by Robert Kirkman (writer), Charlie Adlard (pencils & inks), Cliff Rathburn (gray tones), and Rus Wooton (letters)

The Story: A mysterious new character, Aaron, makes our group a utopian offer.  But can he be trusted?

What’s Good: With this issue, Kirkman begins his next big arc and it looks to be a great one, if only because it uses the series’ age to its advantage.

This entire book hinges on the emotional wear and tear that the group has seen.  They’ve suffered so much death and horror that trusting an outsider, or believing in the possibility of something good, is almost impossible.  Aaron’s reception by the group serves as a chilling reminder of everything Rick and company have gone through.   That said, while their trust issues are merited, Kirkman also does a good job of making Aaron seem just nice enough to highlight how broken and dysfunctional our group has become; justified or not, they’ve become a paranoid and violent bunch.

Perhaps Kirkman’s greatest achievement however, is that in making a “trust issue themed” installment that draws upon the series’ lengthy run, he also fully involves the reader.  While five years of comics means that our characters have suffered a lot, it also means that we have read just as much.  With Kirkman’s distinctively merciless style, full of shocks, sudden deaths, and twisted developments, it’s perhaps even harder for us to trust Aaron than it is for the characters themselves.  Throughout the Walking Dead, we’ve constantly been hit with evil from around the corner, so really, it’s hard not to look at Aaron with a sense of dread, waiting for the shoe to drop as we wonder what awful surprise Kirkman has in store for us this time.  Our suspicion and paranoia, created by Kirkman over 67 issues, is the same anxiety that has come to paralyze Rick.

Finally, Charlie Adlard does a fantastic job this month with his illustrations of Aaron. Adlard manages to draw a “nice guy,” but there definitely is something quietly sinister about his appearance.  His facial expressions are dead on.

What’s Not So Good: Sadly, Kirkman is guilty of employing some rather clumsy authorial tricks.  There’s an absolutely perfectly timed zombie attack that is far too convenient.  It’s clear that Kirkman wanted to move the book along, but couldn’t do so in a more organic manner.

Similarly, Michonne’s reaction to Aaron was just a little far-fetched.  I can understand Kirkman’s need to have a character disagree with Rick and choose to go along with Aaron, but that Michonne is just poor.  After her personal experience with the Governor, that she’d be willing to trust another representative of another mysterious “community” is just not believable.  Kirkman tries to address this, as Michonne says that Aaron is not like the Governor….because she “can tell.”  That’s just poor writing and it doesn’t fly.  There’s also another errant line where Andrea says that she loved her life and what she became when she had Dale and the twins, which feels like a stretch given the zombie apocalypse.

Finally, another character is brought into the mix when the gang meets a friend of Aaron’s.  I’m not sure what Charlie Adlard was doing, because his illustrations of this character are nothing short of a disaster.  The guy quite literally, without exaggeration, looks like a completely different person in pretty much every panel.  Hell, in one panel he even looks like Aaron’s twin brother.

Conclusion: A good issue with an absolutely fantastic overall theme and atmosphere, but it falters on some of the little things.

Grade: B –

-Alex Evans