Comic Review: The Strain: The Fall #1

The Strain: The Fall #1
Story by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan
Illustrated by Mike Huddleston
Letters by Clem Robins
Colors by Dan Jackson
Covers by E.M. Gist
Dark Horse Comics
Release Date: July 17, 2013
Cover Price: $3.99

The Strain is a series of vampire novels by visionary Renaissance man Guillermo del Toro (perhaps best known for directing tiny little films like the Hellboy series) and Chuck Hogan, who previously penned The Town. Last Fall we received news that a made-for-television series is being developed for the FX Network, now this month we are treated to the first issue for series two of the ongoing comic adaptation from Dark Horse Comics.

There is a government conspiracy, a really nasty virus, and a bunch of modern day folks trying to survive something so large and complex in scale, they cannot possibly understand all its implications yet. The clichés don’t even stop there. However, it’s due to the stellar writing that I am willing to walk this rather pessimistic and possibly predictable comic journey a few more miles. Thank goodness for del Toro and Hogan.

I loved the first six pages or so. There is some intriguing historical fiction occurring with a mysterious text called the Occido Lumen, (fabulous name) that was discovered in an ancient cave where the innocent goat herders who happened upon it are warned: “A box, once opened, is not easily put away.” The reader gets to then track this book’s bloody trajectory through millennia of fun references like the Italian renaissance and their zeal for “all things Eastern” all the way to the court of Louis XIV and everywhere that book goes, trouble is sure to follow. Also, it seems to have something to do with vampires, who usually are some of my favorite genre characters.

When the narrative cuts to modern times, I begin to lose interest. There seems to be some cognizant vamps, and even fancy aristocratic ones thrown in for good measure. Grunt work like taking over America for instance, is however left to the foot soldiers of the vampire race. They are simply humans infected by a type of virus that transform into a very nasty sort of zompire with a muscular looking long tongue that feeds of humans and creates more zompires. While inhuman, undead, human, lacking in fangs, near mindless hideous creatures take over Manhattan (if you ever lived there, you are aware of very close quarters, so it’s an excellent place for an outbreak) you are not supposed to imagine they are zombies because they apparently remember their young but still want to eat them, oops I’m sorry suck them dry and transform them?

Why have vampires if they don’t actually seduce anything and are just some brute blunt force army? Isn’t that what zombies are for? It’s a hot mess of allegories for me. Luckily, the characters show some promise. There is Dr. Eprahim Goodweather who is the CDC’s whistleblower maligned by the human and vamp population for exposing a supernatural element to this virus gone wild, his young son who is trying not to become his newly transformed mother’s lunch, a professor who survived the holocaust, an epidemiologist and an exterminator who are all so far at least multi-dimensional enough for me to give this comic enough leeway to see where it leads me.

The artwork wouldn’t be enough to carry this series on its own. I loved the creeptastic cover by E.M. Gist because the figures have an almost uniquely slimy look to them that is missing from Mike Huddleston‘s stark forms. His work has merits of its own of course, and I enjoyed the deep contrast between the retro almost Swamp Thing like vampires and the rather plain or innocuous looking humans. My belief is when characters look less like tropes such as young white kid, bookish female, old skinny bookish dude, etc., one cares more about them more because they are imbibed with some kind of inherent inner spirit that makes them relatable. Here, the writing has to compensate for the character’s lack of presented individuality.

There is however some very gripping hard edged stylistic choices and interesting use of gore restraint if you have been reading Huddleston’s Butcher Baker, the Righteous Maker. It’s not bad; it’s just not moving me yet. That statement would go for the entire comic, but I got sucked in to the writing for The Walking Dead, (no pun intended) even though it explores horror tropes that normally will not interest me. I slowly fell in love with the characters and never looked back. Never mind the fact that it is del Toro who as a dark genius can really do no wrong. How bad can it really be? I think this series has potential, I am just not blown away, nor a true believer yet. Still, it’s a fun action horror comic and there are already some likable characters, one could do much worse.

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