Volume Ten. The story without end has made it to double figures. This is the second part of Rick’s story as we begin the “road movie” part of his life. We meet up with a character we have not seen since volume one of this epic. It is shocking to see what he has become but is he really so different from the characters we have been following? Probably not but we haven’t noticed the gradual deterioration, the little steps, that take people as they once were and twist them into something dark and almost unrecognisable. The contrast of seeing the before and after and not the journey is eye-opening.
Carl is still the star of the show as he gets a chance to enter the spotlight and we see how the world has affected him. We as readers have changed too. Gone is the safety and familiarity of the prison and we wish we could return to our happy family but we must press on with the other survivors. Thumbs are still Up!
Tomorrow: The Walking Dead Volume 11: Fear the Hunters – Robert Kirkman
You know that after the last volume things can never be the same. You might be tempted just to stop reading so as not to lose what has been an incredible experience. But you must trust the man who has brought you this far not to betray you. Like Rick you must have hope and strength to carry on. I was nervous as to the direction the story would take now that all the bridges had been burnt but I needn’t have been.
This feels like a reboot of sorts – a clean slate. The story has been pruned back to its roots – one man trying to protect his family. You also get to see a lot of Carl and how he deals with his new life. It is a great insight into an often overlooked character. Things don’t stay bleak for too long as new life and a new story starts to blossom. Things will never be the same but that is alright because you have a new path to take and an unexpected one at that. You are truly in safe hands so keep reading. Thumbs Up!
Tomorrow: The Walking Dead Volume 10: What We Become – Robert Kirkman
Just as you think you have seen it all, just as you think it can’t get any better, just as you think you can’t be traumatized any more, Kirkman pulls something so dramatic out of the bag you think you are going to faint. This fellow is truly the Yoda of zombie comics – underestimate him at your peril. You really can’t second guess this chap as he runs rings around your tiny mind and keeps pulling the rug out from under you. I sincerely hope he has won some serious awards as he truly deserves it.
The art is continuing to quietly experiment and innovate with subtle flairs of brilliance. There is a lot of “artificial focus” in this issue. That is making characters further away paler to give the illusion of depth. I am not entirely convinced this is needed but I applaud the artist for having the courage to try out new techniques and not just rest on his laurels.
Each end of issue cliff hanger gets more impressive and although I say it every time, he can’t possibly top this ending, can he? It is my pleasure to finally give this series my highest award, the Double Thumbs Up!
Tomorrow: The Walking Dead Volume 9: Here We Remain – Robert Kirkman
Every good writer knows your reader needs time to breathe. An unrelenting tide of horror will jade your audience and desensitize them. We also want some good stuff to happen to the characters we have come to care deeply about. This is the payback. While there are still deaths and Kirkman’s new favourite technique, mutilations, we all get the chance to take a breather. While there is undoubtedly doom on the horizon it isn’t here yet. People get to enjoy a few home comforts and remember a little of what they have been missing.
This won’t put you to sleep however as this is a story that keeps bubbling and simmering and it contains the most dramatic page turn in the series history – the delivery. The art is still great and the cliff-hanger sets up what will be the most significant threat the group has ever faced with the return of someone unexpected. More than a single Thumbs Up can possibly convey!
Tomorrow: The Walking Dead Volume 8: Made to Suffer – Robert Kirkman
The Walking Dead is a great ride but it is a very bumpy one emotionally. This is quite a tough volume to get through. As an author you want to affect your reader but not so traumatically you alienate them. There is a nine page graphic torture scene that leaves any sane person unsettled. As a reader you are asking yourself was it really necessary. A good writer or artist could convey the same meanings using the “less is more” approach. But Kirkman is bravely teaching us to face up to this brutal new world and asking us to look inside ourselves and see where we would draw the line. These questions are echoed later on as more lives are lost. Our heroes aren’t heroic any more but have they become savages quite yet?
The art is still on top form. There are some great shocks and cliff hangers. Just as you get comfortable another jolt is thrown in to remind you that this world is a dangerous, unpredictable place. But there is hope. No matter how dark things get, and they are pretty black now, there are tiny rays of hope and joy in these characters’ lives. For goodness sake don’t stop reading now. Thumbs Up!
Tomorrow: The Walking Dead Volume 7: The Calm Before – Robert Kirkman
Apocalypse stories usually follow a predictable path. Deal with your surroundings. Sort your internal problems. Find another group of survivors. Is that other group a happy, well balanced team of people? Well you know how the stories go don’t you. Whilst is might be seen as a predictable or even disappointing development, broadening the world of our protagonists is a necessary step to keep the story fresh and interesting. There is a nice twist at the end showing Kirkman isn’t getting lazy and still has plenty of rabbits up his sleeve.
