A Review of The Walking Dead, Vol. 27 – Negan Rises, Lucille Falls

TITLE: The Walking Dead, Vol. 27: The Whisperer War
AUTHOR: Robert Kirkman
PENCILLER: Charlie Adlard
COLLECTS: The Walking Dead #157#162
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: Image Comics
PRICE: $14.99
RELEASED:
March 1, 2017

***WARNING: Minor spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The biggest thing I took away from The Whisperer War? That the Saviors were a tough act to follow.

That’s not to say they aren’t interesting in their own way. It’s hard to not be interested in a group that wears zombie flesh and rejects the idea of civilization. But the Whisperers are to The Walking Dead what Bane was to Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies. On his own merits, Bane was pretty damn evil in The Dark Knight Rises. But the Joker left such an impression on you in The Dark Knight that anyone else paled in comparison. Like the Joker, Negan made a very violent, vile, and personal impact on our heroes. But he was also uniquely charming. That’s why in many ways he’s become the star of the book.

More than two years after their war with the Saviors, Rick Grimes and our network of survivors are once again prepared to fight. But this time the enemy is very different, and the heroes have far more resources. But the Whisperers have something at their disposal  that could destroy everything Rick and the survivors have built: An army of the dead.

The most interesting aspect of this series since the time jump in issue #127 has been Negan’s quest for redemption. But we aren’t exactly sure if that’s his true motivation, or if he’s playing some kind of long game. Either way, we’ve gotten to see him from a few different perspectives. First as a prisoner, then an unlikely confidant for Rick, now a sort of comrade-in-arms.

Negan’s famous baseball bat, Lucille, is unexpectedly shattered in this book. It’s actually sad, in a silly sort of way. More endearing is the burial and eulogy he gives it in issue #162. As many of us know, it’s not really about a damn baseball bat. But seeing his personification of it come full circle is a neat little window into his heart.

On the subject of matters of the heart, Maggie has a great character moment. One of the newer characters, Dante, has been crushing on her for quite awhile. In this book he puts his cards on the table, but Maggie says she’ll only ever love Glenn. When he presses her on being alone for the rest of her life, she simply says: “I’m happy when I think of him. I’m not asking you to understand. I don’t care if it doesn’t make sense to you.” I love that. It’s unconventional, and it’s a great moment for fans who miss that relationship.

Artistically, the strongest issue is #162. Penciller Charlie Adlard, inker Stefano Gaudiano, and gray tone artist Cliff Rathburn give us a gorgeous two-page spread of the largest herd of walkers we’ve ever seen (shown right). But I also love the faint smile Adlard draws on Negan when he apologizes to Lucille for naming “a stupid f***ing baseball bat after you.” He also gives Rick a tremendous terrified look when he realizes the big hoard is coming.

The fire sequence in Issue #161 is also particularly strong. After an attack by the Whisperers, the Hilltop is burning. We see Carl nearly die after rushing back into a burning building. And for pure badassery, it’s tough to top Lydia kicking a zombie as the flames roar behind them.

The Walking Dead also shifts to a 16-panel grid for this volume (shown right), giving the book a much more dense feel at times. If you’re not used to seeing this layout, it can take some time to get used to. I once heard Gene Ha say it’s best to read a comic book twice, once for the story, and a second time just to absorb the art. That’s certainly the case here. I can’t imagine how much extra work this creates for Adlard, Gaudiano, and Rathburn. The books don’t suffer for the change, though. That’a a testament to the talent at work here.

I don’t know whether Negan is playing the long game. Be we know one person who is: Robert Kirkman. The Whisperer War is clearly a smaller piece of a larger puzzle he and this crew have been assembling since issue #127. Thus far it’s not quite as thrilling as what’s come before. But you can’t always judge an image until you can see the whole thing.

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A Review of The Walking Dead #163 – The Value of Context

The Walking Dead #163TITLE: The Walking Dead #163
AUTHOR: Robert Kirkman
PENCILLER: Charlie Adlard
PUBLISHER: Image Comics
PRICE: $0.25
RELEASED: February 1, 2017

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.

the-walking-dead #162, two-page spreadWe 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.

the-walking-dead #163, 2017, Charlie AdlardIf 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.

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