Psst… If you came here looking for a review of the AMC TV show premier, that article is over here. Read it now!
I remember hearing all the hype back in 2003 when Image started publising The Walking Dead but people were shocked when I would tell them that I wasn’t really feeling it. I checked out the first issue and it immediately broke some rules that I thought were inexcusable. “But you like zombies!” They would shout. However, this is, in fact, a gross inaccuracy. You see, everyone thinks that just because I’m a horror fan and I run a website where the bulk of the writing is dedicated to the genre that I am automatically a drooling zombie fanboy because they happen to be the monster of the moment.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ll watch a zombie movie and some of them occupy my favorite movies list but the zombie thing is so saturated in cut-rate product that over the years I’ve come to be disillusioned with the whole thing. I just don’t care. 99% of zombie movies, comics, games and fiction miss the point. Sure, they all point back to Dawn of the Dead and paint a huge red bulls eye on it whenever someone asks them to name names when it comes to inspiration but if this is true, how come the bulk of the movie is people killing zombies? Why is everyone automatically a sharp shooter? How come no one ever seems to run out of bullets? Clearly not many people think this scenario through and unfortunately, I have. Lucky for me, I came to my senses and picked up on The Walking Dead courtesy of Johnny Raygun creator, Rich Woodall. What I discovered in those black and white pages was that series creator, Robert Kirkman had thought about it as much if not more than I had.
The Walking Dead begins as Rick Grimes wakes up in a hospital bed to discover that while he was out, the world had gone to shit. Order seems to have completely collapsed and there are zombies all over the god damn place. It’s very similar to 28 Days Later, Day of the Triffids and that whole Resident Evil business and was one of the reasons that I just couldn’t get down with it. It’s very convenient to just throw your character into the middle of this and was way too familiar for me. I was immediately given the impression that this was another lazy fanboy comic cashing in on the recent craze, but I was wrong. I hadn’t really come around to Robert Kirkman by this point but I would shortly fall in with his other awesome book, Invincible, which is about the only superhero book I can tolerate these days. The story, which reunites Rick with his wife and son as well as a host of other survivors, evolves into a very sophisticated horror series taking the cast from a nomadic life in a cramped RV to the relative security of living in a prison and beyond. Fans of the Romero zombie cycle should be familiar with his setting since it follows the same principles and even goes so far as to borrow some familiar scenarios. The prison setting and its resolutions bears a lot in common with Dawn of the Dead.
Kirkman writes fearlessly, axing characters when he feels that the story needs the emotional impact of major character deaths. But what he also gets right, where other zombie writers fail miserably, he makes the story about the human drama rather than an action book about killing monsters. What makes George Romero’s zombie flicks so effective and dramatic is that the movies are hardly about zombies! Sure, there’s a shitload of them, but they’re set dressing, a looming threat. The real monsters are often the living. Kirkman looks at the bigger picture and with an ongoing series rather than a 90 minute movie he is able to paint a picture of a situation that worsens gradually with each issue. Zombies frequently thin the herd of his sometimes overwhelming cast of characters but the real problem is often the cast’s own instability and depression stemming from living in a world where there is no hope at all.
And that’s the book’s biggest problem. The Walking Dead is a relentless bummer. It never lets up. Just when you think that things couldn’t possibly get any worse for the survivors, they do, often in heart wrenching ways. Yet, I continue to read.
The Walking Dead, though a tremendously depressing portrayal of the end of the world has the balls to abandon hope. I fully realize that the end of the road for these people is going to be death and that one of these days, Kirkman is going to feel as though his story has been told but I can’t stop. It is so desperately bleak and reading every issue is like watching these people twist in the wind but I cannot put it down. There’s something about the human spirit and the will to survive in the face of certain defeat that I find so deeply thrilling. Because of this, I have given this zombie apocalypse deal way more consideration that I probably should. To the point, in fact, that it really isn’t much fun to think about any more. If you ask any jackass out there what they would do in this situation they’re all going to tell you the same thing. “I’d get some guns, yo, and then I’d hole up at Walmart and wait for all of this to blow over.” Do you have guns already? Do you know how to use one? How many bullets do you have? You know, a lot of other people are going to try and get some weapons, too. You’re going to run out of ammo, eventually. Faster if you don’t really know how to shoot. If you don’t already have guns handy, the likelihood of finding them is going to be slim. The reality of this situation is that you’re going to wind up dead sooner than you think. Kirkman considers all these factors, then he adds the element of unstable personalities, weakening mental states and the constitutional effect of undilluted despair. His vision of the end of the world at the hands of shambling mobs is probably the closest you’ll ever get short of an actual zombie outbreak and it is one hell of a compelling read.
It’s alarming to me that with the current popularity of comics to movies adaptations why cable hasn’t yet picked up on The Walking Dead for a cable series. Comics are finally being taken seriously in Hollywood and are getting the respect that they deserve in the form of Watchmen and The Dark Knight. I’m told that FX is currently developing the killer series, Powers, into an ongoing TV series. Why not The Walking Dead? All it would take is HBO or Showtime to step up to the plate. The characters are well developed and the dialog is strong enough to go to television without the usual revisions and creative liberties often taken with comics to fit the time constraints of a feature film.
Though Charlie Adlard is the ongoing series artist and has been since issue #7 (the series is nearing issue #60) I prefer the detailed, thin-line pencils of original series artist Tony Moore. Moore’s art was detailed and suitably nasty for the setting. Zombie decay was often illustrated with sickening detail. But this isn’t to dismiss the capable pencils of Charlie Adlard who has come to be the definitive Walking Dead artist. His art lacks the sharp look of Moore’s art, but his body destruction is horror movie grade illustration with gunshots often reducing zombies and humans to hamburger.
The Walking Dead may be a huge bummer, sometimes prompting you to consider abandoning it in the face of unwavering despair (the final pages of issue #48 nearly had me give it up for good) but fans of horror comics, zombies and good comics, in general will find one of the most rewarding comic serieses they’re likely to find. I’ve been a comic fan for 21 years now and easily rank The Walking Dead among some of my favorite books of all time.