The Strain, vol. 1

The Strain 1Summary: When a Boeing 777 lands at JFK International Airport and goes dark on the runway, the Center for Disease Control, fearing a terrorist attack, calls in Dr. Ephraim Goodweather and his team of expert biological-threat first responders. Only an elderly pawnbroker from Spanish Harlem suspects a darker purpose behind the event–an ancient threat intent on covering mankind in darkness. In one week, Manhattan will be gone. In one month, the country. In two months–the world.

This horrifying first chapter introduces an outbreak of diabolical proportions that puts a terrifying twist on the vampire genre!

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The Strain, vol. 1, by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan 7.5

‘The Strain’ is a 2009 novel that film director Guillermo del Toro co-wrote with Chuck Hogan. Originally conceived as a television series, he decided to put the idea to the page when he couldn’t find the funding for his show. The book was popular enough that he was able to release a full trilogy, with ‘The Fall’ and ‘The Night Eternal’ soon following.

In 2011, the project was brought to Dark Horse Comics to be adapted into a comic book series, with writer David Lapham and artist Mike Huddleston at the helm. ‘The Strain’ was produced as an 11-issue mini-series, which were later collected into two trade paperback volumes. By 2012, the series had gained enough notoriety that del Toro could finally bring it to television.

‘The Strain’ is a vampire apocalypse story. Anyone who knows del Toro’s oeuvre knows that he tends to tackle familiar subject matter in non-traditional ways. In ‘Cronos’, for instance, he treated vampirism as a deadly quest for eternal life, with a small scarab-like device being the source of this immortality. Naturally, the vampires in ‘The Strain’ are unusual too.

In this story, vampires are humans that have been infected with a virus and die. Once infected, their body is overrun by a bunch of worm-like creatures and the people mutate slightly, looking pale, losing their hair and thirsting for blood – which they get from live humans with their long, thick tongue/lung stinger. In this way they feed and spread the virus.

They are dangerous, but are extremely vulnerable to sunlight.

Familiar? Well, the basic plot may be also familiar in other ways, too. For instance, the story begins when an airplane arrives at New York City’s JFK airport and sits there silent. After an extended downtime, the plane is opened up and there are only three survivors – the others are all dead of a mysterious illness A mysterious cargo filled with dirt is also found.

We all know where this is headed: Contagion and a centuries-old creature on the loose on the streets of NYC, spreading his disease like wildfire. But the mystery behind the creature is only revealed as the story unfolds, as we follow two members of the CDC’s rapid-response team and an old man who has seen all of this before, serving as their guide.

I really enjoyed this fresh new spin on familiar horror tropes, but there were a few issues along the way – not least of which was the CDC crew’s sloppiness: While they enter the plane with the medvac suits, the cops only wore gas masks and regular gear. If the plane had been quarantined for hours, why wouldn’t take greater precautionary measures?

Later, they decided to take the elongated wooden box out of the plane without containing it first, exposing it to the outside air. Firstly, given that all the passengers except three were mysteriously dead, it seems clear that all should be sealed off and nothing taken out. But here they were, dragging the damn thing off to another location… at the airport.

Here they were, opening the box (a.k.a. an ancient coffin – not that anyone there clued into it) in a hangar! How stupid was that? Then they released the survivors instead of putting them in isolation. Even after autopsies were done on the cadavers, after it’s abundantly clear that something is amiss, these three people are left running amok too long.

Now, I realize that someone high-up is on the payroll of sinister forces who want the cargo to be free to roam in NYC, and thus that the rules are being bent to that aim, but I can’t believe that this doesn’t ring any alarms with any of the other characters, even the specialists who should know better. Things just unfold without any form of protest. Duh…

The people in this book are utter nitwits: Some of the infected creatures are found roaming the downtown streets (sometimes without any clothes on) and no one really notices until they attack. And no one captures them? Or wonders about the ones that get taken down? I mean, I know NYC has quite the reputation, but surely this would be news – someone would notice.

There’s also a cliché that annoyed me to some degree, and it’s the notion that all Christians are idiots. I’m agnostic and certainly don’t believe in organized religion, but when a devout Christian family is struck with this plague, the mother believes that it’s a test from God and gives her life to save her rabid spouse – whom she somehow managed to chain in the garage.

Really? Even without the long range of his stinger it’s a farcical notion at best!

Honestly, for all my complaints, I found ‘The Strain, vol. 1’ entertaining anyway. And I realize that some of del Toro and Hogan’s original work may have been lost in translation, so I can ignore some of it. At this point, I’m quite curious to see where it will all lead – especially since I know that there are two other books in the series. Are they continuations or spin-offs? We soon shall see.

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