Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Review: The Walking Dead 71

Non Spoiler Review:
Once upon a time I came across the Walking Dead trade paperbacks at the advice of a friend, and for a few years I managed to hold out and collected just the trades, nicely sorted by storyline. But the last arc broke me down and converted me into a single issue reader, so here I am, a slave to every month's issue, knowing I can never go back to the bliss of reading a whole chapter from start to finish.

For those unfamiliar with the series, its draw comes from the human drama resulting from a zombie apocalypse. It's a story of these characters dealing with the end of their civilization, and adapting to a world where death, loss and survival has become a simple fact of life.

The nature of the zombie virus is relatively similar to those seen in other books and film, except in this case, even the living are infected, meaning that if one dies a natural death, they will resurrect as the undead unless their brain is destroyed—hence the name Walking Dead.

These are slow-moving zombies, by the way. But that doesn’t mean they’re a push over—herds of thousands of zombies roam the land and can mass in a swarm to overwhelm survivors if they don't take care to stay ahead of them. The undead may be lying motionless in tall grass or abandoned vehicles, ready to reach out and bite an unsuspecting passerby.

The series has entered its second year of continuity for the band of survivors, who have been steadily on the move since the series began, except for all too brief respites which ended horribly. This is a very large cast of characters, and there has been a massive amount of death since the series began. No one is safe, which makes it all the more interesting. Any beloved character can die at the drop of the hat.

While an ensemble cast, the series does focus primarily on former police officer, Rick Grimes, and his young son, Carl. The character of Andrea, who recently lost her partner, is starting to figure more prominently again, as well as the new armed muscle of the group, Abraham. Newlyweds Glen and Maggie, and sword wielding Michonne, remain prominent at the moment, while a host of secondary characters sometimes get lost in the background. If you haven't checked it out, it's worth a look. But on to the review of the latest issue...

Spoilers Now!
As this storyline began, the current group of survivors, lead by Rick and Abraham are making their way to Washington DC, failing to find any government in place. Outside the city they’re recruited by a small settlement that has managed to wall off a safe zone and is living a peaceful existence within their walls.

Of course, at this point, the reader will be thinking that it’s only a matter of time before these seemingly friendly townsfolk reveal their dark Stepford secrets and the lives of our heroes are again in jeopardy. The heroes think the same, and take the necessary precautions and suspicions before ingratiating themselves too deeply into this community. Understandably, they had their own refuge that was destroyed by outside (and internal) forces, they’ve been on the run, and each of them have lost pretty much everyone meaningful in their life.

It’s a testament to how good this series is that the last two issues have been zombie-free and I haven’t even noticed. Action takes place entirely within the walls of Alexandria and plot focuses on introducing new characters and local politics. Rick is made a constable to help with security and the rest get various jobs. There is a bit of infighting within the town already, as everyone seems to be just play acting that things are normal, and Douglas, the leader, makes obscure reference to some nastiness that transpired early on.

The idea of a safe zone is pretty standard for this type of apocalypse fiction. And it usually is never what it seems. Carl immediately sees through the veneer that the traumatized residents are just acting as if life has some semblance of normalcy. Even at the most mundane levels it is not, when none of the characters can pinpoint what the actual date is. Carl has become so numb to the realities of the new world he can't even participate in a Hallowe'en party.

I tend to read Walking Dead in bed before sleep, and it always leaves me with some seriously disturbing stuff to haunt my dreams. I did not see it coming—Rick, clean-shaven after 70 issues and adapting to his new responsibilities as constable, commiserates with Andrea about their new living conditions. Andrea can’t feel safe or even consider that this respite will last for any length of time, given they’ve had to flee every habitat they’ve settled in and lost most of everyone who was traveling with them. Rick smiles, and casually comments that this town has a complete lack of security, without so much as a lookout for trouble. If the townspeople give them any trouble, they’ll just take it from them by force. To be continued.

What Worked:
What a great twist! Since the horror of issue 50, it's been difficult watching the heroes of the book increasingly commit atrocious acts, even against people who seriously deserved it. But at the moment, these townspeople appear to be the weaker, naive ones who can desperately put Rick and companions' skills to good use. But Rick has gone so far off the bend that he doesn’t even have a moral conflict anymore with some of the ideas he's considering.

But of course, as we all know by now and tend to forget, Rick is crazy and talks to his dead wife on the phone he carries around with him. That’s easily overlooked when the situation is normal. The implication that he's snapped and is really out of control amps up the tension for the future of the group. I'm also starting to wonder just who Rick is going to hook up with. At different points I can see him pairing up with either Michonne, whom he shares a psychosis, or even Andrea, both of whom have lost their significant other. It will be interesting to see where this goes.

What Didn’t Work:
I thoroughly enjoyed the slow moving aspects to the storyline. It’s what writer Robert Kirkman does best and allows elements to evolve organically. The only issue I had was sometimes forgetting about some of the secondary characters referred to off panel. With such a large cast (and a lot of them unshaven and unkempt for the artist to render) it can get confusing if too much time passes without a reference to them.

For example, high school teacher Eugene was figuring prominently on the road to Washington, because he was pretending (as we later found out) to know about what caused the plague. But once his deception was outed, he hasn't warranted a speaking part at the moment. Nor does Gabriel and Morgan. But a minor quibble. I’m anxious to see where this will go next.

If you haven't yet checked out The Walking Dead, and want you some zombies, then be sure to check it out.

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