Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Writer: David Lapham
Artist: Mike Huddleston
Release Date: 20th August 2014
The cover of this book is an object lesson in how to comprehensively encapsulate the story contained within in one striking image. E.M. Gist’s masterful, figurative depiction of Ephraim locked in a desperate battle for survival against the Strigoi, helps lend gravitas to the premise and perfectly underlines the threat humanity is facing. The first six pages of the issue are essentially wordless, aside from a few blood curdling screams and frenzied grunts, even so, Mike Huddleston’s art effortlessly relays the drama and horror of the opening segment, which details the origins of the being responsible for humanity’s perilous position.
Del Toro and Hogan’s vision of a post-apocalyptic world shrouded in near permanent darkness is explored for the remainder of the issue, told from the perspectives of Vasily Fet, and more importantly Ephraim Goodweather, who provides the story’s emotional centre. His hopes for a better future are dwindling, and all around him the Strigoi are literally and figuratively draining the life from humanity. The populace have been brought to heel through the systematic extermination of the intellectuals and academics, or any other figure who might inspire rebellion. Rationing has been implemented, facilitated by an all-encompassing multinational corporation subverted to restrict the flow of goods and services, and farms have been set up to house human cattle. Metaphorically, the story highlights the simplicity with which humans can be controlled, either by the threat of violence and death, or the control of money, and hence, goods and services. It’s one of several metaphors, most of which are a commentary on more conspiratorially influenced themes; surveillance, population control, pacification through mass media, and the inherent dangers of fascism. David Lapham is able to skilfully balance these weighty themes, whilst crafting an intense, atmospheric script with real emotional weight.
The dark and oppressive landscape you’d expect in such a story is expertly captured by Mike Huddleston, and beautifully coloured by Dan Jackson, who chooses a suitably muted palette, using colour sparingly for maximum impact. The world is lifeless, almost absent of light, which neatly symbolises the nature of the enemy that threatens it. Of particular note is the level of ‘lived-in’ realism in character facial expressions, and the clear distinction he is able to strike between races. There are some other nice touches, too; the small island featured in the Master’s origin is cleverly shaped like a biohazard symbol, neatly marking the virus’ ground zero.
This was my first experience of The Strain in any form, and it definitely wont be the last. Strongly written, thought provoking, and strikingly illustrated, this is a must read for all.
[Click thumbnail for full size image]