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

THE DEATH OF CAPTAIN AMERICA VOL. 3: THE MAN WHO BOUGHT AMERICA (Marvel)
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.

THE WALKING DEAD VOL. 10: WHAT WE BECOME (Image)
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.