The art too pulls some tricks out of the bag. The panels get shaken up and it’s quite surprising what a little shift in geometry can do to keep the reader on their toes. You think you know what is going on but do you really? Is Kirkman setting us up for a fall or is he trying to give Garth Ennis a run for his money in the gross-out stakes. This is still a Thumbs Up title.
Tomorrow: The Walking Dead Volume 6: This Sorrowful Life – Robert Kirkman
This has to be the best volume yet. Kirkman is really coming into his own as he discovers the potential of his story without end. Because there are no cut-off pressures he can really slow things down and take his time in developing and growing his epic tale. There is an argument that goes on for twenty pages, a luxury you wouldn’t have in a traditional format.
The living are definitely the focus of this episode as we see the perils of leadership and the fragility of human relationships. After surviving the horrors of the living dead it seems mankind is hell bent on his destruction through all sorts of methods. Everything has a temporary feeling to it as you know the solutions the group come up with will come back and bite them later on.
The art has had a similar resurgence, barging its way to the fore. Without space constrains you can have more lingering shots, more full and double page spreads and even entirely black panels. There are some distinctive and effective silhouettes that help to convey the size and isolation of the surroundings. Nothing here but Thumbs Up!
Tomorrow: The Walking Dead Volume 5: The Best Defence – Robert Kirkman
Sex. That is the name of today’s theme. Creed, colour, gender, age are all explored as everyone is at it like rabbits. It might seem a little gratuitous at first but in an end of the world situation it is quite understandable. It’s what people did before television and when you aren’t running for your life then you need something to take your mind off the impending oblivion.
In addition to sex the secondary theme is policing your own. What happens when your fellow survivors cross lines? Can you really afford to start shooting the living in the head when it’s all hands on deck? What sins can you forgive, and is the end of the world a clean slate for the mistakes of your youth.
Once again it’s all about the talking but there are a few good expressions that say more than words so the art isn’t always playing second fiddle. There was one outstanding use of speech bubbles so Kirkman is innovating in all directions. This is a very mature work with a lot to think about and a huge body count. There is a great cliff hanger too. Once again this continues to be a strong Thumbs Up!
Tomorrow: The Walking Dead Volume 4: The Heart’s Desire – Robert Kirkman
What you want to know is will this be as good as the first volume. Is it a troubled sequel, a difficult second album or The Empire Strikes Back? It doesn’t have the shock and awe of a new world with new stories and a new setting to discover but we do meet new characters and they each add something to the mix. They have different points of view and it encourages us to see things differently. People are changing as they come to terms with the loss of those close to them and their life as they knew it. There are subtle shifts and troubling undercurrents that you want to keep an eye on.
The writing is well done and Kirkman has a flair for realistic arguments and emotional outbursts. Unfortunately with more text the art doesn’t get a chance to shine as it did in the first volume. There are some good nocturnal scenes and some great expressions but none of the long silences that really made this work stand out. The art doesn’t seem as polished as the first volume either. Having said that there is a different artist and he does a great job of seamlessly integrating into this established style. In the final pages we do see the first double page spread used to great effect and you are definitely looking forward to the next instalment.
Still definitely a Thumbs Up!
Tomorrow: The Walking Dead Volume 3: Safety Behind Bars – Robert Kirkman
This is a tale of what happens to ordinary people when the zombies rise up and start eating everyone. A tale you have seen told dozens of times I am sure but this is on course to become possibly the definitive work of this genre. Any good apocalyptic story is all about the people left behind. It is a mirror of ourselves at the worst of times. In the introduction the author states this will be a mature, character-driven piece that is here for the long haul. At 16 volumes and going strong this is a rare chance to tell an epic tale of humanity. It is indeed very well written.
For those of you familiar with the recent television adaptation with a thirst for more this is an excellent way of getting your fix. They start off mirroring each other with the comic like a living storyboard. Scene for scene and even shot for shot they are twined but slowly they start to go their separate ways with each playing to their strengths. Characters are missing and scenes are altered before they each pick a different dramatic finale.
The art is excellent. The artist has a unique style and is not trying to ape any mainstream title. It isn’t black and white it is grey and dark grey. This subtle palette is used to great effect to portray their cold, bleak new world. The panel structure and layout is superb with no default setting. There are exactly enough images per page to tell the story from nine down to one. It has a genuine cinematic feel with lots of short little frames to move the story along, page wide strips to emphasize emotion and the bold full page image to stop you dead. There are some nice page-end cliff-hangers to get your heart racing. The characters are all well-defined and consistent. The facial expressions are very well done allowing you to truly feel their emotions.
It starts expertly with lots of pictures and little dialogue to convey the loneliness and isolation of this stark new world. It does unfold at a cracking pace and before you know it you are in the middle sharing the hopes and fears of these everyday folk. All too soon there is a dramatic turn, people die and once again you have been thrown into unfamiliar territory in this grave new world. This is a strong Thumbs Up!
Tomorrow: The Walking Dead Volume 2: Miles Behind Us – Robert Kirkman