"The Strain: Volume 1" Trade Paperback Review
Written by James Ferguson
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Originally published as The Strain #1 - #6
Story by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan
Adapted by David Lapham
Illustrated by Mike Huddleston
2011, 154 Pages
Trade Paperback released on November 14th, 2012
Full disclosure: I still haven't read The Strain novels by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan. Despite the fact that Dark Horse has been publishing a comic based on the book for over a year, I just haven't gotten to the prose yet. I have the first two books sitting on my shelf, glaring at me to read them, but it hasn't happened. I know they're good. Everyone I've talked to about them has said as much. Anyway, despite my lack of knowledge of the actual story, I've been able to dive into the comic book adaptation, scripted by David Lapham, with ease.
The Strain is a vampire story unlike any other. The island of Manhattan is the staging ground for the eventual conquest of the world. A plane lands at JFK Airport but goes completely silent minutes after hitting the tarmac. No one inside is moving or making a sound. The CDC is called in to see what's going on. Inside they find all but three people are dead. The bodies are still warm. They have no idea what's going on. Then the survivors start eating people and an ancient evil begins to reveal itself.
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This comic is like an invasion. It's clear that the vampires are not here just to further their numbers or check out a Broadway show. They're here to take over. It's a very organized and systematic conquest. The plane was just the first step. Further tactics include discrediting anyone that might prove to be an obstacle, bribing people in power, and spreading disinformation throughout the police and emergency centers. It's actually pretty scary how equipped this group is.
At the center of this is Dr. Ephraim Goodweather, the Chief Epidemiologist of the CDC's Canary Rapid Response Team. He's trying to juggle this epidemic while also fighting for custody of his son and figuring out what's going on with the psuedo-relationship with his colleague Dr. Nora Martinez. He provides a human side to the story and one that is grounded in reality. He comes to accept the situation after he learns of the existence of vampires, but he's a scientist at heart, so he's finding out how this all works.
That is what makes The Strain stand out. Aside from being an organized takeover by vampires, the creators have come up with a plausible reason for the bloodsuckers. It's explained with science. Instead of having a demon inhabit a human's body when they're turned or something like that, it's a virus. It infects a person's heart and feeds on blood. Once it has fed on the blood in its host, it seeks out other creatures to drain. It's a different spin on vampire lore, but it still has some elements of the old-school stuff like coffins and staying away from sunlight.
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The design of the vampires is pretty badass. Artist Mike Huddleston brings these creatures to life -- and most likely nightmares -- throughout this collection. The vampires are presented as pale creatures, drained of all color except for their blood red tongues. These lash out like a giant scorpion's tail, looking to stab and paralyze their prey. They're ugly and terrifying and most of the time they're completely nude, which is a little weird.
Not all is good with Huddleston's art though. He has a frenetic style which works on books like Butcher Baker: Righteous Maker, but not so much here. The Strain is a very realistic book despite the fact that it has monsters. Huddleston's characters often look like they're being viewed through a funhouse mirror. They have large bodies and tiny heads, hands, and feet. It can be very distracting. Close up shots aren't affected as much, but the moment that the panel pans back to show a wider shot, everyone gets these weird looks.
This collection adapts just the first half of the first novel in the trilogy. Dark Horse plans to bring the entire series into comics over the next few years. I like where it's going but I don't have high hopes for humanity. This is a strategic strike against humankind and the ragtag group of smart folks that have assembled to take it on are not where they need to be yet. I have a feeling that things are going to get a lot bloodier before the night is done.