By: Robert Kirkman (writer), Charlie Adlard (pencils), Stefano Gaudiano (inks), Cliff Rathburn (gray tones) and Rus Wooton (letters)

The Story: Alexandria is burning!

The Review (with SPOILERS): This is a pretty good issue of The Walking Dead mostly because it has forward momentum from a plotting standpoint.  Even though there is some lurching and creaking, this story is clearly moving through a metamorphosis to “whatever comes next”.

So, let’s go through the events of the issue, because a LOT happens.  Certainly a LOT more than we typically get in an issue of The Walking Dead.

  • Leaving Alexandria: It’s burned and ruined.  While I have some factual problems with the storytelling, I’m glad to see Rick & Co. away from this stronghold.  The Walking Dead is like a shark and it dies if it stops moving forward.  Even with Negan out there, the status quo in Alexandria has been too comfortable.  The story doesn’t need zombies clawing at the walls all the time, but it needs more stress because stress is the fuel for dramatic tension.  It should always be zombies, bandits, cannibals, food rationing, disease, weather, a less than ideal gender ratio, etc.
  • Leaving Alexandria II: I’m very pleased at how quickly the decision to leave Alexandria happened.  Rick just kinda said, “We’re leaving.” and then it happened.  A part of me feels that the pace is inconsistent with some of the other storytelling in the series: This feels like there could have been a caption box saying, “Two days later…”  But, I’ll put that aside because I’d rather see them get on with the story rather than Rick arguing with some housewives about how Alexandria isn’t safe anymore and beating himself up over whether it is all his fault.
  • Leaving Alexandria, fact check: How ruined is Alexandria, really?  I mean, it still has good walls.  Aren’t walls the most important thing in the zombie apocalypse?  Just erect some tents or find the place that sells those $799 aluminum carports or go to Home Depot and get some of those $599 tool sheds.  And can you really put all the belongings of the whole community in a couple of buses?
  • Death of Denise: I don’t really care to be honest (much like I didn’t really care about Holly’s death).  For some reason, the current secondary characters like Denise or Heath seem much less important than the secondary characters earlier in the series.  In some ways, that is dumb because Denise has been around for ~50 issues.  Ditto for Heath or Holly.  The problem is that there are too many characters now.  We’re getting small doses of Denise and Heath, but not enough to REALLY care about them.  And those small doses come at the expense of characters that we DO care about like Andrea.  Hopefully this is remedied whenever the plot progresses to its next phase.
  • Where’s Maggie?: So, she shows up saves the day and then leaves?  Weird storytelling.
  • Ezekiel is a wuss: I’m a little disappointed that this guy is turning out to be such a loser.  Of all the new characters from this phase of the story, Ezekiel is one of my favorites.  He has a charisma about him and Charlie Adlard seems to enjoy drawing him.  I guess I’d be surprised if he just crawls back to his “Kingdom” and we don’t see him again, but I’m not sure what role he has to play anymore.  I’m also surprised that Michonne is sticking with him after she was so obviously disgusted by his cowardice.
  • Negan + Ammunition: There is a negative to the saga of the ammunition factory, and we’ll get to that in a minute, but for now I’m very pleased with this event.  For one thing, Kirkman has been playing with the ammunition factory for a LONG time.  It’s kinda been a “Chekov’s Gun.”  Eugene talked about how he could “make bullets” and then Rick was prattling on about how having the ammunition factory gave them the advantage over Negan.  Now, the shoe will be on the other foot.
  • Eugene: I really like Eugene as a character.  TWD focuses so much on the leaders or the people who have some exceptional ability.  I feel like Eugene is how most people in the zombie apocalypse would be: mostly useless and just another mouth to feed.  He’s not a fighter or a leader.  He doesn’t really have any skills.  He’s not strong.  He’s just a dumpy high school science teacher in a world that doesn’t have schools anymore.  Then he finds the ammunition factory and suddenly, he has a skill and is useful.  It’s even been implied that he got the hot girl (Rosita).  It’s just a fun and happy story about how even a loser might be able to find himself in the apocalypse.
  • Ammunition fact check: There are so many flaws in this element of the story.  For one thing, there is no reason for the ammunition facility to be off-site.  This building isn’t big enough to be a true factory with industrial equipment.  Plus, that sort of industrial equipment is all electrical and you’d need a lot of power.  The type of equipment you’d find ALL OVER the United States is very portable.  All of the equipment to reload a LOT of ammunition could be carried in a wheelbarrow.  It also isn’t THAT complex to make ammunition.  It’s of the same level of complexity as baking bread and every person who has the equipment has manuals that would tell you exactly what to do.  It seems nit-picky, but the remote location of Eugene’s team AND his “unique skills” are both central to the plot.  You may not be a gun person and you might think gun people are weird, but imagine Eugene and his team were baking loaves of bread at the special, off-site facility and Negan catches them and threatens to kill everyone if Eugene doesn’t start making bread for Negan’s men…  I’ll just say, a writer like Greg Rucka would never have painted himself into this corner.
  • Negan: The guy is fun.  It’s almost like Kirkman has saved up every little scrap of clever dialog that he’s heard in his life and is feeding it to Negan.  “Let me get out my crystal balls….”  Also, it was interesting that Dwight didn’t tell Negan about Eugene’s special penis biting move.  There was no, “Boss, I wouldn’t wave my junk in that guy’s face.  He bites!”  It’s just another subtle reminder that Dwight is on the side of the good guys.

The art is perfectly fine.  I never have to wonder what is happening in a scene because the action is so crystal clear.  There are a few characters I don’t love the look of (Carl is starting to get a weird, alien-face), but others look great (Jesus when he’s all panicked).  And then there’s the two-pager of Negan and crew standing over Eugene that was drawn for the original art market.  I honestly don’t know how to feel about that.  I’m an original art collector and I can totally respect the artist’s right to make cash on this stuff, but I object a little when there are such blatant pages because it affects the storytelling subtly.  I wonder if it’s just that Kirkman gives Adlard SO many pages of talking heads that just aren’t going to sell for more than a few hundred dollars that he feels obliged to give him the occasional $2K masterpiece opportunity?

Conclusion: Factual problems aside, there is a lot of positive momentum to the plot right now.  That’s a good thing because this story has been in-place for a long time.  However, the factual problems and story non-sequiturs do prevent this issue from getting the highest marks.

Grade: B

-Dean Stell