A comic review article by: Zack Davisson

ADVANCE REVIEW! The Strain #1 will come out on Wednesday, December 14, 2011.

"There have always been 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."

The Strain had me at that introduction. I am sick to death of vampires being portrayed as sparkly romance figures (Twilight) cute girls who go to vampire school (House of Night), so I am thrilled that Dark Horse is putting vampires back into the monster business. And by the looks of that cover, this is a whole new breed of monster.

I am under a pretty strict "no spoilers" rule from Dark Horse for The Strain #1, and rightfully so. But I can give you the basic set-up. An airplane lands in JFK International Airport and goes immediately silent. All the shades are drawn closed. All the doors are jammed shut. There is no sound or movement from inside, and all aboard are presumed dead. Suspecting some sort of terrorist bio-weapon, the hazmat teams and CDC (Center for Disease Control) are called into investigate.

Somehow connected to the dead plane is a Romanian folklore about the giant nobleman Jusef Sardu, who walked with a cane crowned with a wolf’s head of solid silver. And turnips. Turnips are involved somehow too. But like I said, no spoilers.

The Strain is cool. This is everything I like in a comic. I am a sucker for folklore and ancient curses making their way into the modern world, and The Strain promises to be exactly that. There is a nice balance of fairy tale and realism, especially with the handling of the airport quarantine. I enjoyed how this first issue went for atmosphere over shock value. They are taking the time to layer the story, introducing you to the characters and infusing a sense of dread rather than just starting with a random slaughter. I want to know what happens next issue. 

Dark Horse has been going strong in doing book and media adaptations recently, which harkens back to their days when they were best known for the Alien vs. Predators series. I haven’t read -- or, to be honest, heard of -- Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s bestselling The Strain trilogy, so I have no idea how this holds up as an adaptation. But David Lapham has been getting good experience adapting others stories in his writing for King Kull, so I think he was a good choice. Reading this as a pure comic and not an adaptation, I enjoyed Lapham’s pacing and handling of the story.

The art is The Strain is not as strong as the writing. I am not familiar with Mike Huddleston. His art, while good, is not very striking. I enjoyed his scenes of old Romania more than the modern world, as he infused those with more detail. His characters are all lanky and somewhat tube-like, almost leaning to the cartoony side in terms of body proportions.  He does have some nice layouts, especially one scene aboard the airplane -- but there I go with the spoilers again.

Anyone who has read my Conan: Road of Kings reviews knows that I have some issues with Dan Jackson as a colorist. I have heard his colors called "anime-style," and that really seems to fit. In The Strain, he seems to be doing his best Dave Stewart impression, and it is some of the best work I have seen him do, but it still just isn’t up to snuff. He seems to have the ability to flatten out almost everything he works on, and even though the color is improved here, it still isn’t up to snuff.

Zack Davisson is a freelance writer and life-long comics fan. He owned a comic shop in Seattle during the '90s, during which time he had the glorious (and unpaid) gig as pop-culture expert for NPR. He has lived in three countries, has degrees in Fine Art and Japanese Studies, and has been a contributing writer to magazines like Japanzine and Kansai Time-Out. He currently lives in Seattle, WA with his wife Miyuki. You can catch more of Zack’s reviews on his blog Japan Reviewed or read his translations of Japanese ghost stories on Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai.

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