By: Robert Kirkman (writer), Charlie Adlard (art), Cliff Rathburn (gray tones), Rus Wooton (letters)

The Story: Things look grim for Rick.  Is he really untouchable?

Review (with SPOILERS): Well, that was a tease! And not in a good way either.  The last couple of issues have shown Rick making a hasty assassination attempt on Negan’s life, only to see Negan completely out-maneuver Rick by having an entire squad of unseen snipers at his disposal.  Then last issue consisted of Negan menacing people with his bat while Andrea fought for her life against a dude with a machete; it seemed she had fallen to her death, but the cliffhanger revealed that she was very much alive an ready to continue the fight.

Thus, there was a lot of promise to this issue.  So many things could have happened, but as it turns out the issue was (mostly) a big wet fart.

The issue really started with a bit of promise.  The scene where one of Rick’s men is pleading for his life because he has a wife and children who need him was really solid.  I can totally understand such a sentiment, but Negan took it another direction: Basically, someone(s) has to die for the assassination attempt on Negan.  Everyone knows that SOMEONE has to die as punishment.  So, this guy is essentially asking for someone else to die in his place and Negan thinks this is a pretty cowardly attitude.  When you put it that way, Negan has a good point.  It’s probably easy to want someone abstract and faceless to die in your place, but somehow worse when you’re basically suggesting that it be the guy sitting next to you (although I did like Heath’s explanation, “He’s scared.  We’re all scared.”)

And then the issue veered into the toilet…

Seeing Jesus and Ezekiel/Tiger show up to save the day was just so lame.  Even though it was kinda cool to see Jesus beating Negan up or to see the tiger actually devouring the bad guy in the background of a few panels, Kirkman has made a bit of an error with this heroic save.

The problem is that TWD thrives on the “anything can happen, anyone can die!” concept.  Even though notable deaths have been few and far between for a LONG time, this is still a dangerous comic book.  When you read X-Men, Avengers or Batman (which I do), you know that Wolverine, Batman and Captain America aren’t going to die.  And if they DO die, then there will be a miniseries called, “Search for Wolverine” in a few months that brings the character back from Hell or whatever.  In TWD, when a character dies…..THAT’S IT.  You will not see them again…..just like real life.

So when a series gets to the point where it puts “untouchable” characters in danger just to contrive a rescue  – well – that’s a problem.  Now you’ve got cliffhangers that scream, “How will the caped crusader escape the Joker’s molten pit of lava!  Tune in next week to find out!”  The rescue by Jesus and Ezekiel is just too convenient and timely and the way this whole thing builds up to a “war” just seems very comic-booky.  I mean, launching and marketing an event with multiple issues stalling for time until the event is “ready” is what they do at Marvel and DC.  I read TWD to escape from that.

I also really don’t buy Jesus’ whole speech to Rick about how Rick is the leader they need.  The problem is that I don’t believe it myself.  Rick just doesn’t have the charisma to be the “leader people want”.  Rick is effective and is willing to make the hard decisions; Rick is the #2 to the charismatic leader who offers inspiration and vision but lacks execution.  That’s why Rick was a cop in his prior life and not the mayor.  Negan has charisma coming out of his pores.  Ezekiel has it too.  Rick simply doesn’t.  I don’t mean to say that Rick couldn’t be effective, but I just don’t believe it when Jesus says (basically), “Rick….you don’t know how these people look at you.  You offer hopes and dreams.  You’re the leader they want!”  Rick would make a better lieutenant to Ezekiel than a leader in his own right.

The art is strong (again).  The main thing about TWD is that the storytelling is just so damn clear.  I’m trying to remember the last time I read an issue and had to shuffle back a few pages to understand something.  However, Charlie Adlard had better bust out the pen that he’s used for Negan and start pouring some of that charisma on Rick because I’m not buying Rick as Spartacus.

Conclusion: An issue that shows that the last few issues were nothing more than spinning the tires.  It’s really patronizing when a comic does that after so many issues.  Get on with it!

Grade: C-

-Dean Stell