Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Strain - Full Series Review

Welcome to a horror story about vampires as they should be – ugly, violent, monsters. The comic is based off a novel of the same name written by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan.  Just the attachment of Del Toro’s name is bound to garner attention and it is rightly deserved. All of the elements in this book combine to make a thrilling read, even if it never fully satisfies. Click the jump to read more!



The Strain follows the story of Dr. Ephraim Goodweather (referred to as Eph) during a vampire outbreak in New York. Eph is a part of a CDC rapid-response team called the Canary Project. After a plane lands in JFK International Airport and immediately goes dark, Eph and his team must investigate. What they find horrifies them; the plane has been transformed into a tomb for all but three passengers. The deaths appear to be some kind of new biological weapon, but slowly strange things start happening to the bodies of the dead and the survivors. Before long, an all out vampire outbreak begins spreading like an unimpeded virus and it’s up to Eph and his crew to stop it and pull back the veil on these hideous creatures and the mastermind behind the whole scheme, the Master.

Little children are creepy.
The Strain features some unique elements. First off, the relationships are brought to the forefront right from the start. Unlike following suite with most stories and slowly fleshing out the characters, The Strain begins by showing us Eph’s marital troubles. Custody hearings and marriage quibbles aren’t exactly exhilarating elements, but they give us a clear reason for Eph’s motives early so the slow build of the horror story can take center stage.

The bio-terrorism and biological mindset of the comic give it a unique place among vampire stories. These vampires are not supernatural beings; holy water, garlic, and crosses are mere myths that have no effect on them. Death of these monsters must be achieved with silver, UV rays, or decapitation. These weapons possess elements that disrupt vampire biology hence their lethality. The vampires themselves are hideous creatures. Pale-skin, protruding veins, and dead eyes are all present, but the most radical feature comes in the form of an elongated tongue with a stinger on the end. The glamorous vampires of recent culture seem silly in comparison. While the biological approach and more vicious vampires fascinate, there are some missteps.

The comic spreads out among about five intertwining narrative strands. David Lapham tries his best to balance the strands, but he stumbles in a few places. From issue to issue some characters completely disappear and end up losing their significance. For example, the character Gus shows promise after his introduction and dispatch of a vampire attacking people in Time Square, but he quickly vanishes into obscurity later. While this may seem small, it becomes a bigger problem when names the reader should apparently recognize are thrown out and the reader has no idea who they are talking about. But the biggest problem with the comic is the ending; it’s like having great sex with the most unsatisfying of climaxes. The whole last issue builds and falls flat on its face. The ending’s only purpose is establishing the sequel comic entitled The Fall and that becomes a major point of frustration.
The art does not shy away from blood.

The art by Mike Huddleston emphasizes strong line art with a minimalist approach to details throughout. Each of the characters has a distinct appearance and the action that takes place is easy to follow. While main characters look good, background characters get the shaft and can distract from frame to frame. But the best art featured in this comic is that of the vampire. These creatures steal every page they inhabit. The violent and gruesome presence the vampires contain can be found each time a protagonist collides with them. Fear, surprise, and anger all flash across Eph’s face each time he faces one of these monstrosities. The muted and dark color scheme created by Dan Jackson gives the comic a hopeless feeling. Like color is leaving the world as darkness starts to take over. All of the art fits the story well.


The Strain creates a unique, slow building horror story with vicious and terrifying blood-suckers. While some of the narrative strands become muddled and the ending brings as much satisfaction as losing a race after being in first place, the biological approach to vampires is captivating and something that most horror fans will enjoy. Pick up a copy of The Strain and give it a read if you want to see what true vampires are like. Here’s a hint: real vampires don’t sparkle.

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