Walking Dead: Volume 24 Life and Death – Robert Kirkman

WD24This is a superb volume with plenty of character and drama. You aren’t expecting much from this volume as you think we are at a quiet point in the story with the first market happening. Oh dear.

The Whisperers present quite an existential challenge. Kirkman shows that antagonists don’t have to be cruel despots or megalomaniacs or even conquerors. They are definitely one of the freshest zombie ideas and they have a few surprises.

Everyone seems to get some screentime in this book. Carl continues to grow and become his own man, Negan gets one of his awesome speeches and Maggie faces up to the hard side of leadership. This is an amazing foundation and would make a great book but the rug-pulls make it fantastic. Kirkman shows that he needn’t kill characters to shock you. And then he kills characters and you are shocked again.

The art is amazing and it is always worth stopping to appreciate just how good it is and how much is done with black and grey. This has never been a normal gig for Adlard. He never phones things in. Each panel is well thought out and even after two dozen books he is still experimenting and there are some really sharp panel structures here.

Walking Dead is everything a graphic novel should be including rising to new heights.

Double Thumbs Up!

Walking Dead 23: Whispers into Screams – Robert Kirkman

WD23How does he do it? There are so many balls in the air in terms of the philosophy, ideology and practicality of a post-cataclysm world, so many questions. This is truly the area that Walking Dead set out to explore and as other zombie stories never get to 23 volumes they never pay any heed to.

Any normal writer would have run out of BIG idea by now and it is hard to believe that Kirkman is still pulling the rug out from under us with things we never even considered. There is genius at work here. But he is limited by his canvas. A monthly comic is not big enough or regular enough for him to keep up with the massive world he has created.

What has Negan been doing? What happened to the new arrivals? What about the other settlements? All the things that piqued our interest last volume are missing in favour of the new big idea. And it is a killer idea. But we as readers are greedy and want it all.

I can’t say anything about the art as we have all grown so used to it that it has replaced reality. It is a testament to Adlard that with the high turnover of characters new people still look different and existing characters grow and changeup their appearance.

Thumbs Up!

Walking Dead 22: A New Beginning – Robert Kirkman

WD22The title says it all. Time has passed and the communities are thriving. Our characters finally have time to more than catch their breath and you begin to see them (as they themselves get to) finally remember they are human beings.

The dead haven’t gone away, there are some strangers just arrived, and of course you know the ticking time bomb that is Negan will eventually blow it all to hell. But Kirkman shows you just what we have been fighting for, the valuable peace that All Out War has secured.

We get to see emotions other than fear, grief and terror, and that is very valuable in storytelling. Characters get to show their wants and needs and so become much more rounded and dear to us. Making it all the more tragic when Kirkman decides we have had enough of our happiness ration.

The art is superb and Adlard clearly pushes himself hard using lots of strong techniques in lighting, framing and visual exposition. He must also do a lot of research making the characters, props and environment look just right.

This volume simmers. It is the perfect blend of gentle storytelling and lush characterisation contrasted with building tension and subtle danger. It does seem to cut sharply and almost haphazardly between the different threads but not to the point of frustrating you.

We also have another superb cliff-hanger as Kirkman’s imagination pulls another rabbit out of the hat and shows us something terrifying.

Thumbs Up!

Walking Dead 21: All Out War part two – Robert Kirkman

WD21This is the conclusion of the war. Just like the first part, horrifying new weapons are revealed as the humans show us just how much worse than the dead they are.

The ending is what will really surprise you. Kirkman specialises in his shocking twists and sudden moments of terror but now he manages an intellectual or ideological sleight of hand. Negan has been a great antagonist not because he is a bit crazy but because, in a distant way, you can see his point of view and his motivations. Rick thrives on him and his contrasting philosophy and grows as a character and a leader. It’s not weapons but ideas and belief that are the keys to victory.

The art is great and seems to have more splash pages than normal. This does feel more as if it is to hit the issue breaks rather than for dramatic tension but more art and less words is welcome. Particularly for a volume emphasising concepts and sociology.

Thumbs Up!

BONUS REVIEW The Walking Dead 20: All Out War Part One – Robert Kirkman

WD20This is the only volume of The Walking Dead to be labelled as part one of something. A subtle clue that things are about to change – or another marketing guru’s great idea. Like you aren’t going to buy the next volume, and the next and the next.

Kirkman does a great job of showing you the scale of what is going to be The Walking Dead’s mano-a-mano conflict. Not just in terms of numbers but the ideologies at stake here. Both Rick and Negan see the folly of conflict but neither has it within them to back down. Each gives their own version of Henry V’s speech to their followers.

The dead only have one weapon but when humans go to war the tactics and arms are far more devastating. By the end you are wondering if anyone will be left standing when the smoke clears. We lose some people here but as readers we have learnt not to grow attached to the new people we meet so loss doesn’t have the impact it once did.

The art is fabulous. On first reading it is so subtle and elegant that you don’t notice just how skilled Adlard is. But going back it is easy to see that it is so in tune with the story that it appears invisible. There is great work going on with the visuals and everything is running like clockwork.

Thumbs Up!

