A Review of The Walking Dead, Vol. 28 – Time’s Up

TITLE: The Walking Dead, Vol. 28: A Certain Doom
AUTHOR: Robert Kirkman
PENCILLER: Charlie Adlard
COLLECTS: The Walking Dead #173#178
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: Image Comics
PRICE: $16.99
RELEASED: 
September 27, 2017

***WARNING: MAJOR spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

When you get right down to it, we’re really just waiting for all of these characters to die.

Consider the horrible things that happen to people in The Walking Dead. It’s not at all uncommon to see human beings ripped apart, disemboweled, and eaten alive. And that’s just by the zombies. Now look at everything the characters do to each other. They go to war with one another, cut each other up, bash each other’s brains in, and all manner of grotesque things. That’s the world they live in. Nobody in The Walking Dead dies of old age. Everyone in these stories is on a ticking clock.

In this volume, a major character’s time runs out. And it’s handled unconventionally, at least by Walking Dead standards.

When we open the book, the people of Alexandria are about to face the biggest zombie hoard of their lives. As the survivors rush into action, Rick and Negan struggle to survive amidst the undead. All the while, a group within the extended network of communities is preparing to rebel against Rick’s leadership. A group with a familiar name…

Let’s jump right in: This is the book where Andrea dies. Issue #165 ends with the discovery that she was bitten while helping fend off the giant hoard. Rick discovers what happened at the end of issue #166, and issue #167 is devoted entirely to her death.

We almost crack the fourth wall in #165. On the very first page, Negan is fighting off zombies, and says: “It’s funny how they keep trying to bite you, isn’t it? I mean, who’s getting bit these days–after knowing the rules this long?” And on the very last page? Andrea with a bite mark on her neck. I can’t decide whether Negan or Kirkman is the bigger jerk…

Kirkman seemed unexpectedly emotional about Andrea’s death, even including a personal message in lieu of a letters section in issue #167. He literally apologizes for killing Andrea, apparently anticipating how hard it would be for his more loyal readers. The message struck me as strange, and almost self celebratory to do that immediately after the story in question. The issue spoke for itself. The idea is that even after once again losing a woman he loves, Rick must continue on and draw strength from those around him.

Then again, Kirkman wasn’t wrong about the reaction. This story and this world can bring out a lot of emotion in its audience, and evidently its creator as well. Plus, it’s not like the message hampers the content itself. I just wouldn’t make a habit out of it.

Andrea is one of the few characters in The Walking Dead to die peacefully. Other longstanding characters like Glenn and Lori had their lives violently ripped away. But with Andrea, both the readers and the characters know it’s coming, and they’re left to agonize over it. My favorite page in the entire volume is a 16-panel montage of Andrea being visited by various characters, each saying goodbye in their own fashion. It’s a very honest way to look at a death. It’s simple, but extremely effective.

As one might expect, Rick can’t bring himself to put Andrea down so that she doesn’t become a zombie. Ergo, we get a scuffle between Rick and a zombified Andrea. An awkward physical transition and some repetitive dialogue notwithstanding, it’s a pretty good scene, centered around Rick’s inner turmoil over whether he can bear the battle any longer. Very empathetic, given everything we’ve seen.

This book also takes us a few more steps toward Negan’s redemption, as he and Rick are forced to fight side by side against the hoard. Negan even saves his life at one point, and subsequently opens up about what happened to his wife, Lucille.

The Negan redemption arc has been the most interesting thing about the series for awhile now. What makes it work so well is that Negan is an admitted psychopath. So while it seems like he’s come along way since we first met him, it’s not far fetched that this could all end up being a giant ruse. And with Andrea now gone, Rick is about to be extremely vulnerable. Seems like a hell of a good time to spring a trap. I’m not betting on a swerve turn, however. Negan trying to be a good guy is a lot more interesting than Negan reverting to his old ways.

Artistically, the book is strongest in issue #167, as that’s where the strongest subject matter is. Penciller Charlie Adlard, inker Stefano Gaudiano, and grayscale artist Cliff Rathburn turn in some absolutely beautiful imagery. There’s almost too much to mention. Virtually everything during Rick and Andrea’s final scene is awesome. The character acting is emotional and on point, particularly from Rick. There’s an absolutely gorgeous two-page spread of Rick at Andrea’s bedside during her dying moments. The tragic tenderness of that moment, coupled with how visually shaken Rick is, make Andrea’s transformation into a zombie that much more horrific. The scuffle itself isn’t perfect, but the turn itself is.

The talk between Negan and Rick in issue #164 is also artistically notable, as it’s the most vulnerable we’ve ever seen Negan be in front of another person. It’s one of the few moments in the entire series where we can tell he’s being honest. We don’t just get that from his dialogue. It’s also in his eyes, how he’s positioned in certain panels, the lighting/shading in the scene. It’s human connection, and it’s a pivotal scene in the relationship between these two characters. Now it’s just a question of how real it was on Negan’s end…

While they don’t have Negan with them any longer, the Saviors reassert themselves in this volume. It’s not remotely on the same scale as before. But it’s mildly compelling, and an alright source of tension. It takes something of a bizarre turn in issue #166, when Rick accidentally kills their new leader Sherry. During a physical confrontation, she gets pushed into a table at an awkward angle and her neck snaps. The Walking Dead isn’t exactly known for its unconvincing death sequences. But I didn’t buy this one. The physicality of it was strange. Oddly enough, it’s similar to the awkward transition we see in issue #167. Both involve an attacker being on top of Rick, and then being pushed backward. Perhaps we’ve finally found something in this series Charlie Adlard doesn’t draw perfectly.

