WALKING DEAD VOLUME 1-12 (Image)
Written by Robert Kirkman, drawn by Tony Moore (#1-6) & Charlie Adlard (#7-72)
I started re-reading Walking Dead while watching the pilot of the new TV show. At first I was just curious to see how the two versions differed, but then, after putting the first book down for a little while, I made a concerted effort to read all the trades I could get my hands on in a short period of time. I already had the first ten, I picked the first volume up while living in Toledo and got the rest while at Wizard and through Sequential Swap. I even went out and picked up Volumes 11 and 12 which is all but the last 6 or so issue of the whole series. So, I read all 12 volumes and 72 isues in about a week. I went in with an eye towards Robert Kirkman’s ticks that bother me: his lack of flashbacks (there are two in the whole series if memory serves) instead favoring long recounts of events in word balloons instead of utilizing the medium’s visual advantages, characters explaining things too much (either being too verbose in the heat of the moment or overly explaining themselves) and his tendency to reuse basic story ideas like the cycle of the group finding a safe place and then having to leave in a hurry and giving Rick strong males to bond with.
The first time I got caught up with the series it actually made me really mad because it wasn’t as good as it seemed like it should be from the way people were praising it. The pattern of the second volume got on my nerves: them finding a place, thinking it’s safe and then leaving. But, I’ve come to terms with that this time around because, honestly, how else is the book supposed to progress? One of the big realizations I had while reading through the first 72 issues of this series is that, it’s kind of destined or doomed (depending on how you look at it) to always feature Rick trying to find safety and either succeeding or failing. Sure, he’ll experience a few other things and find a place or two that works for a while, but unless the world evolves (actual cities being kept safe, a government in place, etc) that’s all the book will ever be. And, assuming Kirkman wants to keep Rick as the main character, which may or may not be the case, it either ends with him being secure or dead, which is kind of a bummer and makes me wonder if that’s the kind of story I want to continue to reading.
The other big realization I had about the book is that it’s a soap opera with zombies. It’s not a really well crafted drama like Heat or Usual Suspects, it’s a mellowdramatic tale with zombies. In fact, when things start to slow down, like in Volume 7, the seams start to show, the verbal ticks get more annoying (Axel finished 70% of his word balloons with “You follow me?”) and the clunky dialog became more apparent. But, Kirkman is a master of throwing all kinds of problems at our survivors and, for the most part, giving us some rad cliffhangers (though the one in volume 8 with the gun on Lori and the one in 9 with a growling Rick waking up were both pretty cheap in my book).
I still have a whole slew of problems with the series right from the beginning. Why didn’t a zombie come up and eat Rick in his hospital bed? There’d be dead people rising in the morgue, why didn’t they get the meal sitting out for them? Does it really snow that bad in Georgia? Why would the government tell people to go to cities which would have, per capita, more zombies than anywhere else? Why does Andrea’s appearance change from the first to the second volume (the freckled Amy gets bit in Volume 1, but then Andrea has freckles int he rest of the series)? Why do the people in the prison say they know who Otis is when he’s never been to the prison? Why does Hershel go from not caring if his daughter is fornicating and not saying a word about people killing people and then get angry later when his son swears? Why is pretty much every other person they meet a psychopath? How did people with such obvious psychotic problems survive for so long? Why is there little-to-no concern for concerning ammo? Why are they CONSTANTLY talking about how flawed Andrea’s calendar might be? And, most of all, why do they always feel the need to explain their different words for “zombie” and why do other people think it’s SO STRANGE that they have other names?
Really, I think many of those problems could have been solved if Kirkman was working with an editor. I know a lot of people might not like the idea, but I think the relationship between a writer and editor is really important, not in the sense that the writer needs to answer to the editor, but to have someone looking over your shoulder, maybe suggesting not to use the word “story” several times on one page or to be a little more concise with the dialog. According to the credits in the 12th volume, he’s working with an editor named Sina Grace (who is not listed in any of the other volumes), so maybe things will get a little better. The thing about this book is that I really do want to love it. I want to open a trade and love it from beginning to end, but when there’s so many little things rubbing me wrong, that they take me out of the story.
But, like I said, it’s like a soap opera, which means you take the occasional ridiculous plot twist and bad performance with the good. I guess that makes the comic’s jump to television make all the more sense, but I have just as many problems with that version as I do with this one (the dialog on the second episode was absolute shit, we were introduced to a bunch of characters who felt one-dimensional and we’re shown Lori hooking up with Shane now instead of in a flashback, which makes it seem worse even, plus they blew that reveal).
I actually just finished a list for Topless Robot (which I used to rationalize the purchase of the latest trades) chronicling some of the more screwed-up moments in the comic and wondering if AMC or Frank Darabont would try to use them in the show. There is some really depraved stuff in this book, from the cartoony, but sickening violence of the Governor (he not only assaults women and chops off hands, but also makes out with his zombie daughter and watches zombie heads float in fishtanks for fun). In fact, most of the other survivors they meet are pretty awful people. There’s the trio of hillbilly murderers/child molesters, the lying scientist who’s gotten people killed and the cannibals. Sure there’s a few nice and normal people, plus your concept of normal has to change with this crazy new environment, but it seems mostly bad. The 12th volume ends with the crew gaining entrance to a walled community, but like the characters, I feel like something bad is just around the corner and probably already happened in the released issues. I guess my point in pointing this all out is that it can be kind of sickening reading too much of this in one sitting. Even the supposed good guys are slaughtering and mutilating people they could have just as easily shot in the head. Part of that is the environment the characters find themselves in, but part of it seems to be Kirkman’s fascination with the worst that humanity has to offer which could easily turn a new reader off (which is to say nothing of the actual zombie violence that is fantastically drawn by Adlard). Also, real quick, the whole “people are the real villains” thing in zombie fiction feels old and boring because I’ve seen it so much, but also well thought out because Kirkman seems to have examined how these events would change people and extrapolate from there. On the other hand, those Chilean miners were in a pretty crappy situation and they didn’t start killing and eating each other. Just saying.
But, I don’t want to end on a negative note because, even given all it’s flaws, this is still a book that I read 72 issues of in a week, which says something about it and me. I give credit to Kirkman for going to some of the places he does because they’re definitely not expected. I don’t think anyone thought he’d do to Lori and Judy what he did. It goes to show that he’s not too precious with his characters, but also that, much like it would be in a real zombie apocalypse, anyone can die at any time. One thing that Kirkman wrote in the first volume’s introduction was that he’s not trying to tell a scary story, but a drama examining humans in an extreme situation. While I’m not sure if I entirely buy that (he is damn good at throwing in scares and ratcheting up the tension), it does seem to fit for the most part. While he’s good at the action, horror and suspense, he’s a master of screwing with his characters to see exactly who they are, what they can handle and, ultimately, what will break them. I also really appreciate how the writer handles the stories. Sure everything happens in the current style of six issue arcs that are easy to collect in a trade, but I don’t think I’ve ever read this many issues of a comic that seem so cohesive and flow so well. The trades don’t even have markers between issues (they also don’t reprint the covers, even in the back, which is annoying) and I’ve heard that the larger collections of the series feel the same way, with one issue leading right into the next into the next into the next and on and on. That’s just impressive.