The Strain #1 (Dark Horse)

When a plane lands with everyone aboard dead, CDC Agent Dr. Ephraim Goodweather is summoned amid reports of a possible bio-terrorist threat with a strange, terrifying twist in this dark tale about an age-old threat resurfacing among modern humanity from the wicked minds of director Guillermo del Toro, novelist Chuck Hogan, and Eisner Award-winning writer David Lapham.

 
32 pgs. full color; $1.00
(W: David Lapham; A: Mike Huddleston)
 
 
Many years ago in a small Romanian village, a young boy named Abraham listens to his grandmother as she tells him the tale of a giant. This giant was the son of a wealthy Polish noble, who was shamed by his son’s appearance. To try to cure his son, he sought the flesh of a wild wolf, but while out hunting, the nobleman and all his men vanish. Only his son remains, and he eventually discovers his people at the mouth of a cave, slain, their heads torn open. The young man buries his kin, all the while knowing that something within the cave is watching him.
 
Skip to the present; all Dr. Ephraim Goodweather wants is to have a peaceful weekend with his son away from his hostile ex-wife. Unfortunately, his employer, the Center for Disease Control, seems intent on ruining his good time and summons him to JFK Airport due to an emergency. A Boeing 777 has just landed from its international flight and goes dark on the runway six minutes later. Fearing a terrorist biological threat, Goodweather and his team of first-responders finally make it inside the plane, only to discover that nearly everyone is dead. Goodweather wants answers, but as the plane is unloaded the only things emerging are bodies—and one very strange, carved box, which looks remarkably like a coffin.
 
When the first-page descriptor in a comic book says: “There have always been Vampires. In secret and in Darkness. Waiting,” the reader generally expects that they are in store for some classic monster mayhem—bitten necks, blood, aversion to crosses and a garlic allergy, the whole nine yards. When the creator of said storyline is Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan, however, all bets are off, even for vampires. The pair (del Toro is the director of the Hellboy films and Pan’s Labyrinth, Hogan the author of the novel Prince of Thieves, the basis for the film The Town) have charted their own course by having Outbreak meet Dracula! Who is “Carrier Zero”?
 
Adapted from The Strain Trilogy book series, Eisner Award-winning writer David Lapham (Stray Bullets, Young Liars) does a great job in this first issue of merging two wildly disparate storylines: Old World fairy tales and the modern fallout from a new Columbian Exchange. And, although I am irritated that Lapham does a jerk thing like end the issue right as the story is ramping up (mostly because I’m impatient and don’t want to wait for issue #2), I am far too intrigued with the novel idea that vampirism could be a viral monstrosity to be too upset. (It also makes me wonder: If vampirism is viral, will the emergent hero of this series actually be the makers of Purell™ or Clorox™? Garlic wards off the persistent Nosferatu, but is it because the stuff is fortified with 12 essential vitamins and minerals rather than some inherent mystical property?)
 
Mike Huddleston (Butcher Baker, the Righteous Maker) does excellent artwork, keeping sharp lines and somber coloring that emphasizes the moodiness and dark undertone of the story. There are many shadows in Ephraim Goodweather’s life, and hopefully he’ll check to make sure nothing is lurking in them.
 
The only thing I would nitpick is that, at least for the moment, none of the characters seem to stand out visually. This may be because this is only the first issue and Goodweather hasn’t yet had time to become an established force, or perhaps it’s an intentional ploy to bring the reader in on our dear CDC agent’s “everyman” status. Also, some of the word-bubble placement seemed off, and I had a bit of trouble determining who was supposed to be speaking at times.
 
For a comic book adaptation of a novel, The Strain does a bang-up job, and has certainly hooked this reviewer with its debut. And, at a dollar for this first issue, it’s a steal. Make sure to bring your hand wipes. | Elizabeth Schweitzer
 
Click here for a preview of The Strain #1, courtesy of Dark Horse.

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