Note: This retrospect covers the first 150 issues of The Walking Dead. I will not be giving up any explicit spoilers, but some of the links lead to them. So don’t get all click happy if you haven’t read the series yet.
Unless you’ve been living in an underground fallout shelter in the middle of nowhere (Montana, maybe?), you know The Walking Dead has become a cultural phenomenon that has wormed its way into the cultural zeitgeist like a tick in a deer’s ass.
This is mostly due to the hugely popular AMC television adaptation. But (and yes, I’m about to sound like a comic geek hipster, so please don’t close this page just yet) some of us have adored the source material for the better part of a decade, long before that first episode aired on Halloween in 2010, which makes it hard to discuss the comic series without the shadow of the show looming over any opinion us elite comic dorks might have on the show’s roots like a doomsday eclipse (too much?).
I remember sometime in 2004, a buddy of mine told me about a cool little black and white zombie comic he was reading and passed along the first trade paperback. After reading it, I scooped up the current issues until I was up to date and continued to buy The Walking Dead on a monthly basis for nearly five years. I used to keep a stack of back issues on my toilet tank. Friends and family members would spend a copious amount of time in my bathroom reading through them, long after they conducted their business (that would be pooping, by the way).
The series was all the rage in my circle of friends and we felt like the cool kids (or at least as cool as a pack of comic nerds could be) among out uninitiated fellow comic readers.
“Oh, you haven’t read this?” we’d scoff as we slapped a stack of (hopefully poop-free) singles in front of them. “For shame!”
This went on for some time…until the comic began to spin its wheels. Shortly after the whole “Battle of Woodbury” story arc, I fell out of the series like an epileptic baby in a crib without guardrails.
It wasn’t until several trade paper backs later, that a co-worker of mine discovered the book and asked if it was any good. I told them it was, at least the first 50 some issues or so were, but I had no idea if the series picked itself up by the zombie skull-crushing boot straps. It turned out the series had. It got good again. Like really fucking good. And about twenty issues later, it began to lose steam…until it got good again.
And that’s the deal with The Walking Dead (and with most monthly comics). There are lulls, and at times they feel like bottomless pits of boredom that make you wonder why you ever enjoyed reading the title in the first place. But unlike most ongoing monthly books, the TWD has zero supplemental material to tide you over until your flagship book gets its shit together.
**Guess I have to deal with this shit for a bit.**
I mean, you can read Detective Comics until it gets shitty, and then easily jump ship to one of the other ten Batman comics on the newsstands and find one that’s worth a damn. TWD doesn’t afford the same luxury. If the comic isn’t good, tough shit. You have to deal with it if you want to know what happens next. You have to deal with characters talking in circles and spitting monologues that are so tiresome you wonder if they weren’t the regurgitated rally cry of a long dead character from years before. You have to deal with the artwork becoming repetitive and the story beats growing benign and cheaply punctuated with character deaths.
There is nowhere to hide from The Walking Dead when things take a nosedive. Shit, even the TV show has Fear of The Walking Dead as a companion piece.
**There are no tigers in either show, though…so, I guess the comic still has the upper hand.**
There is good news, however. That aforementioned nosedive does not occur too frequently when you consume the series in large chunks. The trade paperbacks, which come out twice a year, do not have issue breaks and read like single chapters of a larger piece. This works to the series’ benefit. We’ve all read novels where things slow down for a chapter (or several chapters if you’re George R.R. Martin – Fuck A Feast for Crows) and most of us can power through until the next.
I’ve read the first 150 issues of TWD and two thirds of them have been in graphic novel form. I can’t image buying this book month-to-month (but honestly, I don’t buy any comics month-to-month outside of the occasional mini-series & Heavy Metal Magazine).
Now as far as story goes, it’s often difficult to tell where creators Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard (and I guess Tony Moore in the first six issues) are going with things, but they always find their way to something interesting and often times shocking. Now, these things don’t always work. In fact, there have been shocking twists and deaths that have left a bad taste in my mouth (ref: the death of REDACTED from issues 100). It’s not that I have a weak stomach for excessive violence. Hell, I think this may be the only book where I kind of chuckled when an infant gets blasted with a shotgun (I know, I know, but go look at that page again; you know you don’t have anything invested in that baby or the person holding it so get off your high horse).
Even with all its shortcoming The Walking Dead is never godawful, and it’s usually enjoyable and even occasionally brilliant.
Kirkman might be a genius for crafting this thing so well. He’s made a soapy drama about the zombie apocalypse and it sells well every month. I don’t know of any other comic book that sells trade paperbacks in Wal-Mart or Target. I’m sure most of that has to do with capitalizing on the success of the television show, but shit, man it works. Kirkman and Co. have television-watchers and comic-readers eating out of the palm of his hand and now those two factions are cross pollinating.
Look, go read The Walking Dead. You can actually buy compendiums that collect the series in 48 issue chunks. And trust me, that first chunk is awesome. The second, not so much, and the third gets back to form.
**Hey! New people!**
Many of the characters are likeable. Our hero of the book, Rick Grimes, gets put through the wringer so often, you wonder if the shred of humanity he still holds on to is even legit. The supporting cast is very hit or miss. There are some characters who seem like they get killed because Kirkman doesn’t know what to do with them, which is unfortunate. But there are other characters, who are snuffed out, that make the book devastating and actually add gravity to an already dire situation (I’m looking at you, REDACTED my sweet, sweet prince).
But when it comes to problems with characters, my biggest complaint might be with the villains. The series has really only produced three honest to god villains, and just one of them has been truly fascinating. Yes, I’m talking about Negan. And before anyone gets their panties in a twist, I like Alpha and the Governor just fine, but Negan is the closest thing we have to a filthy mirror version of Rick. Also, he’s super charismatic.
According to the creators, we’re about halfway through this series. That’s both a relief and a disappointment. If they would have said we were 50 issues away from the end, I’d be doing back flips (I can’t do a back flip, BTW).
I don’t know what Kirkman has in store for us. He says there are tons of big things on the horizon, but he’s said that before and has delivered a mixed bag. But I’ll call his bluff. I’ll keep reading. And so should you.
Mid-term Grade: B
*Footnote: All images are property of Image Comics.