The Walking Dead – What I Think So Far

michonne-walking deadWarning: Spoilers for The Walking Dead TV series, as well as minor spoilers for the comic series follow

Starting this week, The Comics Herald will be reviewing the new episodes of The Walking Dead television series. Being a fan of the series, throughout its iterations in comics, games and of course the television show, I thought it be best to bring readers up to speed with my thoughts on AMC’s zombie hit before I began reviewing the latest season. This will include spoilers of course, as will all my reviews for the series, so you have been warned. Twice.

What I Like:

The Zombies

Yes. It’s a show about zombies. On cable television. I continue to be amazed that this show even exists, and pulls massive numbers in the ratings, prompting it to have the largest cable audience ever. But I digress.

The creative team really have come into their own in the overall aesthetic of the show. The zombies have their own look, which is masterfully created through continually impressive prosthetic make-up, and there always manages to be a few standout individual zombies that really set the tone. From the little girl and the bicycle girl in the premiere, to the creepy Governors Daughter, the show has continued to outdo itself in creative ways to show the living dead. Spattered with a healthy dose of blood and gore of course.

It takes liberties with the comics

This is a major problem I have with other shows that decide to stick closely to the source material. Game Of Thrones did not hold my interest for purely because people who were watching it with me knew exactly what was going to happen and when. It takes the fun out of watching a show week-by-week when there are people who will know how it is going to end. The Walking Dead overcomes this problem by using the source as a basis, rather than a bible. It allows for expectations to be subverted – characters who were alive in the comics are dead, and vice-versa. It’s having the cake and eating it too, having the pure fan service of seeing these characters on screen, while at the same time being legitimately worried for them. It keeps it both familiar and fresh.

The Characters

In taking liberties with the source material, some of The Walking Dead’s best characters have spawned from the deviations. Norman Reedus is obviously excellent as Daryl, and this newer, more charming version of the Governor, is handled excellently by David Morrissey. Other standouts include Carol (who has enjoyed a really intriguing character arc), Hershel and of course Glen, each of which have enjoyed some of the more consistent characterizations throughout the series. As for the deceased, I was a huge fan of Shane too, especially considering he too outlived his comics counterpart. On occasion The Walking Dead gets its characters right, and when it does it’s a treat.

What I Don’t Like:

The Characters

You did notice the “on occasion” didn’t you? When The Walking Dead’s characters are firing on all cylinders, it does so excellently. When it isn’t, the engine begins to stutter and act in ways it really shouldn’t. Andrea and Lori are the main offenders here, despite the former beginning promisingly, and the latter offering a small amount of redemption in the end. I’m willing to include Dale here too, especially as towards the end he began grating on my nerves. At times it’s a small niggle, with characters making small mistakes that make me raise an eyebrow, but other times it is downright infuriating. It also doesn’t help that when a character becomes unlikeable enough (Andrea, Lori), or when the writers really don’t know what to do with them (T-Dog), they tend to be killed off. It’s the fact that there seems to be a large disconnect between these and the well written ones that often makes me scratch my head.

It often gets stuck

See the entire middle section of the second season. Too often the show finds itself spinning its wheels, as characters meander about repeating the same mistakes over and over again. This could be a problem with the genre, as consistent tension and action can be too overwhelming, but the moments where characters sit around moping about the end of the world, however realistic, get old quickly. I also imagine staying in the same place for too long perpetuates this,  which is a worry going into the fourth season when they remain at the prison. Hopefully this changes, and the writers manage to squeeze more life from their home.

What I’d Like To See

A Deeper Rick

While Rick Grimes doesn’t fall under the “bad character” category, he exactly doesn’t fit under the good one either. Rick is incredibly flat, often reacting to events around him, rather than truly taking charge. I’d like to see more of the Rick we saw at the beginning of season three, where the “Ricktatorship” took point, but eventually fell apart anyway. No matter how many times the other characters tell us how important he is, we really need to see it. Take him out of the equation for a while, and show us how important he is.

Bigger Threats

While we already know the producers have teased something big coming to the survivors, I’d like to see a better defined antagonist. The Governor is definitely set to return, but I felt the whole Woodbury army was underused, and considering how quickly the remaining members of that community defected to our heroes, I would love to see some good old fashioned deceit and sabotage from these new members.

Bigger Smiles

I know this is a show about the end of the world, but having characters regularly hitting just the one note (read: depressed) gets old quickly. Michonne is the biggest offender here, as her brooding has gotten old quickly – crack a smile, tell a joke. They may be surrounded by zombies at every turn, but for their own sanity, and ours, just act a little lighter. The more upsetting events will have more impact if the lighter moments are just that little bit lighter.

As I am writing this, the premiere has aired already, having snuck up on me without me realising, so the review will be up not long after this post has. Otherwise reviews for the episode should be up on the site the following day.


Review: The Walking Dead #112 – Kirkman, Adlard and Rathburn

Image_Comics_-_The_Walking_Dead__112The 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.