Thursday, December 6, 2012

Graphic Novel Review: Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan's The Strain Volume 1 by David Lapham, Mike Huddleston and Dan Jackson

The Strain Volume 1 is a graphic novel that combines the genres of traditional vampire literature and ancient folklore in order to deliver a modern day tale of horror and nonstop action.

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 though suspects a darker purpose behind the event - an ancient threat intent on covering mankind in darkness!

This is an adaptation of the first novel in the Strain Trilogy by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan, or maybe not exactly so, as the authors point out in their introduction.

This is not an illustrated version of our novels. This is a graphic retelling: a visual translation and a definitive one. As such, we asked only for the application of fresh energy and bold thinking. Other than that, we granted David Lapham and Mike Huddleston free reign and embraced them as true partners in this enterprise.

It all begins with a flashback. We visit a rural scene in the country of Romania in 1927. An old woman tells a boy that goes by the name of Abraham the story of Jusef Sardu, an eccentric nobleman, in order to make him eat his foot. According to her, and local legend, Sardu was a man unlike any other. He was so tall that he looked down on everyone, yet looked down on no one. And the children loved him. He was sick though, but what his illness really was nobody knew.

Sardu used to live a peaceful life, until one day his noble father, decided to take him with him for a wolf hunt that would lead to a disaster and which would change, in unimaginable ways, his life forever.

Young Abraham believed the story, even though at the time he didn’t exactly know what had happened to the man. In the years to come he would come to find out, and thus find in a mysterious way his life’s true purpose.

And back to the future, which is today, we go. Though we live in an era in which a terrorist attack is always the most frightening thing that could possibly happen, a yet more unusual and terrifying event takes place; an event that will bring the then boy and now elder man Abraham back to action. When an airplane lands in New York and rumors start spreading around about the fate of its passengers, he knows who’s behind the whole thing. But how can he help the authorities cope with the threat? And how can he convince them that he, a frail old man, knows more about it than they do?

He has no choice but to risk his freedom in order to save innocent lives. So he comes in contact with the authorities. He tells them his thoughts, he yells at them that they have to do as he says before it’s too late, but to no avail.

In the meantime the flashbacks continue and during them we get to know Abraham better, as well as his nemesis, Jusef Sardu, the man he’s determined to stop no matter what. But how can one kill the undead? He knows how, but the stubborn young men won’t listen to him. They’ve even thrown him in jail.

Now it’s up to Dr. Ephraim Goodweather to save the day. But will he make it? It seems unlikely, since he doesn’t really know what he’s up against to. However his job is not the only thing in his mind right now; he also thinks about his son Zack and his ex-wife Kelly, whom he still loves, and he secretly mourns about the life that he dreamed about but that wasn’t meant to be. He’s a brave man, willing to admit his mistakes and do anything to right his wrongs, but at the same time he’s just a human being, who’s simply trying to make it through another day, and who at moments also seems weak and lost for hope.

This is a story with a good plot, great character built-up and beautifully dark illustrations which bring to life the bleak subject matter. I haven’t read the Strain trilogy, but if this graphic novel is any indication about how good the books are, I think that maybe I should at least give them a try.

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