The Walking Dead is unique in so many ways, but one of the most singular to the title is that there are truly no story arcs as defined by most other comic books. Instead what you have is one long uninterrupted narrative that progresses organically, driven by conflict and resolution – and within that paradigm characters are defined by their actions in much the same way people are in everyday life. This process makes The Walking Dead a viable, living story that has all but taken on a life of its own.
Each month we are afforded a glimpse into the lives of these characters that have by now become like old friends (or enemies). Robert Kirkman has not only carved out a niche in popular culture, he has transcended the boundaries that would fence many creators in. By making The Walking Dead more accessible than say the George Romero “Dead” films, he has broadened his audience to an amazing extent and tapped into a demographic beyond comic book fans. That said, he has not sold out by any stretch of the imagination – the comic has gotten grittier and more violent if anything. Not long ago, (SPOILER ALERT) one of the main characters, Glen, was brutally beaten to death in one of the most graphic scenes of murder I have ever seen in a major published comic, so obviously Kirkman is not watering down his vision or compromising his ideals just to enlarge his readership. He doesn’t have to; in the case of the modern horror comic he has built the proverbial better mouse trap. The Walking Dead is the standard by which all other horror comics are measured and for that fact alone we are indebted to Robert Kirkman.
This issue picks up only minutes after Negan has killed yet another of Rick’s people, Spencer. Negan opened Spencer from throat to navel, spilling his guts all over the street when he dared approach the hot headed leader of the Saviors covertly about taking Rick’s place. Rick is out with a group of his people collecting supplies to give Negan in return for a continued if tenuous peace. Negan is the kind of villain you love to hate. He is sarcastic and vicious but somehow charismatic. Kirkman’s excellent dialog, although peppered with expletives, gives Negan a frightening appeal; he is compellingly reprehensible, like a charming serial killer.
In contrast Rick is a flawed but good man who is at his breaking point. Negan has pushed him over the edge and Rick formulates a plan on the fly which does not turn out as he and his group had hoped. The Saviors may have appeared to be less than prepared for the attack but as is frequently the case in The Walking Dead, things are not as they seem. The most recent encounter between Rick and Negan is thoroughly entertaining but frustrating to read. Rick finally has had enough but his ill-planned revolt does little but take him from the frying pan into the fire and for that the entire group is sure to suffer. The final page is classic Negan as he illuminates the terrain in which Rick currently finds himself all too hopelessly deployed.
I have been a fan of this book for quite some time now and it has yet to disappoint me. Sure there are better plots than others but right now the book and its creative team are at the top of their game. There is a lot going on and plenty of well written characters to love and to hate and as always tons of bad situations getting worse long before they get better. That seems to have become the trademark of a good Walking Dead story – see how much a given character can take and push them far beyond that point before reaching a resolution. Robert Kirkman has taken us on a 112 issue thrill ride so far and there are no signs of it slowing as yet.
Visually, Charlie Adlard is as solid as ever. His style has become the defining look of these characters, including the zombies, even more so than the television show. His work is moody and emotional bringing a feel of perpetual cloudy skies to the page. Adlard has come to know these characters intimately and that comes through in the detailed way he renders their expressions. Cliff Rathburn’s gray tones add dimension and emotional depth.
Over all this is an absolutely entertaining issue full of all the elements we have can to expect from Kirkman and company. The lightning fast pace speeds you through to a final page that leaves you anxiously waiting for the next issue.
So until next week, see you at the comic book store.