Indie Comic Review: The Strain

The Strain vol. 1 by David Lapham and Mike Huddleston – Dark Horse – $19.99

At SDCC ’11, Dark Horse announced three new titles from established creators outside the comic medium. There was House of Night by P.C. Cast, Orchid by Tom Morello, and The Strain from Guiellermo Del Toro. The first two series were tepid at best, so expectations were pretty low for The Strain.

The Strain brings back excitement for vampires!

When a Boeing 777 lands at JFK International Airport and goes dark on the runway, the Centers for Disease Control, fearing a terrorist attack, calls in Dr. Ephraim Goodweather and his team of expert biological-threat first responders. Only an elderly pawnbroker from Spanish Harlem suspects a darker purpose behind the event—an ancient threat intent on covering mankind in darkness.

Something that had me nervous was the fact that even though Guiellermo Del Toro’s name was on the book, he was not actually involved in writing the book. He provided the story, but it was up to someone else to bring it to life. Luckily that someone is David Lapham. Lapham’s Stray Bullets is one of the classics of the 90′s indie movement, and he knows his way around nuanced characters. Lapham also knows his way around horror.

Lapham’s script is tense, adding personal issues of the characters on top of the stress created by the situation. It makes the characters react in unexpected ways since they are forced to balance their commitments to family and friends with the necessary sacrifices needed to stop a pandemic. It means that the reader never knows what to expect from both the protagonist and the antagonists.

The Strain is not blazing a terribly new path with its central conceit. These are still the Eastern European vampires of yore. However, Guiellermo Del Toro knows what it takes to make a compelling movie, and The Strain reads like a movie. The familiar vampire setup lulls the reader into a sense of familiarity, but the addition of the pandemic angle takes the story off in an unexpected and truly frightening direction. It would be easy to see The Strain as a Hollywood movie.

The art by Mike Huddleston is sufficient for the storytelling. His design for the vampires is unique, distinguishing them from other vampires. Instead of fangs, these vampires use an alien-like tongue which slices the victim’s neck. It works well for the story and creates a striking visual image.

However Huddleston seems to struggle a bit with consistency. While his main characters are well-rendered and full of personality, background characters get a bit bottom heavy in some scenes, making them look morbidly obese. It would be one thing if the characters were always obese, but they get heavier and lighter from panel to panel and page to page. It gets a bit distracting from time to time.

Overall The Strain was a pleasant surprise. It filled a gap for interesting vampires that had been left open since 30 Days of Night. Even though Del Toro didn’t write the actual comic, his story combined with Lapham’s script makes for a winning combination. The Strain is an ongoing series, so it looks like there is plenty of vampire excitement for months to come!

Check out a 10 page preview here.

Order your copy of The Strain Volume 1 here.

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