“The Strain” is based on a vampiric novel series co-written by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan. The cinematic chops of Del Toro should surely get fans through the door on this venture, especially for a $1 price tag, and certainly for those who like his movies but couldn’t sit through a trilogy of books. David Lapham and Mike Huddleston both stay true to the source material while making this comic book their own.
This debut issue bucks a common trend by elaborating far more on the characters than the set up of the tale. Where many drop the high concept in as the hook for the audience and have characters present to be explored later, “The Strain” wants us to know and care about our main players, and leaves us with a few wicked hints of where things are going. I applaud this effort because any horror story is only as good as the people the horror endangers. I already care about our scientific lead and the familial worries that no doubt await him. This is a smart way to draw the readers right into the heart of the tale.
The framing story of an old Romanian being told a scary story in 1927 by his aged grandmother is unsettling, and does provide some possible set up to this tale, but ultimately feels a little disjointed. It is the table setting for Abraham, who we see in present day at the end of the issue, yet the set up isn’t capitalized upon completely. We are left with a more closed view of this main player whereas Ephram, the lead scientist, is fully formed.
The plot hook of a Boeing 747 stranded on the tarmac and full of inexplicably dead people is well metered out and explored. The tension inherent in this situation as authorities force their way aboard this unknown danger palpably bleeds off the page. You will be grabbed here and you will return next month just to see the next step in this problem.
Huddleston’s art is a little more restrained than you might expect if you have been reading “Butcher Baker, The Righteous Maker.” However, that doesn’t mean it is not as good. Huddleston brings every single character to life in a way that aids the text to make you care. Dan Jackson’s colors superbly bring each locale a specific feel. The tone and weather and vibe is present on every page so you feel this is supremely focused on being a comic and not just a novel adaptation of a storyboard for the eventual film adaptation.
I urge most people to leap onto $1 issues because that’s value not to be ignored. With “The Strain,” you should buy in because it will make you happy to invest more next month to see where this tale is heading. This horror story smartly lays out the characters first. It soaks you in that moment where you want to know more about these people, while also being afraid to get involved because the loss that might strike anyone will hurt all the more for your connection. If you want to pigeon hole this book into a genre, don’t choose ‘vampire.’ That current cultural cache doesn’t represent this book at all. This is cerebral horror with a dark, beastly side just waiting to pounce.