I enjoyed The Strain's premiere on FX, and like a lot of folks, felt compelled to pick up the comic on which it's based. I wasn't disappointed. What intrigued me, rather, were the differences in translation from visual medium to the next. Some spoilers follow, but it's one hell of a trip.
By and large, it's a faithful adaptation. (Thou shalt not mess with Guillermo Del Toro.) But pacing (and the attention span of today's TV audience) bids some alterations to get to the meat of the story, asap.
In the comic, we begin with a folk tale / ghost story in 1927, told to a young boy over supper. It's creepy, it hints at something monstrous, and sets the tone for some cracking horror. Seven pages inform an old country, menacing tone that keeps small children up at night. It's a wonderful introduction, and gives us a sense of where the threat will be coming from.
Just as important as the source, is the knight who'll be facing the dragon: Dr. Ephraim Goodweather. The comic shows us a man trying to relax with his kid on one of two weekends per month. The TV show introduces the same character (played by House of Cards' Corey Stoll), late to his family counseling session, and paints him as a workaholic. In both cases, it shows him fighting an uphill battle to stabilize his home life. That's fine, it makes him more sympathetic. In either case, he's off to the airport to deal with a locked-door mystery Edgar Allan Poe never could have dreamed up.
Namely, because 777s hadn't been invented yet. A jet liner sits on JFK's runway, stone cold, with (seemingly) every single passenger and crew member dead. Yeesh.
Cut to Eph and his partner, Nora, changing into hazmat suits to go check out the damage. In both cases, it seems Eph and Nora have some history together. (Eph is single, after all.) The show has Nora being warmer, more supportive. In the comic, she barely wants to talk about it.
Instead of the spooky folk legend, the TV show spent that same time introducing colorful characters aboard the plane, before whatever happened, happened. There's Bolivar, The goth star on tour. There's the little precocious French girl, returning to her papa. I mean, they're all screwed, but it's nice to throw us some personality before the carnage starts.
The show does a good job of capturing the comic's atmosphere. Considering the fact that they're coming at it from different angles, that's no mean feat. Eph and Nora investigate the bizarre tragedy: there's no obvious sign of foul play, no gas, no marks on the bodies, they're all just dead. Well. Most of 'em.
Bolivar seems to have survived in good enough shape to be asking for recreational painkillers.
Then comes a wrinkle: We meet the decrepit Mr. Palmer, a man who's kept the grim reaper at bay for thirty-plus years with the sheer power of a massive bank account. (The likeness to his comic book counterpart is uncanny.) In both versions, Palmer's clearly awaiting the plane's arrival, or more specifically, its cargo.
Where the TV series skips the rails in terms of logic, is that it reveals Palmer already has a vampire in his employ. If he's already got one, why does he need DeadEx to ship him the box full o' spooky? That makes no sense, but at least it's the only bit that makes no sense.
So there's this coffin-sized crate covered in grim reaper carvings. It wasn't on the flight manifest. It is clearly evil. What do they do? Open it, of course.
I get that these guys work in disease control. They have to quarantine things that could be filled with germs (or, y'know, vampire worms). So opening a box literally marked with death in an airport storage room seems like a great idea.
If only there were an eccentric old sort who knew all about this stuff! Someone with his own pawn shop, for instance. Someone named Knickerbocker. On the Show, Knickerbocker (played by always welcome David Bradley) defends himself from two shoplifters, threatening their lives and generally showing that he's a cantankerous old goat who can take care of himself. He proceeds to his secret basement— all pawnshops have them— where he sits beside a heart in a jar. Which he feeds a few drops of his own blood. The heart sprouts wormy tendrils which hungry nip at the offered blood. For the record, Ew.
In the comic, we meet the same character in a far simpler way: an old man, eating borscht— the same meal as the little boy in 1927. Boom. Suddenly we know exactly who this fella is, and why he (and his TV counterpart) immediately cotton to the danger at JFK airport. We're off!
But zounds! The crate's been smuggled out already! The breach in security's the work of Jim Kent. (Sean Astin! I for one, feel betrayed, and will never trust Sean Astin again.)
It's not long before the inevitable happens: vampire feeding scenes. On the show, a giant in a cloak grabs ex-Wishmaster Andrew Divoff and sucks him dry via some horrific mouth tube thing. Vampire body horror, thy name is Del Toro.
Meanwhile, previously dead passengers aboard the 777 have risen, including the uber-creepy little French girl, who decides to go home. Yeesh. Things are off to a gruesome, satisfying start.
On the whole, the transition from comic page to small screen is a successful one. There are limited stylistic differences, and changes in pacing and whatnot have to accommodate an entirely different kind of story consumption. That's fine. It works. I am looking forward to an explanation as to why Mr. Palmer's vampire-on-retainer can't simply help him out. Beyond that, the nits worth picking are few and far between.
What do you think?