ADVANCE REVIEW! The Strain #2 will go on sale Wednesday, January 10, 2012.
The second issue of The Strain picks up right where issue #1 left off, with a mysterious, elaborately carved coffin that had been mysteriously secreted in the airplane's cargo hold. You know, the airplane that arrived with all but three of its passengers DOA. In Issue 2 we get the story of a couple of those three surviving passengers, and are reminded of an old saying "Those who die are the lucky ones." But this is a vampire comic, so maybe nobody really dies after all. Maybe.
The first issue of The Strain was almost entirely set-up. We had this promise of long-tongued vampires from the cover, but inside we just got mystery and more mystery, and some old European curses thrown in. It was a good issue — frankly, I like it when writers have the patience to do a lengthy set-up instead of feeling the need to jump immediately into the action — but I was waiting for those cover-haunting vampires to make an appearance.
Apparently I have to wait a bit longer still.
There is some good gore here, but entirely off-panel. Writer David Lapham is still teasing us for a bit longer and not delivering on the vampires quite yet. But you know they are coming. And then there are the remaining bodies from the airplane. They aren't decomposing. They aren't getting cold. And when you cut them open for autopsy, you find that they are entirely filled with sperm. Now that was creepy.
(Okay, so they didn't come out and say that the bodies had their entire blood supply replaced with sperm, but that is sure as hell what it looks like. "Thick, like spoiled milk" indeed. )
It is hard to peg down exactly what The Strain is. It isn't really a horror comic. There is nothing particularly frightening here, and aside from the sperm-filled bodies there isn't even any gross-out factor. Because of the name Del Toro tagged on the comic, I was thinking that it would be an atmospheric Lovecraftian kind of thing, but it is much more in the genre of bizarre police procedural, like a CSI/X-Files hybrid.
I see a lot of disease-metaphor in modern horror. Vampires as infectious virus. Zombies as plague. It is like horror writers are trying to tap into some sort of zeitgeist and find out "What are modern people afraid of?" This sort of ripped-from-the-headlines horror never really seems to work. Fear — and horror — are too primal to be tapped into by intellectual pursuits. People are scared of what they have always been scared of. For example, I recently read Baltimore: The Curse Bells, one of the greatest modern horror comics, and it was terrifying. Primal fear of terrible things. That makes for good horror.
So The Strain isn't horror, but it is a nice bizarre police procedural (which should totally be an official genre name. Can I coin that right now?), and can be appreciated for that.
And maybe in Issue 3 we will finally get some of those long-tongued vampires the cover keeps promising us!
Zack Davisson is a freelance writer and life-long comics fan. He owned a comic shop in Seattle during the '90s, during which time he had the glorious (and unpaid) gig as pop-culture expert for NPR. He has lived in three countries, has degrees in Fine Art and Japanese Studies, and has been a contributing writer to magazines like Japanzine and Kansai Time-Out. He currently lives in Seattle, WA with his wife Miyuki. You can catch more of Zack’s reviews on his blog Japan Reviewed or read his translations of Japanese ghost stories on Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai.