Halloween Scene Trade Post: Walking Dead Volumes 1 Through 12

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.

Halloween Scene: Walking Dead

I started writing this review last night, but between not liking the show very much, the Steelers losing and having a cold, I decided to hold off on finishing my review until I had a clearer head, which is good because I think I’ve got a better handle on why it didn’t work for me. Okay, let’s jump in.

Man, I really wanted to like AMC’s The Walking Dead. It’s got zombies and it’s based on a comic I mostly like. I was skeptical going in, but for reasons other than what ultimately bothered me about this first episode. First off, I was worried that the elements the comic shared with 28 Days Later (namely, the main character waking up in a hospital, not knowing what’s going on with the zombie plague and learning it as they run into fellow survivors) would put potential viewers off. Note, I’m not saying that one ripped the other off (Later came out in 2002, WD premiered in 2003, but who knows when the ideas popped up in the writers’ minds), but it’s the kind of things people notice and assume. When the trailer came out, some of my non-comics reading friends commented on the similarities. That could have possibly been changed to avoid that comparison.

Like most other zombie fans, I was worried that the zombies would look corny and that the zombie attacks would suck. This is TV afterall. That turned out to not be a problem, as the zombies looked good and they went places with the violence that surprised me (shooting the zombie girl in the head, eating the horse guts). What didn’t look good was the show in general. By that I mean, it seemed to lack style. The images just seemed put on screen. Maybe the mental comparisons I’m doing between the show and the comic aren’t fair to television (Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard are rad artists), but it just seemed really flat and, if not boring, unengaging to me.

The last thing that worried me going into the show was that it would just be a straight-up recreation of the comics, but on television. Sometimes I like that, but I’m usually more interested in seeing how other writers will interpret the original material. I’ve said before that my problem with comic writer and WD creator Robert Kirkman’s writing in the comic is that he’s very into telling and not showing. Characters have these huge, overly wordy blocks of text with characters explaining every little aspect of their thought process when the use of a flashback would work just well. He also doesn’t seem to trust his artist to get things across because he makes his characters say things that are obvious thanks to the art. It’s not as bad as Superman thinking everything he’s going to do to stop Toyman in a Silver Age comic, but it can feel like that at times. So, while I was hoping writer/director/showrunner Frank Darabont would springboard off the comics and create some cool synthesis of the two.

Watching the show, though, I found myself wishing Darabont had just stuck to the comic instead of first starting with Rick shooting a little girl zombie and then participating in a conversation with Shane about how Shane’s wife is a bitch for not turning the light off. I’m no expert, but showing your hero shooting a child and talking smack about women (or at least not defending them too much my ear) isn’t the best way to go. In the comic, page one is Rick getting hurt, page two is him waking up in the hospital. It takes a good 15 minutes to get there in the show.

Overall, I think the show could have been a lot tighter from both an editing perspective and a visual one. I don’t think it needed the 90 minutes it took to tell this first story, 60 would have been fine and far more interesting in my opinion. Also, from a visual perspective, I was mostly bored. Though the zombies looked good, the digital gun shots and blood looked shitty. Don’t try to tell me they don’t have enough money for some squibs. George Romero and Tom Savini had better looking gunshot effects 30 years ago. I also thought some of the digital compositing didn’t look so good, especially the scenes in Atlanta (by the way, it’s 2010, I doubt there would be that many newspapers lying all over town, maybe iPads, but not newspapers) like the one in the poster above. I thought about giving it a pass because that couldn’t have been an easy scene to pull off, but when you center your ad campaign on an image that doesn’t look so hot in the finished product, maybe you’re barking up the wrong tree. There were also shots of Rick riding his horse through the city where the cars and army vehicles in the background didn’t look real. I’m not sure if that’s because they were added in digitally or because of the aged and dirty look they were given but it was distracting (and, for whatever it’s worth, I was watching the regular AMC channel and not a digital one, so I’m not sure if that would have made a difference).

I don’t want to be completely negative here. I did think the action with Rick on the horse in Atlanta was pretty damn good. The claustrophobia first of the zombie’s convening on Rick and the poor horse was great and then the ante was raised with him under the tank (though I did think it was a little strange that Rick and the audience didn’t see the hatch in the bottom of the tank sooner). I guess I’ll tune in next week to see what happens, though I’m not super excited about it (they also ruined the mystery of whether Rick’s family was okay, something that worked much better in the comic coming out of nowhere). Part of me wants to just be happy that I’m getting six episodes of a zombie show on basic cable, but the other part of me wants it to actually be interesting. Hopefully both parts will get what they want by the end of the six episodes, but I’m not holding my breath.

Trade Post: Death Of Captain America Vol. 3, Walking Dead Vol. 10 & B.P.R.D. The Warning

Written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Steve Epting, Luke Ross & Roberto De La Torre
Collects Captain America (current volume) #37-42
I’ve mentioned here and there how much I like Captain America, but I don’t think I’ve ever done a review on one of the trades before. Let me say this right off the bat, I think that Ed Brubaker’s Captain America is one of the best ongoing comic books ever written. I haven’t read a lot of Cap comics to compare it to, but I put it up there with some of my favorite runs of all time like Starman, Sandman and Preacher. That he’s been able to keep up such a high quality of story over so many issues, not to mention through several major events that lesser writers let screw up their flow, is ultra impressive. Brubaker’s Civil War tie-in issues are, in my opinion, better written and more logical than anything else wearing that banner. You can trust me on that one, I had to read it all while working at Wizard for an online column called Civil War Room (I’d link to it, but I think all that stuff is gone now).

