rim and, uh, The Smurfs 2. I liked it well enough — I seem to like a lot of things “well enough” — but perhaps Super-fan Jerry Seinfeld’s musings about missed opportunities speak best to the film’s reception. MOS itself didn’t help set up a Justice League movie, at least not as expressly as, say, Nick Fury talking about the Avengers; but I think it’s safe to say that the sequel will go a long way in that regard.
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Comics A.M. | Linework NW comics festival set for Portland

Linework NW

Linework NW

Conventions | The standalone Stumptown Comics Fest may be history, but an event has popped up to help fill the void: Linework NW, organized by Zack Soto and Francois Vigneault, a free, one-day show that will take place April 12 in Portland, Oregon. Michael DeForge has been announced as a special guest for the event, which will include such exhibitors as Fantagraphics, Koyama Press, Oni Press and Top Shelf Productions. [The Comics Reporter]

Creators | Scott Snyder is the subject of a glowing profile in The New York Times, which states the writer has “reinvented Batman in the past two years, deepening and humanizing the Dark Knight’s myth — in the making since 1939 — like no one since Frank Miller in the 1980s.” [The New York Times]

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Grumpy Old Fan | DC’s March is in like a Vamp, out like a Talon

In 'Batman: Odyssey,' he's steering with those teeth

In ‘Batman: Odyssey,’ he’s steering with those teeth

We’ve known for a while that DC’s superhero line will go through some changes in the wake of Forever Evil, and as the March solicitations bring the end of that Big Event, not surprisingly the month looks rather transitory. In fact, Forever Evil #7 is scheduled to appear on March 26, just as the final issue of Blackest Night — also written by Geoff Johns as a spinoff of his highest-profile series, in case you’d forgotten — dropped on the last week of March 2010. (It must be pure coincidence that these solicits feature a $200 White Power Battery tchotcke.) Back then, BN #8 was supposed to “set the stage” for the “next epic era of DC Comics,” which turned out to be about 18 months long and featured the biweekly sort-of-sequel miniseries Brightest Day. This time, Forever Evil #7 teases the importance of the “Hooded Man” and promises to “leave the DC universe reeling and reveal the secrets to the future.”

So, yeah, sounds like another cliffhanger ending, perhaps even leading into another big-deal miniseries — specifically, the May-debuting weekly Futures End.  Considering that the three tie-in miniseries (ARGUS, Arkham War and Rogues Rebellion) all seem to feed into FE #7, the actual content of that final issue may well be a giant scrum, not unlike the final issue of Flashpoint, in which some cosmic button is pushed, defeating the Crime Syndicate but at a significant cost to DC-Earth. As it happens, there’s no mention of the “Blight” sub-crossover (bringing together Phantom Stranger, Pandora, Constantine and JL Dark) feeding back into Forever Evil, but I’m not sure how much it’s supposed to relate, beyond being about the JLD trying to pick up the post-invasion pieces.

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Grumpy Old Fan | DC wants January’s comics to keep you warm

Superman vs. giant monsters on Aaron Kuder's cover for January's Action Comics

Superman vs. giant monsters on Aaron Kuder’s cover for January’s Action Comics

The Forever Evil and “Gothtopia” crossovers don’t exactly dominate DC Comics’ January solicitations, but compared to the more mundane goings-on in the other series, they tend to stand out. For that matter, Forever Evil doesn’t sound like it’s promising much more than a lot of clenched jaws, dark humor and grim spectacle.

Still, if it has to happen sometime, it might as well be in January. I don’t mind January so much; it’s the darkest month of the year, but after a hectic holiday season it’s a chance to catch one’s breath. Going back to work after New Year’s Day and realizing there’s not much more to do but look forward to spring is like waking up at the crack of dawn and surveying a wide, flat, featureless plain — gray from the winter cold and just barely lit by the first rays of the distant sun — and realizing that if you’re going to make it across that plain, you’d better start walking.

Sometimes you just have to get through January, is what I’m saying — but sometimes getting through it isn’t so bad.

