The Strain is based on a series of vampire novels written by none other than the cinematic master Guillermo del Toro, and Chuck Hogan. Anyone who knows del Toro’s work knows his love for horror comics, and it’s about time one of his works were adapted to comics. Fittingly so, David Lapham takes the honors of adapting the tale with Mike Huddleston by his side on art duties. The story begins in the past as an old grandmother tells her grandson the tall tale of a spooky giant who will come to get him if he doesn’t eat his greens, swiftly switching right into the present. Somehow, some way, the past and present are interconnected, and some age-old evil is about to show its heinous face. A vampire story from the mind of del Toro that mixes folklore into the present day; sounds like a winner, right? Well, it reads like one too. Read on for the skinny…
The Strain Begins very strongly, lending from other Dark Horse books like B.P.R.D.. In the past a creepy old lady tells the origin story of a giant man with a cane that makes an unmistakable pick-pick-pick sound. The introduction to the lore is by far the strongest part of the issue as it sets up everything that is to come in the inevitably dark future. It’s impressive how much back-story Lapham is able to get across in such a short amount of time, and still have ample space to bring things into the present. The Granny’s story works like a fairytale, albeit twisted, adding to the mythos of vampirism and it provides the reader with a nice bit of information that the present-day characters are oblivious to later on. Immediately, readers know that the giant is going to be the main nosferatu-esque villain. Although he only shows up for a brief period in this issue, it leaves a lot for readers to ponder while they await the next issue.
The story quickly moves to present day, and it’s just as enchanting as the past in many ways. Though it’s not as pretty, and the air of mystery is a bit lost, it is well placed and shows signs of a team that knows how to craft a story interwoven with lore. Dr. Ephraim Goodweather and his son play video games, and as his ex-wife gives him a call, it’s as if dealing with her bitchiness is a sign that his troubles are about to get much, much worse. The short time spent providing readers with insight into Ephraim’s personal life will really give this book some emotional weight later on in the series. After only 5 or 6 pages you know he’s a divorcee, he works for the CTC, he’s got issues with his son, and he’s struggling to keep himself on his feet. A phone call then brings Ephraim away from his son to the scene of a silent Boeing 747 on the runway.
This is where the past begins to seep into the present. As Ephraim investigates the plane, things get real spooky. The panel layouts flow flawlessly, and the big reveal of the dead passengers is quite melancholy; the open eye of the dead child is particularly haunting. Though we know what’s about the happen from here (given that it is a vampire story), much of the mystery and action remains to be seen in this issue. The creative team could have chosen an in your face debut full of blood and action, but instead they went with the tasteful route that will (hopefully) pay off in the long run. The allure of what will happen next will without a doubt keep readers coming back for more, if not seek out the original source material before next month’s issue hits.
The artwork is a great fit for the scriptwork, borrowing much from Mignola. The faces are well defined, and the shadows really work to give this book the atmosphere it needs. Without such strong artwork this first issue would lose much of its pull.
The Strain is the kind of book that horror fans love, heavily relying on legend and mythology, all while playing with the differing perceptions of the readers and the characters. Though first issues that don’t have much in the way of action are typically hard pressed to keep readership, it somehow works for Lapham. The slow pace and character depth will ultimately make the rest of the series stronger and all the more gratifying when heads start to roll.