I guess I should actually talk about this volume now, which I got for Christmas along with the second and third Immortal Iron Fist trades. What you have here is the second trade featuring Bucky as Captain America. We’re knee deep in the Red Skull’s plan to get his very own president and birth a new Steve Rogers thanks to his captive’s pregnancy (that would be Cap’s girl Sharon Carter). Bucky and Falcon team up and Bucky takes on the Cap from the 50s who thinks he’s Cap and is being manipulated by the Skull and Dr. Faustus. It’s kind of a hard volume to explain without spoiling everything that’s come before and after, but this book is integral for understanding the Skull’s plan and features Bucky Cap’s first real dent in those plans. Don’t bother starting with this trade (that should seem pretty obvious as it’s the eighth in the series), just do yourself a favor and get the first trade or catch up since whenever you left off because, next to Green Lantern, this is the best ongoing comic coming out right now.

I also want to mention the art, specifically that of Steve Epting. I love his simple, but elegant style. All the figures have this amazing presence on the page that is only added to thanks to the inking and coloring. I really wish they would have gone to him for Captain America: Reborn instead of Bryan Hitch. I have never understood Hitch’s appeal and really dislike his art. Plus, I feel like Epting is just a better artist all around and should have gotten the chance to draw Steve’s return. Not that it really matters because the ending has been spoiled already. Ah well, moving on.

Written by Robert Kirkman, drawn by Charlie Adlard
Collects Walking Dead #55-60
I’ve had a lot to say about Walking Dead to pretty much anyone who will listen. I have problems with some of Kirkman’s writing ticks, like how he always tells instead of shows, but this 10th volume didn’t fall into a lot of those traps, thankfully. In fact, I think this is one of the better Walking Dead trades all around. Again, the tenth volume of any comic isn’t a good place to start, but as someone who’s read most of the issues, I think it’s one of the better ones. I don’t want to spoil too much, but this one picks up right after a pretty huge tragedy in Rick’s life and he’s going a little crazy. By this point, Rick and his fellow followers have teamed up with a trio of people trying to head to Washington, D.C. in order to get in with what’s left of the government. There’s a scientist, a crazy military guy and a girl who’s in love with him. We learn more about the military guy in this issue while he, Rick and Rick’s son Carl head back to a house that Rick stopped off at on his way to find his family early in the series. It’s a pretty cool callback to a character I’m sure most people figured would never be seen again. There’s also a ton of action as this trio-turned-quartet try to outrun a horde of zombies who are all after them (we’re talking hundreds of biters). All that mixed with a fair dose of drama from some of Rick’s people (including an attempted suicide and a faction wanting to break off on their own) make for one of the more fulfilling arcs in the book’s impressive run. Oh, and, to be fair, there’s a story that the military dude tells that I’m glad didn’t have a visual flashback, it would have been ultra creepy, sad and depressing.

B.P.R.D. VOL. 10: THE WARNING (Dark Horse)
Written by Mike Mignola & John Arcudi, drawn by Guy Davis
Collects B.P.R.D.: The Warning #1-5, “Out Of Reach” from Hellboy Free Comic Book Day 2008
Haha, I just realized that all three books I’m reviewing are pretty terrible jumping-on points for potential new readers. The best I can tell you is that, these series’ are all so good, that I’ve followed them this long, going so far as to buy the trades (or finagle them whenever possible). I remember reading issues of The Warning while still at Wizard and having no freaking clue how one issue tied into the last. Part of that comes from reading upwards of 20 comics a week and part of it comes from the fast and furious approach that Mignola and Arcudi took with this trade. A lot goes on that has to do with the ever-growing war on frogs and other evil things growing in both B.P.R.D. and Hellboy miniseries’. We find out more about the mysterious Panya and Gilfryd, witness a full-on destruction of Johann Kraus’s hometown thanks to giant monster robot things built by trolls or some such and a fight between one big monster and another one being manipulated by Kraus. This trade really has everything that makes B.P.R.D. awesome, big crazy monster stuff, interpersonal character development, the progression of a gigantic storyline and great action scenes. And, you could actually do a lot worse than starting with this or any other random B.P.R.D. book. If B.P.R.D. was an ongoing, it would also be on my list of the greatest ongoing comics. Actually, I wish more companies would take this route for books that might not do as well as ongoings. I also wish they’d take a cue from Dark Horse and include the level of extras that Dark Horse does. Almost every volume has an intro by Mignola or Arcudi as well as a sketchbook in the back with designs from Mignola and whatever artist is working on it. All the Cap trade has is a “Previously In…” paragraph on the inside front cover and Walking Dead doesn’t even have the covers. And don’t worry, the next Trade Post will have more books that anyone can just pick up.