Whew! How was that for an intro? Weren’t we talking about comics?
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Six things DC Comics is doing right

AdventuresofSuperman1DC Comics hasn’t had a particularly good run of things lately. To be frank, the publisher has done blown it a number of times over the past few years. But don’t worry, DC fans — I’m sure it’ll soon be Marvel’s turn, as the two rivals seem to trade off every five years or so.

I’ve been calling out DC for the past couple of weeks, but that doesn’t mean everything it does strikes me as wrong. It’s important to declare shenanigans, but it’s also important to recognize when a publisher does something that’s good for comics.

So here are six things DC is doing right:

1. Digital comics: Legends of the Dark Knight and Adventures of Superman are digital-first anthology series that feature some excellent creators (from Jeff Parker and Chris Samnee to J.M. DeMatteis and Jeff Lemire) producing completely accessible and entertaining stories that stand on their own; no college course on the New 52 or Crisis on Infinite Earths required. Yes, these stories are out of continuity — so for a percentage of readers, they don’t count. That’s a mistake, because there’s nothing wrong with a straight-up superhero tale that exists on its own terms. These two anthologies are the gems of DC’s digital-first line-up, but Batman ’66 and Batman: Li’l Gotham also offer fantastical takes on the iconic Caped Crusader that are bright and fun. For those exhausted by the angsty versions of serious stories, you owe it to yourself to check these out.

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Murderer’s Row of creators sink their teeth into ‘American Vampire Anthology’

AV_ANTHOLOGY-tease

While American Vampire is currently on hiatus, creators Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque have killed time until its return by releasing various specials. Earlier this summer we saw The Long Road to Hell, and this past Wednesday brought the American Vampire Anthology, featuring vampire tales by Becky Cloonan, Francesco Francavilla, Gail Simone, Greg Rucka, Jason Aaron, Gabriel Ba, Fabio Moon, Jeff Lemire, John Paul Leon, Declan Shalvey and many more.

Anthologies can be hit or miss from story to story, but how did this one do? Here are a few reviews from around the web:

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Cheat Sheet | From ‘American Vampire Anthology’ to ‘Itty Bitty Hellboy’

aug26-cheet-sheet

Welcome to “Cheat Sheet,” ROBOT 6′s guide to the week ahead. If ROBOT 6′s contributors are anything, they’re varied in their tastes, as their picks of the week will undoubtedly demonstrate. There’s crime, horror, superhero adventure; there’s something for all-ages readers, and josei manga. Heck, there’s science! Well, Science.

To see what we’re talking about, just read on.

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Sneak peek at ‘American Vampire: The Long Road to Hell’

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Vertigo has unveiled a preview of American Vampire: The Long Road to Hell #1, a one-shot co-written by Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque, with art (naturally) by Albuquerque. It sports a variant cover by Tony Moore.

Arriving June 12, the special features the return of fan-favorite vampire hunter Travis Kidd (introduced in the series’ “Death Race” arc) as he tracks a pair of newly turned young lovers — the “Heartbreak Killers” — across the American heartland.

“This is my first time writing for Vertigo and it’s a big honor,” Albuquerque said in March. “Once it was decided we would go on hiatus, I approached Mark (our editor) with the idea of doing this special, so the fans could have a ‘taste of blood’ while waiting for the book’s return. He liked the idea and we (Scott Snyder, Mark and I) began talking about it.”

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Conversing on Comics with Sean Murphy

Sean Murphy

Often when comic creators are asked about their dream job, most expect them to respond with a specific character they want to tackle, some fondly remembered superhero on which they hope to leave their mark. Of course, not all comic creators think that way.

Writer and artist Sean Murphy has made a name for himself working on almost everything but superheroes. Instead, he’s made readers take notice with the likes of Punk Rock Jesus and Joe the Barbarian. When he’s done work-for-hire, he’s mostly stayed clear of the usual suspects, with stints on former Vertigo stalwart Hellblazer and a spinoff book for Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque’s American Vampire. His actual superhero output is few and far between, but well worth looking out for — from his Batman/Scarecrow: Year One miniseries to the delayed-but-finally released Teen Titans one-shot.

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Grumpy Old Fan | Canceling the future: DC’s August solicits

See, he dials L-E-G-I-O-N, and it transports him to the 31st Century...