BONUS REVIEW The Walking Dead 19: March to War – Robert Kirkman

WD19This is an excellent volume. There is a buzz, a tingle in the air. The excitement of a plan coming together. As the communities prepare to stand united there is a gripping tension that pervades this volume. There are still some nice character touches and the reappearance of someone you may have forgotten about. Kirkman doesn’t do what you expect which is why, after all this time, The Walking Dead still seems fresh and novel. The art is great and there is the return of the double page spread, one of which is a classic rug-pull. The character expressions are wonderful and there are some really nice close-ups. A great volume that uses tension masterfully and makes you cling on for dear life until the next book. Thumbs Up! BONUS REVIEW

BONUS REVIEW The Walking Dead 18: What Comes After – Robert Kirkman

WD18This is a subtle volume. Not a quiet before the storm, not an exercise in the boredom involved the aftermath of a crisis and not a tantalising use of suspense. This is important shit being revealed.

Negan. That’s who is on your mind. Clearly he is a monster, worse than the Governor if the events of the last volume are anything to go by. This volume tells you more about him. You won’t love him after this book but, thanks to Kirkman’s skilful writing, you will see he is a complex character. The brainless mass of the zombie antagonists demand a deep and complex cast.

This is the end of the world and people have been stripped of the social veneer that lubricated civilisation. Is the best thing for a community a strong, harsh leader who is consistent and who obeys his own rules? How does the unpredictable and emotionally fraught Rick compare to that standard?

A lot of this book’s strength and intelligence is below the surface and relies on you to ask the questions about what it shows you. There are some shocks but less than the average book. It won’t let you forget what happened last time either. That wound will take time to heal.

Nothing here will question your faith in this series and like all books now the ending just makes you want the next one even more. Thumbs Up!

BONUS REVIEW

Walking Dead 17: Something to Fear – Robert Kirkman

After months of slow but necessary build-up we finally have another killer volume. And killer in the Kirkman sense of the word as the author/ butcher gets busy on his remaining cast.

To present a credible threat to our band of heroes takes something special. After the Governor and everything else they have endured it requires a different kind of menace to cause fear in Rick and the reader too. Kirkman has been driving us mad with trivialities, and doldrums, and the day to day boredom that much of a zombie aftermath would entail.

Did we make the mistake of believing the rosy glow on the horizon was something good? Time for us readers to get our comeuppance. There are shocks, surprises, a wonderful twist, and some hard to stomach brutality, the like of which we have not seen in ten volumes.

The art is great and there is nothing that distracts from the drama unfolding before you. A real master of the craft isn’t seen through spectacle and gratuity but through the subtle nuances that affect you without noticing why. Adlard knows his characters and his readers well and a small change of expression or shift in eye-line saves Kirkman a dozen words. This black and white world feels so authentic.

Definitely the most dramatic and engaging volume for some time. Definitely a Thumbs Up!

274/91

Tomorrow: The Chimpanzee Complex: Paradox – Richard Marazano

The Walking Dead Volume 16: A Larger World – Robert Kirkman

A man named Jesus approaches a people who are afraid and persecuted by the world around them. He promises them a better way of life, of peace and love – freedom from their fears. If they follow him to the Promised Land they will be saved. Rick then punches him in the face and ties him up. This would have been a cleverer metaphor if Kirkman hadn’t actually named the visitor from another nearby community Jesus.

After the slow build of the past few volumes our rollercoaster is reaching the top of its climb. We learn of a new community with a much longer term vision in place; of a desperado as bad as the Governor; and a bold new future on the horizon. Things are going to be hotting up real soon.

It’s very interesting to see our heroes view the hand of friendship. After two years trust and optimism has run dangerously short along with the canned food. As a reader you too are suspicious of an offer too good to be true. This sense of paranoia Kirkman has effortlessly instilled in us is testament to his great writing.

The art great but there are more single and double page spreads than usual. Rather than these being dramatic story points it does feel padded, as is if there is time to kill before the next chapter is ready. Overall still a Thumbs Up!

138/227.

Tomorrow: The Hedge Knight – George R. R. Martin

The Walking Dead Volume 15: We Find Ourselves – Robert Kirkman

Since the introduction of the new community the Walking Dead storylines have become much more subtle and subdued. The trademark shock and awe that threatened to give you a heart attack with the turn of each page has subsided somewhat. It is easy to cry foul and want more of what Kirkman does best. But you have to think of the long term. You can only have so much death before you have no characters left to continue the story or you as the reader become inured to it all.

This long term vision is what the characters are currently facing up to. With the potential of a stable and safe community you get to think further ahead than your next meal or next sunrise. What are the things you need to be looking at addressing in a year, ten years or a generation into the future? This is something that rarely comes up in zombie fiction and is actually the heart of what Kirkman set out to do when he created the Walking Dead. Initially I was sceptical about this volume as, like you, I want my shock and awe. But even though the limbs aren’t flying thick and fast the themes and character interactions are no less important or dramatic.

We are so used to the now familiar black and white art that it becomes transparent. It is testament to how great it is by the fact we take it for granted. Doing snow scenes in black and white isn’t easy but it all looks effortless. This is definitely a Thumbs Up!

137/228.

Tomorrow: The Walking Dead Volume 16: A Larger World – Robert Kirkman