With so many big names and big events plastered across the shelves of your LCS, sometimes great comics get left behind – buried in longboxes until someone comes along to find these Hidden Gems.
Written by David Lapham
Adapted from the novels by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan
Art by Mike Huddleston
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Ongoing horror comics are currently experiencing a Renaissance of sorts with titles such as The Walking Dead and Crossed, both of which manage to tell a larger story that rises above the roots of their genre. This year, a new series from Dark Horse premiered that manages to blend relatable characters, creepy art, and a genuinely frightening story to make an enthralling ongoing horror story. This series, entitled The Strain, is adapted to the comics page by indie superstar David (Crossed, Stray Bullets) Lapham and artist Mike (Batgirl) Huddleston from a trilogy of novels co-authored by Chuck Hogan and award-winning filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro. The comic tells the story of a group of vampire-like parasitic creatures who aim to infect the citizens of New York with a virus that turns them all into vampires and the efforts of a small group of citizens and scientists to try to contain and end the outbreak.
The first issue of The Strain begins in 1927 Romania with a little boy being told a horrific tale having to do with a blood-sucking giant named Sardu. The story then flashes to present-day New York, where our protagonist, Dr. Ephraim “Eph” Goodweather of the Center for Disease Control, is called in to inspect a plane that landed in JFK with all the passengers dead save for three survivors. One of the pieces of luggage found on the plane is a mysterious box resembling a coffin. The attorney of one of the survivors manages to get all three of them released from the hospital before Eph and his partner Nora can examine them, and a mysterious elderly millionaire arranges for the coffin to be picked up from the airport, leaving the CDC with nothing to go on except the 198 dead bodies themselves. As Eph and Nora examine the bodies, we learn that the three survivors have developed a peculiar taste for blood, particularly human blood. Their attacks on others quickly leads to an outbreak of pale, vampire-like creatures that spills out into the streets of New York.
These occurrences catch the eye of Abraham Setrakian, an elderly pawn shop owner in Spanish Harlem who quickly tries to find Eph and others like him who are able to battle this outbreak before it spreads even further. Flashback scenes reveal that Setrakian has experience with these creatures, and cutaway scenes dealing with the sickly old millionaire, referred to as Mr. Palmer, seem to implicate his involvement with the outbreak. More will be revealed about these two characters’ involvement within the plot as the series progresses.
The Strain has proven to be an effectively creepy and immensely readable horror comic since its first issue. Lapham’s story provides the perfect blend of gory and genuinely creepy moments, while the plotting and pacing offers just the right amount of suspense from issue to issue. Huddleston’s art effectively portrays grotesque and genuinely horrifying events within a realistic, everyday setting, which is a common theme found in many of Del Toro’s films. One of the aspects of this story that sets it apart from other current vampire-themed properties is how the vampires are portrayed on the page. These are truly monstrous creatures that bear little resemblance to the human-looking bloodsuckers on shows like True Blood or in comics such as American Vampire. The vampires in The Strain are pale, ugly, zombie-like creatures who suck the blood of their victims with a large, tongue-like tentacle that shoots out of their mouths. Treating the spread of vampirism like a virus definitely resembles zombie epics such as The Walking Dead more than most vampire stories, which should please fans of that comic and TV show. With a compelling story, an intriguing mystery, and lots of bloody thrills, The Strain is poised to be a genuine horror hit with readers. With only five issues out so far, there’s still time to get caught up, though this series would also make an excellent trade read. The Strain gets 4.5 out of 5 Solar Eclipses.