Obviously, The Walking Dead is in no danger of…well, death. The series seems as healthy as it’s ever been. But from a creative standpoint, I often wonder about story patterns we see in the book, and whether a paradigm shift is in order.

I refer specifically to the use of big bad villains leading big bad groups to terrorize Rick and our heroes. We’ve had the Governor, we’ve had Negan, and to a lesser extent we’ve had the Whisperers. But Negan, the Saviors, and the All Out War storyline have been such a tough act to follow. It’s virtually exhausted the villain formula. Even when the Whisperers put a bunch of heads on pikes, it seemed to pale in comparison to the violent bullying we saw from the Saviors. And if we’re not fighting bad guys, we’re fighting zombies, which are essentially an environmental hazard at this point.

The book’s saving grace is that we still care about the characters, specifically the ones that have been with us a long time. Rick, Carl, Michonne, Negan, and Eugene all come to mind. But have we reached the point where we can’t break any new ground with them? In the long run, how healthy is a series where readers are just waiting for the clock to run out on the characters they love? What can be done to give The Walking Dead a creative jolt?

I don’t have the answer. I just hope Robert Kirkman does

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A Review of The Walking Dead #167 – Andrea’s Fate

TITLE: The Walking Dead #167
AUTHOR: Robert Kirkman
PENCILLER: Charlie Adlard
PUBLISHER: Image Comics
PRICE: $2.99
RELEASED: May 3, 2017

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

There’s always been a direct correlation between the quality of a Walking Dead story, and how real and relatable things feel. That’s what’s made this story different from typical zombie lore. We’ve had so much time with these characters, and seen them to do much more than run from zombies. The world they live in is obviously a fantasy. But we’ve seen them grow and change like real people.

That’s what makes issue #167 so impactful. To a certain extent, it feels like a real person has died. Furthering that point, it’s handled in a very raw and emotional fashion. This is unquestionably one of the best issues of the entire series. Maybe the best.

Andrea has been bitten. After having been with her for so long, Rick must once again say goodbye to a woman he loves. But can he bring himself to continue on without her? And how does her death impact Carl, Negan, Michonne, and the rest of the survivors? Especially now that the Saviors may once again be a threat…

I’ve never been any good at saying goodbye. Maybe that’s why this issue resonated so much with me. This is essentially one big goodbye to Andrea. They even forego the letters column this month, replacing it with a message from Kirkman about the character. It all may seem a little self-important. But The Walking Dead has such a passionate and devoted fanbase, that you can actually see the some of the reasoning behind it. Andrea has been part of the series since it’s second issue. She was one of the “originals.” So her death means that much more.

My favorite page in the issue is on a 16-panel grid, where we see major and minor characters alike pay their respects to Andrea. Each gets one panel. There’s a striking honesty on this page. You have some of the obvious, “we love you” and “if it hadn’t been for you” type stuff. But Heath, for instance, says: “We never talked much. I’m sorry for that. I’m not the best at making friends.” Carl’s love interest Lydia says, “I don’t think you like me, but…I’m not going to hurt Carl.” Then you have Negan, who puts his own little spin on a goodbye. And that’s not even taking the artistic quality of the page into account. It’s fantastic work by Kirkman, Adlard, and the entire team.

Kirkman uses Andrea’s death to talk about the human condition a little more directly. When talking with Carl about his relationship with Lydia, she tells him “People like to think there are people out there they’re meant to be with” but that “Anybody can love anyone if they want to.” He’s essentially trying to debunk the idea of soulmates, and asserting the notion that people make their own destinies. One might read that as Kirkman getting on his high horse. I suppose that’s true. But it’s his book, after all…

As one might imagine, much of the issue is spent with Rick and Andrea alone. He sits at her bedside in her final hours. It’s good stuff, but we get some odd repetition. Rick breaks down, talking about how he can’t go on, can’t stay strong, etc. In her last big monologue, Andrea tells Rick that he must continue, and how he’s made everyone else stronger. Then a few pages later, after Andrea has passed, Rick doubts himself out loud again. As he did just a few pages earlier, he says he “can’t do this anymore,” and that he just killed a woman a matter of hours ago. (It happened last issue. Long story.) The only real difference is that Andrea is dead in the latter scene. It’s a big difference of course, and Andrea’s monologue has all the appropriate power. I just wonder why the choice was made to have Rick repeat himself. In between those stretches of dialogue, we get four whole pages of silence, simply letting the art show us the final moments of Andrea’s life. I wonder if it would have been better to maintain that silence.

