Don’t you just know it but there’s always some ancient evil secret at the heart of any good horror-based conspiracy, no? Sure, there is! And most of the times those ancient evil secrets come from countries and cities all across Europe where civilization is much older than it is here in the States. Why, that practically goes without saying! Of course, once that ancient evil makes its way over here, it’s bound to have its butt kicked up one side and down the other because that’s what we do here in ‘Merica. We make it our business to kick evil’s butt! We’ll take any help we can get, especially when it comes our way via the kind elderly gentleman who has a long, private history of battling said demons himself.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
A Boeing 777 lands in New York City, bringing with it a horror that’s gone undiscovered for the better part of the last century. It’s vampires – not the ordinary cape-wearing variety but undead, naked, lizard-tongued types – and they’re about to destroy civilization … unless an elderly pawnbroker and a team from the CDC can stop the carnage before it even begins!
What serves as a catalyst to set this story in motion (after the obligatory flashback set-ups) is an airliner lands in New York City and then loses contact with the tower. Once aboard, investigators find what appears to be the dead bodies of a doomed flight with three exceptions (believed to be survivors). The truth is something vastly more complex … but what I couldn’t help recognizing was that I’d seen this set-up before. In fact, I’d seen it twice before, both times on the Fox television network – it was a narrative construct used for The X-Files and then again in the pilot episode for Fringe. (Should I be all that surprised that the television version of this story is premiering only days away on the FX Network?!?!)
Now, I don’t want to feel like I’m picking on creator Guillermo del Toro. The man certainly has a way of telling a story that’s unique; he has a strong command of visuals, and that’s probably why most of his work inspires so much of fandom. I appreciate a visionary as much as the next person, but when you’re openly stealing ideas from your own previous exploits (such as the UV bombs featured in this story’s climax) maybe it’s time to hang it up until you have some other inspiration. See, the movie BLADE II was directed by del Toro, and maybe he’s hoping folks don’t notice the similarities between elements introduced there and those in THE STRAIN. UV bombs. Vampires with these long, long tongues. I noticed them. I did – they practically jump off the page – and, while I won’t fault the man for re-using good ideas, I honestly expected greater ‘wow’ factor giving this property’s excessive TV build-up.
Still, I’m a sucker for a monster story. On that level, THE STRAIN is a perfectly acceptable vehicle to get jazzed up about. It has a kind of visual flourish here that feels right – plenty dark and hints of sensuality never feel out of place in the more Gothic scares – though perhaps it smacks of some obvious theatricality at times. It’s worth a read, though I’d be suspect about where all of this can go that hasn’t been done before.
Therein lies my only real complaint with most of THE STRAIN: despite being a rather good modern-day vampire story, there’s an awful lot of it that feels like it’s been done before. Besides the doomed airliner set-up, there’s very little to distinguish these characters from so, so many who have come before. In fact, Syfy recently aired the first season of HELIX – a program involving some genetic virus in the Arctic – which featured a prominent scientist (played by Billy Campbell) who – lo and behold – had one failed marriage under his belt while coping with attractions from a prominent coworker; THE STRAIN’s main character is almost a carbon copy.
THE STRAIN: VOLUME 1 (HARDCOVER) is published by Dark Horse Comics. The story is adapted by David Lapham from creator Guillermo del Toro’s work; with illustrations and artwork provided by Mike Huddleston and Dan Jackson. (The artwork does look very, very solid consistently through the tome.)
RECOMMENDED. As a modern day vampire story, THE STRAIN works pretty well … even though there are huge parts of it that feel derivative of sights, sounds, and themes that have been explored elsewhere (even by Guillermo del Toro himself!). I guess that’s not a bad thing; it just kept me from possibly enjoying the story more than I would have under better circumstances.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Dark Horse Comics provided me with a digital reading copy of THE STRAIN: VOLUME 1 (HARDCOVER) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.
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