[4 December 2013]
The first really successful comicbook about zombies spawned the first really successful TV show about zombies. Or is The Walking Dead the first and only one dedicated to the undead apocalypse? With many of the same people involved in both projects, there is a great deal of source accuracy in the TV show, which is admirable in the eyes of readers of the gridded page. Robert Kirkman, the creator and writer of the comicbook serves as not only the executive producer of the series, but has also written (or co-written) at least one episode of each season to date, including “Isolation”, the episode that aired right before Halloween of 2013.
Still, there is a big difference between the book and the show, from the events themselves to the unrated language and brutality that permeates every issue of the comicbook. That’s not to say that The Walking Dead is any kind of a tame show, but taking one look at, for example, the story thread of the Governor and a serious difference in the level of violence, cruelty and revenge is seen.
As of the 116th issue of the comicbook series, however, the characters of The Walking Dead are now engaged in all-out war. The Governor is a distant memory for Rick Grimes and his people, but someone (as a friend of mine described him) “ten times worse” than the Governor has filled that arch-villain gap with skull-cracking ease.
Negan is the leather-clad leader of the Saviors, who wields a barbwire-wrapped baseball bat as his main weapon (creepily, he affectionately calls it “Lucille”) and runs what amounts to a protection racket against other survivors’ camps. Santa Claus, Negan is not. Actually, he’d probably have to join a monastery for the next forty years to only be considered to be as bad as Jabba the Hutt or Tony Soprano. Negan also has shown an almost impossible level of preparedness against both the zombie hordes and the human threats, up to and including gleefully putting Rick in his place with every sign of resistance Rick’s camp can offer.
This leads, of course, to the carefully planned out attack by Rick and a large number of his people, who arrived in #115 en masse. Rick’s ultimatum is for Negan and his close cabal to surrender and none of the remainder of the Saviors will be harmed. Of course, Negan’s group is easily prepared for this attack as well, right? As The Walking Dead #116 kicks off, Negan’s surprise trump cards are put up against Rick’s aces in the hole and, let me tell you, both hands are something to see.
The skilled pencils of Charlie Adlard (with inks by Stefano Gaudiano and grey tones by Cliff Rathburn) show modern-cum-post-apocalyptic version of a castle under siege as the survivors’ army surrounds the Saviors’ factory. Kirkman’s dialogue pops during this standoff, showing the pissing contest Rick has challenged Negan to is leading to new revelations on both sides. Rick has rarely seemed so confident of late and Negan has rarely seemed so very shaken.
The action, as well as the aforementioned trump cards and aces in the hole, is exciting to witness and a credit to Adlard’s drawing as well as Kirkman’s planning. Each frame is cinematic enough to serve as a storyboard for a future episode of the TV show. It’s especially rewarding to see what Rick actually has up his sleeve and what Negan’s counter-play is (or might be). Sacrifice and risk are always the order of the day and if there were any easy answers or wins in this game, we wouldn’t be looking at the zombie apocalypse, would we?
As Rick himself notes, “This is no time for celebration. The war has only just begun.”
The Walking Dead #116 does, however, suffer from some of the same flaws that action packed movies (or, even, episodes) tend to. While Negan has enjoyed a level of control over every part of his chess board thus far, in a way almost as improbable as Jigsaw from the Saw movies did, even after death, issue 116 relies on a certain level of convenience and luck that even Negan might envy. On virtually every page there is an obvious flaw that could be exploited by either side that remains unnoticed (except by the astute reader). Further, the plan of attack is both clever and surprising, but there are so many holes and contrivances in Rick’s plan (as satisfying as it is) that it’s hard to believe any of these characters could manage to come back in The Walking Dead #117.
Kirkman and Adlard are both greatly talented in their storytelling abilities, but here they seem to almost be distracting the audience’s logic detectors with what could be easily described as “balls out action”. However, they do this very well. Is it possible for all of these dominos to fall exactly as planned and the good guys to come out smelling like peaches while the bad guys stand in line for their dunce caps? Sure. Is it likely? Or, is the better question “Does it matter?” Closing Walking Dead #116 is a satisfying experience, at least as much so as watching a great episode or action film. Nitpicking the “logic” in a horror comic about reanimated deceased people bringing about the end of the world may be an exercise in futility (or, at least, missing the point), but with Kirkman’s track record as a logical and capable storyteller, logic leaps of this kind do tend to stand out.