*Review written by contributor Lido Giovacchini
What can you say about Guillermo Del Toro? Well I can say that he’s a gifted storyteller with a great imagination and a unique visual style grounded in Otaku tropes and sensibilities filtered through a personal interest in the Lovecraftian mythos and a Spanish heritage. In addition to all that and his numerous excellent films Del Toro is also a novelist, creating a series of horror/adventure books called The Strain which have been successful enough to be turned into a TV series but before they get there they’re being adapted into a comic and considering Guillermo’s close working relationship with the Hellboy franchise he went with the obvious choice of Dark Horse Comics.
The story of The Strain is that a major vampire invasion has struck New York and now a ragtag band of heroes have to repel the invading bloodsuckers. Even though that set-up sounds simple it really isn’t and there’s somehow a lot more going on in The Strain issue two and a lot less. For instance when I say a ragtag group of heroes you maybe assumed I meant some kind of team of survivors moving through the wasteland Left 4 Dead style but that’s not the case, it’s actually several different indivudals with different relations to the vampire apocalypse (Vampocalypse?) The opening recap (which is helpful is a little too brief) describes the characters as a doctor, an alcoholic, a pawnbroker, an exterminator, and a criminal which seems like a very paper thin way to describe the main characters of your story reducing them to just a trait, a problem which is compounded by not establishing anyone’s name. That’s a big problem in recapping the book and just trying to read it the character’s identities are never really established, there is one character at the beginning Augustin Elizalde who I know is the criminal the opening mentioned but otherwise I have no idea who is the pawnbroker, the alcoholic, the doctor or the exterminator (also that cast description sounds like the worst cover of the Gilligan’s Isle theme ever.)
There are a lot of different stories being told in The Strain but not very much happening in any one of those stories. For instance Augustin Elizalde’s story is that he’s been recruited by some other clan of vampires to marshal together a fighting force to clean out New York of its feral vampire problem. I don’t know why this other supreme order of vampires has decided the best way to kill the feral vampires is by arming a group of New Jersey street toughs but there you go. But here’s the thing; what I summarized just there is the entirety of Augustin’s story, he meets with vamps and hires street toughs. Every story is like that in the book, even though they take place over several pages nothing really happens in those pages and most of the book is devoted to maneuvering the characters into a specific place for the next issue. I don’t want to say the book feels like padding because there are some important revelations like Augustin’s relation to what’s going on but most of the book feels like stuff that could’ve been edited down. We spend most of The Strain following two characters Ephram and Vasiliy who are AWOL CDC guys dressed like the Ghostbusters as they stumble around New York and talk about things from the previous issue in a way that is too vague to really be understood by new readers, there’s no movement or progression to their story and that’s a major problem. At the end there’s also suddenly another story thrown in right out of nowhere with a bus full of what I assume are blind people (they’re all wearing sunglasses at night and can’t seem to be able to see but it’s never established for us) and they add nothing to the story other then setting up a pseudo cliff hangar and I couldn’t help but feel that these are pages that didn’t need to exist.
The artwork in The Strain: The Fall #2 is passable though way too often character details will just blur away in the middle of some action with people’s proportions and physicality really just melting away like they were made of play-doh and the guy has a real bad habit of just not putting in any facial details on far away shots, like for a lot of shots Ephram and Vasiliy are only identifiable because one is bald with a beard and the other isn’t. The daytime segments of the story have some nice shadow usage to create the aura of an abandoned attacked city and the vampire monster work is solid though there is a heavy tendency to fall back on gradient colors instead of backgrounds.
The Strain #2 is not a good place to pick-up the book and it really isn’t a great place for it to continue to either. The story is cluttered with too many focuses while never achieving forward momentum in any of those focuses. The recap at the beginning is too inconclusive and will leave new readers unsure of who different characters are and a lot of the chatter relating to last issue is just poor recap, to vague to be helpful if you don’t know what happened and too basic to give you a deeper insight if you do know. The Strain‘s artwork ranges from passable to stylized with serious gaps in quality, overall I can’t really recommend this one.