Charlie Adlard, inker Stefano Gaudiano, and gray tone artist Cliff Rathburn work their usual magic here. I almost hate to use that term, as it seemingly lessens the gravity of what they’ve been able to accomplish on this series. Adlard and Rathburn have been with the series since its early days. So it’s always gratifying to see them there when a long-standing character leaves the book.

There are a good amount of splash pages and two-page spreads in this issue. There’s a two-page shot of Rick at Andrea’s bedside that’s tremendous. There are a lot of deep black in the room, yet we get the sunlight coming in through the window. This is also a great showcase for Adlard’s character “acting” skills. He’s become absolutely amazing with the subtleties in human facial expression. Case in point, the splash page of Rick’s face after Andrea is gone once and for all, and the impact of what’s just happened finally sets in. Then you have the panel below, where Andrea has died, and Rick has to prevent her from turning…

Despite Andrea’s death, this issue is really about two things: Perseverance and hope. This is the most painful and most personal blow Rick has faced since he lost his wife and baby. But the issue ends not with more grief, but with an eye toward the future. The Walking Dead isn’t necessarily a series that’s known for it’s optimism. So often this world prompts its character to act on their darkest and most disturbed impulses. Going the other way was smart, given the emotional impact of what we’re seeing. It’s part of what makes this a landmark issue for the series.

One of the things Kirkman does very well with The Walking Dead is create a certain legacy for characters that have died. The deaths of characters like Glenn, Lori, and Herschel are still being felt in the series today. So as we move forward, the question becomes: What will Andrea’s legacy be?

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A Review of The Walking Dead, Vol. 16 – Jesus and Zombies

The Walking Dead, Vol. 16: A Larger WorldTITLE: The Walking Dead, Vol. 16: A Larger World
AUTHOR: Robert Kirkman
PENCILLER: Charlie Adlard
COLLECTS: The Walking Dead #91-96
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: Image Comics
PRICE: $14.99
RELEASED: June 13, 2012

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

It never quite goes the way they want it to, does it?

Oh sure, the characters we see in Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard’s The Walking Dead do have their moments of triumph, no matter how brief they are. But they’re almost always followed by horrendous, bloody tragedy. That’s the way the pattern works in this book. Brief triumph, tremendous tragedy. Such is the way of things in a world infested with the undead.

In A Larger World, Rick and the rest of our heroes meet a man named Paul Monroe, whose nickname is Jesus. He tells them he’s part of a network of communities that trade goods, and that they’re welcome to join. Rick doesn’t buy it, and ends up taking him hostage. Now, as Rick continues to explore the nature of his relationship with Andrea, Carl struggles with his new facial disfigurement, and the group faces the reality that they’ll soon be running out of food; Jesus’ claims will be tested. And, as is par for the course in The Walking Dead, blood will be spilled.

The Walking Dead #91, JesusOne of the keys to The Walking Dead‘s popularity and endurance is the fact that at its core, the stories usually aren’t about zombies. They’re about human beings, the choices we make when life tests us, and the people we become as a result. Robert Kirkman deserves a lot of credit for being able to create stories that have such raw emotion and humanity without always having to have to play the zombie gore card. This book is as good an example of that as any of the other Walking Dead trades.

One of the themes in A Larger World is the human need for things like compassion, camaraderie, companionship, trust and love. With all that’s happened to him, Rick rejects so much of it. Obviously that’s on display with the Jesus and the community storyline, but we also see it with Rick and Andrea. Andrea reaches out to Rick, trying to show him love and affection. But he turns her away, not wanting to risk losing her too. We see Eugene reaching out to Holly in the same way. But like Rick, she’s not interested. There’s also a great little scene where Michonne matter-of-factly talks to Abraham about how lonely she is. When you pull back and look at the story as a single book, as opposed to individual comic books, you really start to see how the different story beats play into the larger theme.

I’ve always said The Walking Dead is better consumed in graphic novel form as opposed to single issues. Depending on what’s happening in the story at the time, the individual issues can be rather dull when you open them cold. It has nothing to do with how Kirkman and Adlard pace the stories. It’s more about how large portions of the stories are often made up of a lot of different characters just standing around talking. That’s perfectly fine. But when you’re taking the story in chunks on a monthly basis, it can sometimes be difficult to give that kind of book the attention or appreciation it deserves until you get to go back and read all the issues in sequence. If this book has one major flaw, it’s that.

The Walking Dead #96, Rick Grimes, Charlie AdlardWhat’s interesting about the Jesus character, is that he seems to legitimately have good intentions. But history has trained Rick and his crew not to trust anyone. Like the characters, we want to trust this new person, but we’re understandably cautious. Kirkman and Adlard do a nice job of keeping that question hanging in the air as we turn the pages. As readers, as have as much a reason to be cautious as the characters do, if not more. Because by now we know how the cycle works. We know tragedy is coming. We don’t know when, where, how, or to whom. But it’s coming…

Anyone else looking forward to The Walking Dead #100?

RATING: 8/10

Image 1 from dailydead.com. Image 2 from comicbook.com.

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