By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder
With its 25-cent price tag, The Walking Dead #163 is theoretically a jumping-on point for new readers. Given what a global phenomenon it’s become, it’s almost hard to imagine The Walking Dead needing new readers. But if you’re someone who strictly reads the trades, only picks it up here and there, or are indeed among the uninitiated, the Undead Express has stopped and opened its doors for you.
In the spirit of new readers, the plot is pretty straightforward: A bunch of zombies are headed toward Alexandria. As in, thousands upon thousands of zombies. Literally the biggest hoard we’ve ever seen in the pages of TWD. Andrea takes a group on horseback to try and divert some of the hoard away. But Rick, Negan, and the people of Alexandria cannot escape the inevitable. Alexandria is about to be flooded by an ocean of the dead.
We learned about this giant hoard last month in The Walking Dead #162. The revelation came with one of the best spreads penciller Charlie Adlard has ever done (shown right). With aid from inker Stefano Gaudiano, and gray tone artist Cliff Rathburn, he gives us an image of a seemingly endless sea of walkers. And of course, you have that one looking out at the reader, which gives it a tremendous punch.
We don’t have an image like that in this issue. One that demonstrates the immense magnitude of the threat our heroes are facing. We see big groups of zombies, and we see the ginormous hoard from a distance. But there’s nothing like this, where we can really see how massive and all-encompassing the threat is.
I’m not greedy enough to expect Adlard and the artistic team to produce a two-page spread of this quality in back-to-back issues. However, issue #163 is not only the most widely printed in the book’s history (as editor Sean Mackiewicz notes in the letters section), but comes at an almost irresistible price. So if I have the choice of putting that spread in this issue or the one immediately before it, I’m putting it here. For readers who didn’t pick up issue #162 it would offer valuable context, along with a great taste of Adlard’s brilliance.
If there was ever an issue to up that zombie gore factor, it’s this one. What we get on that front is decent. There’s lots of crushing and squishing going on. Zombies being cut apart as they’re pushed through Alexandria’s front gate (shown left), bodies being impaled on spikes, zombies walking over each other, etc. It’s good stuff, but without that context of just how big the threat is, it’s lacking something. That extra fear isn’t there.
Rick’s relationship with Negan has been one of the focal points of the series in the last few years. What does Negan have to do to earn his trust? Can he earn his trust? Can he ever be forgiven or redeemed? In this issue, he gets to flat out ask Rick about that after saving his life. This comes moments after Rick calls the other survivors to follow Negan’s lead in going on the defensive against the walkers. What kind of personal hostilities would Rick open up with Maggie if he forgave the man who killed her husband? As it stands, things aren’t exactly peachy between Alexandria and the Hilltop.
Michonne has a tremendous character moment here. After trying in vain to divert some of the zombies away from the main group, she jumps off her horse and simply starts cutting them down one at a time. She and Jesus then opt to take turns. Every little bit helps, and based on the solicitations for upcoming issues, Rick and his crew are going to need all the help they can get. Not just from zombies, but from those they thought were their allies. Allegiances are about to change.
I’m curious to see how many new readers jump in with this issue. They didn’t necessarily structure it to be noob-friendly. It was essentially business as usual. But when it comes to The Walking Dead, business is booming. So it wouldn’t surprise me to see them sink their teeth into a few new readers.
Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter @PrimaryIgnition, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.