By: Robert Kirkman (writer), Charlie Adlard (art), Cliff Rathburn (grey tones), Rus Wooton (letters)
The Story: After the cliffhanger last month, can anyone wait to see what happened to little Carl?
The Review (with SPOILERS): Well, that wasn’t at all what we expected. Especially after seeing the ominous cover image of Carl’s hat just laying there in the rubble. I expected/feared that Negan might have done something terrible to Carl. But Kirkman surprised us and had it all be a big bunch of worry about nothing. I’m not sure how much I love the storytelling choice, but I’m glad to see that TWD can still serve up something unexpected. While the sense of relief about Carl’s fate is the obvious item in this issue, there are actually a LOT of things bubbling under the surface that could turn into interesting story-lines in the future.
1. Negan vs. Rick: The whole conflict between Rick and Negan was pretty good. Negan captures a scene unlike anyone else in TWD. We haven’t had a new character who was this interesting since Michonne first showed up. The thing about Negan is that he makes sense as a leader in a way that Rick never will. Negan is big, smart, strong, fast, smooth-talking, charismatic, capable, vicious… In contrast, Rick is the kind of leader you get when you don’t have anyone else. Honestly, one wonders why some of Rick’s people wouldn’t defect to Team Negan.
2. Negan represents human civilization: I think that Kirkman is actually playing around with the concept of what exactly constitutes human civilization. Negan is really nothing more than the government. He extracts taxes under threat of violence and provides some services (of questionable value) whether you want them or not. Negan could also be compared to the mafia and a protection racket. Either way, while it’s tempting to hope that these survivors would start to pull together and live in some communal paradise, that isn’t the way of humans. The zombies shook up the whole world like a big snow-globe and Negan is what happens when the snow settles out. I hope that means that TWD is turning the page and getting into what happens LONG TERM after an apocalypse.
3. Time frames seem off: There are a few disconnects with this entire set-up around Washington. On one hand, this nest of communities feels like it has been there for ages before Rick & Co. wandered in from the wilderness – when the entire story is only a couple years old. On the other hand, it doesn’t make sense that Negan was terrorizing Hilltop (and several other communities we haven’t seen yet) for years, but nobody knew anything about Arlington until recently. Or perhaps this is what amounts to an “age of discovery” in the new zombie world? Wouldn’t it be interesting to see how that shakes out? What if a Congress person and a bunch of organized US Army soldiers show up and want to commandeer houses, food, etc.? Do you treat them like saviors or like bandits?
4. What is Rick up to?: I’m starting to question the wisdom of Rick’s underground crusade against Negan. What is his motivation? Revenge? Pride? Anger at taxation policies? Some of those are worthy causes and some of those causes are only afforded to people in more secure positions than Rick currently inhabits. When you’re hanging on by your fingernails, “pride” isn’t a good reason to fight and risk the lives of others. One gets the sense that Rick is going to do something self-destructive.
5. Michonne likes black guys: Leave all the silly racial politics out of it and think about what this means for Michonne’s character. There can’t be a lot of doubt that she likes black guys. Tyrese, Morgan and now Heath. The only black man in TWD who she hasn’t approached is the minister. We know that the world of TWD doesn’t seem to include many black guys and if that really is Michonne’s preference, then she’s going to spend a lot of time alone. Maybe that’s why she’s so quiet and crabby? Maybe that’s why her romantic approach to Rick was so slow and understated that she “lost out” to Andrea? This is a nice little wrinkle for the character. Some survivors will adopt an “any port in a storm” approach to romance while others will remain picky (and alone).
6. Kirkman playing with fire(arms): Kirkman finally revisits this idea of Eugene “making bullets” again and he’s really playing with fire here. I was critical when this story first came up because Kirkman wrote as a person who didn’t know anything beyond what they’d found in a Wiki entry. He’s at it again here. I don’t want to get into specifics since this isn’t a reloading review site, but I just wish that writers wouldn’t feign expertise that they don’t have. If you don’t know a subject, just address it using vague – but correct – language. BUT if you tie into the idea of Negan basically being a tyrannical government, it’ll be interesting to see how things change when the “subjects” have some firepower to resist. I’m not sure if Kirkman really means for this story to be considered in this way, but it’s a credit to him as a writer that his story allows people to interpret it in complex ways.
7. Eugene, Rosita & Abraham’s Ex: Not a momentous event in this issue, but we’ve seen how Rosita platonically fled to Eugene after Abraham jilted her in favor of his boy-cut blonde co-worker from the construction gang. Now we see Rosita and Eugene possibly getting a relationship going while boy-cut girl is left in the cold. It’s just interesting to see a small commentary on what counts as attractive and what doesn’t in the apocalypse. Rosita is pretty, but not much good for anything. Eugene is ugly, but may suddenly be useful. Boy-cut girl had a big, strong man and now she has nothing. Clever…
8. Ezekiel?: Who is this guy going to be? I guess we get a tease with next month’s cover that shows an old black guy with white dreadlocks, feathers in his hair, trench coat and a staff. We’ll see, but this whole thing has my antennas up because it screams magical negro. Maybe it won’t go in that direction, but even still, I’m getting a little tired of how Rick stays in one place and all these unknown people keep being revealed to him. Let’s go explore this world! Rick & Co. have been in this same basic place for ~40 issues now. Let them go see the world instead of the world coming to them.
9. Art: The art is fine. I was a little annoyed last month that we had a few splash pages that seemed more to sell original art for Adlard than to just tell the story. This issue, we go back to Adlard just grinding away at the story without a care in the world for whether he has created exciting pages to sell later.
Conclusion: Not the most exciting issue, but Kirkman starts a number of small fires burning. Now let’s see how he nurtures them into blazing bonfires over time.
– Dean Stell