Review: The Strain #1

The Strain #1

I think we can all admit that the entire vampire idea has run its course. The ideas aren’t new, the presentations aren’t innovative, and it all boils down to how interesting you can make what’s already been done. Writer Scott Snyder has done it with American Vampire and, according to some; the new I, Vampire is holding it down nicely. Dark Horse enters the fray this month with The Strain, the comic book adaption of Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s popular novel about vampires.

I’ve never read the novel The Strain, so I can only review this from the standpoint of the comic. The Strain uses the historical vampire themes and combines it with a modern story of the troubled anti-hero. The history angle comes from a story told from a grandmother to her grandson about Jusef Sardu, a polish nobleman with a bizarre ailment. Sardu is a giant, easily 10 to 12 feet tall. Through a series of circumstances involving a hunt and multiple deaths, Sardu becomes a vampire. Jump ahead to the modern world and a 747 that has landed and gone completely silent. All the shades are drawn and there is no movement or sound at all.

Our anti-hero is Ephram, a man with a busted marriage, a tenuous relationship with his son and a strong dedication to his job with Hazmat. Ephram and his team board the plane and discover that the passengers and crew are dead, save for three. The deaths aren’t normal; there are no wounds or signs of a struggle. Even worse is the empty coffin that means, of course, trouble on the horizon. According to the opening line of the book, the dark truth about vampires is about to spread around the world. I’m guessing it’ll come down to a desperate battle between man and beast. Like I said, I haven’t read the book and issue #1 of the comic mainly lays down the groundwork for the series.

The Strain is a solid read. Sure the idea of the ancient vampire leading an army is derivative, as is the down-on-his-luck dad with the busted family who might save the day. Even the concept of vampirism as disease isn’t anything new, but The Strain rises above all that. Writer David Lapham takes what I’m sure is a much more involved novel and distills it down to comic book form.  Even with a story so rife with clichés, The Strain is still interesting and by the end of the first issue you’ll be peaked for the second.

Mike Huddleston’s works well for The Strain. It’s a combination of fine art and a classic children’s storybook look. What raises it above the standard Dark Horse title is how Huddleston changes the look slightly from the historical tale to the modern story. The changes are tiny but the devil is always in the details and those details help The Strain be visually compelling. If you don’t like vampires or you’re easily annoyed at the similarities between vampire stories, then The Strain isn’t for you. If you dig vampires or you can just relax and dig a cool gothic-tinged story about the undead, then The Strain will be a nice addition to your pull list.