The Walking Dead (2003-Present)

With The Walking Dead premiering on AMC in October, I decided to catch up on the comic the show’s based on. The Walking Dead comic is 75 issues in with no plans to slow down. Or end.

This series excels where other Zombie stories fail in that The Walking Dead is in it for the long haul. At issue #75, we’re about a year into the Zombie Apocalypse. The story primarily follows Rick, a small town cop who wakes up after a shooting knee-deep in Zombietown. Yea, it’s the same opening as 28 Days Later (even Rick was holed up for about a month), but that’s really the only similarity. Rick’s out to find his wife and son and runs into different people who either join up, betray, screw up or die in his little group. That’s the basic plot, but like all good horror, the story is really about the effects of the apocalypse on the heros and the world. The Walking Dead excels in the details, in the ups and downs of a new distopia.
Imagine if every day was your one of your worse. How long could you last? What would you be driven to do? How would you change? Your values and priorities?
Most zombie stories also deal with the hero/group dynamic. Who steps up and who’s a coward and the ramifications of a hero’s decisions. The Walking Dead is no different, but makes stronger cases because of the longer scope of the comic in the different approaches of dealing with great pressures and stress. The coward doesn’t always get their comeuppance like in the shorter zombie movies and even learns to pitch in in other ways. Possibly the strongest part of the comic is how this horrific new world changes the children of the story and how the adults try and often fail to keep the horrors away from the kids. The Walking Dead goes some places with children I’ve never seen in other horror stories. And it’s not gratuitous or shallow.
Oh yea, people die and die suddenly and for both good, bad and indifferent reasons. I’m not even going to say if Rick is alive in issue 75 and he’s the poster boy of the series. The group storytelling is so strong, him being gone wouldn’t be such a loss (or isn’t a loss. Hmmmmm?).
The violence in the comics, while epic in the early issues when everyone is just figuring out what to do, tapers off as the series rolls along. But when it does occur, it’s short and bloody and unexpected. And humans do the most harm and perpetuate the biggest atrocities. As it should be. You can go 3-4 issues without even seeing a zombie and the stories are extremely tense because of people like The Governor and the Hunters.
The characters change dramatically from their initial appearance. Rick is nowhere near the same person he was at the beginning. By number 75, the group has gone from being the most ethical and strongest to being the outsiders, distrustful and weary, to the people they meet. And they’ve earned that right so you view the world through their jaundiced eyes.
It’s fun looking at the stills and clips for the AMC show because the characters look so different (and also because I feel bad for the actors who won’t see the end of the series, hope they didn’t buy the comic.) than they do in issue 75.
Funny thing is, issue 75 is generally a happy time for most of the characters, but the undercurrent of dread is so strong.
Writer/creator Robert Kirkman tries hard to breath life into all the characters in the series. And there’s a ton of them. There’s so many it’s sometimes hard to keep track of who’s who in the shadowy black and white artwork. The strength of a comic book is it’s easy enough to re-read and catch new details and hidden plots.
There’s so many great characters in the run, I kind of wished the show could jump ahead to get to Michonne or Morgan, but I hope AMC takes it’s time because the pace of the comic sets up the heartbreaks and joys The Walking Dead really delivers. Kirkman is one of the key creative forces on the TV series, so I’m sure the show will be awesome. AMC liked it so much, they’ve already picked up a second season before the show’s even aired. That’s a great indication that the show is being done right.
And I can’t stress enough how every little advance piece I see is extremely faithful to the comic. Kirkman did say the TV show will have a few characters not in the comic to keep the faithful guessing. That’s cool. I think if you filmed each comic in order, it would be about 15 minutes per comic and Kirkman’s a master of the last page cliff hanger, both big and small, so that would work well for the act breaks in TV.
The Walking Dead comics also differ from other comic series in that there’s only the 75 comics, no spin-off or one-shots so it’s very easy for the non-comic reader to follow and catch up in the trade volumes. Or you can even get them digitally for your computer ipod or iPad. Also, most comics have stories that are resolved in five issues, so the trade volumes can be more-or-less stand-alone. It creates some awkward, jagged story-telling. Not so with The Walking Dead, a major story line takes as many comics as it takes. Or as few. The trade volumes aren’t self contained. And the story lines are contiguous and on-going.

I’ve given up on a lot of comics in the past five years (Buffy and Angel) because of their unevenness, but The Walking Dead has been strong since issue one. It’s a comic for people who don’t normally read comics. The focus on the characters and the attention to detail and the long haul story-telling open up a bigger world and richer story that most smaller-focused Zombie or apocalypse stories.

So, get the comics, watch the show, buy the T-Shirt and drink the fetid Kool-Aid.

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