When I was 6, my dad took me to the local General Hospital with him to visit a friend of his. My father is an Internist, and his friend was a poorly-controlled diabetic suffering from Warner Stage 4 Diabetic foot (Google it, this ain’t a medical reference site). Diabetic foot loses all sensitivity to pain, so if you cut yourself and get infected, you won’t notice until it’s time to cut it off. That’s pretty much what happened to this poor man, and I remember it like it was yesterday: an intern by his bedside was gently cutting dead tissue away from the stump that used to be his right big toe, and all the while he was bleeding profusely, feeling nothing. Noticing my surprise, he turned to me, smiled like it was nothing and said, half-laughing: “don’t worry, mijo, it doesn’t hurt”.
I have a million anecdotes just like that one; small things that gradually shaped my tastes and views over the course of the years, but this is the one that elicits the fondest memories, because it happened to someone I knew and cared for.
As time went by, I developed a fascination for horror and what most people consider a very twisted sense of aesthetics regarding fantasy. I was pleasantly surprised to read a fairly recent interview with Guillermo del Toro, where he stated that his fascination with horror and fantasy stems from this one time when, as a child, he sneaked into a hospital and saw a pile of dead fetuses waiting to be incinerated.
Suddenly, it all made sense: I’ve had a man-crush on Del Toro’s work ever since he was still working in Mexico. We had a crappy (yet currently cult) horror series in the 80s called “La Hora Marcada” (The Cursed Hour), where Del Toro learned the ropes on SFX, and I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Cronos, his directorial debut, is a masterpiece of vampires that don’t glitter; and no amount of praise sung can do Pan’s Labyrinth or Hellboy the proper justice. And don’t get me started on his sketch books. I could stare at them for hours.
I was thrilled to know that he would be working on comic books while his future projects were being sorted out, and giggled like a schoolgirl on a sugar high when I got my hands on Strain. My initial impression, though, was far from satisfactory. Reading “Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s Strain” on the cover felt like finally meeting that internet hottie, only to realize her Photoshop skills are way better than yours.
Still, I went on reading and I have to say, even if Del Toro played only Executive Producer on this book, there’s still a sort intangible mojo emanating from it that really gets to you. Although the art is not as detailed or gory as one could expect, Mike Huddleston (famous for Vertigo’s Mnemovore) pulls it off brilliantly, imbuing the book with his own dark style and giving the story the right amount of ambiance. And it has Eisner-laureate David Lapham (Stray Bullets, read it) scripting del Toro’s concepts!
As for the story, it apparently deals with vampires and other mythical creatures from an epidemiological point of view, much like Witch Doctor, but on a more realistic scale. These guys did their homework and CDCs and other branches of the government are depicted with great attention to detail, while parallel stories develop and unravel seamlessly.
Not much is revealed in this first issue, save for the origin of the main antagonist and the familiar dysfunctional family prancing around the hero, Dr. Ephraim Goodweather’s brain. As a plane rolls into JFK International Airport, all of its occupants mysteriously and instantly die, prompting the good Doctor’s response on behalf of the CDC. And that’s pretty much it.
I know it doesn’t sound all that enticing, but I don’t want to give away any spoilers. The book reads wonderfully, the story flows and the imagery vibrates through your mind, aided by exceptional art and a brilliantly crafted story that laces myth and science with a good dose of old-fashioned horror. Del Toro’s amazing capacity to strike the “je ne sais quoi” fibers in your spine transpires beautifully into Lapham’s writing, producing a very interesting combination.
Go on, buy it. You won’t be disappointed.