See, he dials L-E-G-I-O-N, and it transports him to the 31st Century…

DC Comics’ August solicitations include both the end of “Trinity War” and of four series, including the latest Legion of Super-Heroes title. Otherwise, not much jumps out at me. Even the collected-edition section isn’t that diverse, as it’s heavy on “Death of the Family” books and pretty light on the vintage reprints.

NOT QUITE DEAD

If Talon weren’t a Bat-title, I’d say it was getting ready to be canceled. Issue 11′s solicitation refers to an “epic finale,” with Batman pitching in to help “eliminate the Court of Owls once and for all.” However, because so much work went into making the Court of Owls a credible threat to the Bat-clan, I doubt they’ll be eradicated completely. Likewise, I don’t think Talon is going anywhere, at least not yet.

Similarly, the continued existence of Batman Incorporated is one of the questions posed by the sure-to-be-epic conclusion of Grant Morrison’s Bat-work. In other words, is a revamped Club of Heroes so wrapped up with Morrison that it can’t survive without him? More to the point, is a Morrison-less Batman Inc. still marketable? Presumably the answer rests in the sales numbers for August’s Batman Incorporated Special — which, incidentally, appears to indicate just who among the various Inc.’ers survives the end of the regular series. I guess DC isn’t worried about spoiling such things, because it’s done something similar with the last couple months of Lantern Corps solicits.

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Conversing on Comics with Rafael Albuquerque

Rafael Albuquerque knows his way around comics. Although he’s best known for his years working on titles like Blue Beetle and American Vampire, the Brazilian artist got his start with an Egyptian company, but was quickly recruited by BOOM! Studios and DC Comics. His style is one that people quickly take notice of, for its gleaming individualism but also its sound base in composition and storytelling.

With his long-running series American Vampire (with writer Scott Snyder) going on hiatus this year, Albuquerque is ready to branch out. I talked with him just as the new year began, and he revealed several interesting morsels, including a stint writing and drawing Batman, the first official look at an American edition of his Brazilian comic Tune 8, and he teased a new project he’s doing this year at Vertigo.

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Scott Snyder on Batman, ‘Rotworld’ and American Vampire’s hiatus

Scott Snyder

Scott Snyder was already one of DC Comics/Vertigo’s rising stars when he began writing Detective Comics two years ago. In fall 2011, as part of DC’s New 52, Snyder moved over to the main Batman title and began writing Swamp Thing as well. His Batman work has helped put the title on a number of best-of-2012 lists, Swamp Thing is in the midst of the “Rotworld” crossover, and his collaboration with Jim Lee on a new Superman title will begin in 2013. American Vampire is going on hiatus for most of the year, but that will help him and artist Sean Murphy debut The Wake. I spoke with Snyder on Dec. 13, just after Batman #15 was published.

Thanks to Scott for his time, and to DC’s Alex Segura and Pamela Mullin for making the interview possible.

Tom Bondurant: I don’t know about the preliminaries [but] I will say that one phrase that kept coming to mind when I was thinking about interviewing you was that line from Ghostbusters: “How is Elvis, and have you seen him lately?”

Scott Snyder: [laughs] Thanks! Well, I’m a huge Elvis fan, so that really starts the day off right, hearing that.

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The legacy of Karen Berger and Vertigo

The news of Karen Berger leaving Vertigo spread quickly. It wasn’t so much that it was a surprise, but that it finally happened. DC Comics Entertainment has been going through significant changes over the past couple of years, including grabbing characters long associated with Vertigo and returning them to the DC Universe, and rumored changes to creator contracts. Despite the unfortunate end, Berger leaves behind an amazing legacy no matter what becomes of the nearly 20-year-old imprint.

I have a very clear memory of high school in the 1990s where kids much cooler than me were reading The Sandman. These were kids who otherwise didn’t read comics, and certainly not the superhero stuff from Marvel and DC. This was not an isolated incident. Vertigo in the ’90s brought a new audience to comics, a maturing audience with interests in horror, fantasy, suspense and mythology. These readers didn’t have access to, and probably weren’t ready for, the underground or alternative comix scene. As superhero comics turned into garish collector items, Vertigo provided the alternative: stories.

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