Writer: David Lapham
Artist: Mike Huddleston
Colorist: Dan Jackson
Publication Date: November 14, 2012
They have always been here. Vampires. In secret and in darkness. Waiting. Now their time has come. In one week, Manhattan will be gone. In one month, the country. In two months, the world.
These are the chilling first words that encounter you as you open the pages of The Strain Volume 1. That’s after you’ve got past the terrifying cover image and the blood spattered title pages. This book is defiantly a horror comic and is not afraid to shout about it.
The Strain is based on the novel of the same name by Chuck Hogan and Guillermo Del Toro which was published in 2009 and forms the first part of a supernatural trilogy. I really enjoyed the novel when I read it a couple of years ago. I was aware of Hogan’s writing from his novel Prince of Thieves which was recently made into a brilliant film by Ben Affleck called The Town. I was familiar with Del Toro’s mind-spinning film-making through works such as Cronos and Pan’s Labyrinth as well as his brilliant adaptation of Hellboy. It was easy to recognise elements within the novel version of The Strain from both Hogan and Del Toro.
The comic book version of The Strain, published by Dark Horse, has been adapted by David Lapham on writing duties and Mike Huddleston on art. It stays very faithful to the source material. After all, the full title of this comic book is Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s The Strain. That’s no bad thing however because the source material is really strong.
I must admit that although I bought the first issue of The Strain I didn’t continue with the monthly comic. I felt that it would work better as a collected volume. On the evidence of volume 1 I think my assumption was right. The pacing of the story and the rapid introduction of characters and concepts in The Strain, both in the novel version, but even more so in this version, means that it is better to experience it in larger chunks.
The comic book version of The Strain opens in the same way as the novel, with the introduction of one of the main characters Abraham Setrakian, in his childhood home where he is being told the legend of Master Sardu by his bubbeh (grandmother). What we don’t know is that the evil Master will come to dominate the story as it progresses. When we next meet Abraham he is an elderly man living in Spanish Harlem.
We are then introduced to Dr Ephraim Goodweather and Dr Nora Martinez, who both work for the Center for Disease Control. They are called to JFK airport when a plane arrives and shortly after hitting the runway goes dark and all the communication channels are cut. On board the plane all the passengers appear to be dead. They soon find a few survivors and an empty coffin.
It soon becomes clear that the survivors have been infected by whatever was in the coffin and are turning into vampires. Abraham approaches Ephraim and Nora and tries to warn them of the seriousness of the situation. He is taken away by the police, but not before he tells Eph to go over the bodies with an ultraviolet light.
We are also introduced to small time criminal Gus Elizade, who is paid by a mysterious stranger to drive a truck, which unbeknownst to Gus contains The Master’s coffin. He later encounters an infected person on the street and makes the canny observation that “shit ain’t human.”
It is down to Eph and Nora to find out exactly what has happened to the survivors of the plane crash and the implications of what they discover soon becomes apparent to them. They are forced to commit actions which put them on a collision course with the authorities and at the end of this first collected volume Eph and Nora are facing arrest and Eph desperately realising that “this is what they want.” They, being the vampires, and their powerful leader.
In the background is the character of Eldritch Palmer, a rich, powerful man who is succumbing to the ravages of age. His involvement in this soon becomes clear when he is revealed to be controlling the head of the CDC Jim Kent. Abraham also tells Eph and Nora that The Master has a human backer. What they don’t know is that backer is Palmer.
What impresses about the comic book adaptation of The Strain is the way that all the characters and narrative drivers are woven together. The reader is given enough information to keep the story moving, without feeling overwhelmed or under-informed. This is testament to the skill of Lapham’s scripting. He manages to juggle all the narrative threads and the large cast of characters expertly.
The other element of this adaptation which keeps the narrative moving and the characters engaging is Huddleston’s expressive art. The faces he draws are great and really draw the reader in. He has a fantastic use of shadows in creating atmosphere and his architectural settings are beautiful. Kudos must go also to colourist Dan Jackson who complements Huddleston’s illustrations perfectly.
The depiction of the vampires is spot on and just as I imagined them to look when I read the original novel. That is to say they look absolutely terrifying in this comic book version.
If you are already familiar with The Strain through the original novel then this adaptation is sure to engage you. It’s great to see the characters brought to life in comic book form. If the comic book is your first encounter of the story then you’re in for a real treat.