Great horror has an element of the supernatural that can’t be avoided. With it comes a long history of those who have fought and lost against the force causing unbearable terror. It’s part and parcel of telling a horrifying story, it makes the threat larger than the current situation, and much more threatening. The “beast” is eternal, it has won before and it will win again. That’s just terrifying to think about. With the “The Strain” it’s vampires, we’ve seen them a thousand times before, and we know their history, or at least we think we do. Since the comic takes the element of the supernatural and combines it with another core element of terror.
It combines history with a modern paranoia, something society is already deathly afraid of, and cannot come to terms with. Something that already governs how people act, and puts their behavior in chains. This something is the disease or viral pandemic. Every year without fail some new viral outbreak grips the nation into obsessively sterilizing their hands, boiling water, and thoroughly cooking fish.
It’s an invisible threat that cannot be easily defeated. It preys on the young, the old, and the weak without fail by turning the host’s body against itself. Of course, the fear is that the virus will target the fully developed human form. So what if an eternal virus was powerful enough to target the youthful and vibrant members of society?
Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan pondered this question in their phenomenal trilogy of novels, and David Lapham and Mike Huddleston championed it for comics. Together these men create a comic that perfectly blends the supernatural with modern paranoia. “The Strain” can’t possibly be escaped or avoided. It’s brilliant and ancient.
David Lapham takes the pure cream of the story and adapts it into eleven pulse pounding issues. Mike Huddleston makes dynamic and volatile creatures whose lashing tongues cut the page like an ex-acto knife. The comic thrives in darkness, and creates a deeply troubling read that systematically dashes hope away from the reader. The modern security blanket of science does little to comfort us in the world of “The Strain.” And the creeping sense of dread typically found in horror comics is replaced with ticking clock for humanity. This isn’t about survival, it’s about hope, or rather the loss of hope.
Hope is a funny thing in horror.
The incredible Steven King says it best in Different Seasons: “Let me tell you something my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.” Hope isn’t a great tool, it’s actually quite damning, and as Lapham and Huddleston dash it from the pages, the narrative gains some steam that other horror comics fail to take notice of. The darkness of “The Strain” is grounded with real world science. It’s not like other fantastical horror comics. Every moment on the page has one foot in reality so when all is lost, and hope cannot possibly exist, the characters react accordingly.
Luckily with Dr. Epharim Goodweather at the center of the story things feel a little more under control. The mass hysteria of what’s happening is still beyond measure but Eph tries his best to poke and prod at the legend of the vampire with science rather than cut it down. He represents the failed hope of humanity, and the source of modern paranoia.
While Abraham Setrakian represents the untrustworthy and legendary supernatural element of the terror in the story. He does everything he can to spread his message of dread, and sows the seeds of doubt. There is no hope for Abraham, but he pushes forward all the same. Aiming to rally together a force for good before its too late. He’s from the old world, he knows horrors outside the realm of science, and he must spread the word of fear.
This is the fear that humanity’s own bodies will now turn against them thanks to a microscopic terror. Science allows us to understand it, but not to defeat it. “The Strain” cuts this fear into something more dangerous. It’s not like “The Walking Dead.” This terror is inescapable, unpredictable, and ancient. The force behind it is far from the reaches of our own understanding.
Viral fear grips people on a daily basis. We’re constantly governed by it as a species and science is the church we pray to. But with “The Strain” science betrays us. It can’t make sense of vampires. People go insane, and the weakened spirit allows disease to spread with ease.
Instants of pure terror come from the idea of The Strain rather than the vampires themselves. There is nothing more chilling that watching a group of CDC scientists try to make sense of how an entire load of passengers on a flight have suddenly died. Huddleston keeps to the shadows to isolate you, and Lapham’s script makes you feel in danger at all times. Even as we build to the vampires, there are scenes where scientists try to explain something that defies explanation. The more they poke the less they know. Empty bodies in the morgue are filled with more riddles, a sense of uncanny dread that arrives with the empty plane, and doesn’t let up until the final page.
Those moments hold more in them than the real root of the evil in the story. Yet, “The Strain” taps into man’s fantastical obsession with it’s own demise in a visceral and modern way. There is always this haunting sensation that something as small as a cell could undo humanity, but when that cell morphs us into ancient horrors the fear becomes much more real and terrifying.
We should have the tools to defeat it. Viral means science but it can only explain the epidemic. Supernatural forces cannot be cured, they defy logic in a world where such has become unacceptable. We can only watch and dissect our own demise, but we’re hopeless to stop it.
Hope is a pesky thing in horror. Any time it’s introduced I can’t help but roll my eyes. Yet, Lapham and Hiddleston make an interesting choice in “The Strain.” They don’t deal with hope, their story is about the demise of hope. There isn’t a single page in this dark comic that doesn’t get under your skin thanks to Huddleston. He makes the world dark and uninviting, and even in the lighter scenes there is a sense of dread with the characters thanks to Lapham’s script. The one thing that often gives us understanding and hope is used to take it all away. Science isn’t comfort, it’s confirmation of our own helplessness.
Just read the comic to see how hope is systematically dashed away. Society crumbles and chaos erupts in the streets. Our modern church is disbanded and without the comfort of our strongest tool we’re left to making the most of our own dwindling mortality. It’s tough shit, but an haunting and incredible read.
When a Boeing 777 lands at JFK International Airport and goes dark on the runway, the Centers for Disease Control, fearing a terrorist attack, calls in Dr. Ephraim Goodweather and his team of expert biological-threat first responders. Only an elderly pawnbroker from Spanish Harlem suspects a darker purpose behind the event—an ancient threat intent on covering mankind in darkness. Collects issues #1-#11.
The hardcover hits July 9th. Don’t be foolish and miss it.
Check it out now before FX’s television adaptation hits the screen. This version allows you to have an incredible visual realization of the entire story and will simply put your anticipation at fever pitch for July 13th.