The Strain #1


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The Strain #1


  • Words: David Lapham
  • Art: Mike Huddleston
  • Colors: Dan Jackson
  • Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
  • Price: $1.00
  • Release Date: Dec 14, 2011

It’s no surprise that the result of a horror film maker and a horror novelist teaming up is an excellent horror comic.

The Strain burst onto bookshelves with the first novel in 2009, with the remaining books of the trilogy arriving in 2010, and finally October of this year. Being unfamiliar with the novels, apart from knowing that they were somehow related to a vampiric virus, meant I was able to approach this adaptation with fresh eyes. Like many others, I’m also a fan of co-author Guillermo del Toro’s cinematic creations, such as the two Hellboy films, and Pan’s Labyrinth, and expected his unique dark fantasy approach to bring back the fear that vampires once invoked, rather than the softer, de-fanged style of recent pop culture outings. The trilogy’s other creator in this new mythology is Chuck Hogan, who has written eight novels, one of which Ben Affleck’s arresting drama, The Town, was based upon.

With those two men behind an epic tale of neck biters, I expected an enticing and exciting story. If this comic is equal to or better than the source material I cannot say, but as it stands, this is another winner from Dark Horse.

The publisher has always known which stories from other media are worthy of bringing to the sequential arts, and as of late, they’ve also been the catalyst for a quiet resurgence in dark horror, with series like The Occultist, Baltimore: The Curse Bells and to a lesser extent, House of Night giving bold new life to a genre that many publishers choose to ignore. The Strain continues that recent tradition. 

Now, horror isn’t always an easy genre to promote in comics. It makes much more sense to create chills and thrills on the silver screen, where multiple tools can be used to bring a sense of dread and fear. With The Strain though, much like 30 Days of Night, there is once more proof that genuine supernatural terror can work well on the printed page, even though with this first issue the threat of the supernatural has yet to fully rear its ugly head.

It begins in a tiny Romanian house in 1927 as an elderly woman warns her grandson to eat his broth while telling him of a giant of a man known as Josef Sardu. Towering over everyone in his village, he was a kind and generous man, who would use an ornate cane to walk and bang it on the floor to bring the local children to him to share his sweets. Going on a hunting expedition in the snow with his father and a few other men, Sardu remained the only survivor of an unknown attack and became a recluse in his castle.

Cutting to the present, we are introduced to Zack and his divorced father, Ephraim, who works for the Centers for Disease Control. During an argument with his ex-wife, he is begrudgingly called in to work, where a mystery is unfolding at J.F.K. International Airport.

Six minutes after landing, a plane has become ghostly silent, with no movement or electronic activity inside. Like those outside, the reader initially has no idea what’s going on. Throughout a wonderfully page turning sequence, the puzzle starts to come together, but more questions are raised.

The last few pages reminded me of the sense of dread from Alien, with a few ordinary men and women becoming entangled in a deadly new horror. Lapham has crafted the story very well and even makes the obligatory divorced protagonist a likeable lead with issues of greater concern than his work, and the epilogue is a deft weaving of superstition and science. To say more than that would be a disservice to what’s within these pages. It’s only $1 and is worth far more than that.

Huddleston (The Coffin, The Homeland Directive) displays a more restrained artistry than his Butcher Baker: The Righteous Maker work, which makes sense as although there are elements of folklore and fantasy, this is a grounded tale, for the most part. His slightly sketchy, almost Mike Mignola-like pencils are simple, yet striking, and he really lets the cinematic flavor loose during the last half of the story, which is helped considerably by the colors of Jackson, who also does a great job on Orchid.

Lapham and Huddleston are a formidable pair. They know how to create an uneasy atmosphere, with tangible danger around every dark corner. I have no idea where this comic is going, but I know bad things are going to happen, and I want to be there when they do.

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