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

The battle on the Hilltop rages on… The best word to describe this issue is, choppy.  This is what happens when you push an art-team to grind out bi-monthly issues for an extended period.  The issue isn’t without its qualities – and we’ll discuss those – but it’s still a shame to see the visual storytelling suffer.  TWD has been such a visually strong series for so long that we all know what Charlie Adlard can do.  We’ve seen him glide through issues just like this one without a hiccup, but this bi-monthly schedule is causing his art to suffer.  It’s a little like watching a favorite racehorse start to run poorly because he’s been running too frequently without enough rest by an unscrupulous owner.  Although, unlike the racehorse, Adlard probably will be just fine with a little rest.

On to the issue…

  • Rick is sick: I’m really impressed that the comic still seems to be continuing down this path.  A lot of things could happen.  I mean, Rick could just have a standard infection, but Kirkman is really trying to tell us that Rick is going to die.  The more I think about it, the happier I am with this story direction.  We’ve seen a pretty complete story from Rick.  The only thing that’s left for him to do is die.  Now think of all the other grim signs: (i) Carl is pretty self-sufficient, (ii) Rick has found happiness with Andrea, (iii) Jesus shaking Rick a few issues ago saying Rick is the only possible leader for their group, (iv) Negan prattling on about how the group will fall apart once Rick dies…  However, even with a bedridden Rick, we see that Jesus and Michonne are able to devise a plan to clear out Hilltop, Carl is able to come to the rescue, Maggie has plans… This group shows us that they can be fine without Rick Grimes.
  • Eugene on a mission: Speaking of leaders, I love the story with Eugene.  His entire arc has been about a guy reinventing himself in the zombie apocalypse.  To sum up, he has gone from horrible, wretched loser who lied about his connections with Washington to get Abraham to protect him, to the man whose preferred fighting move was to bite another man’s on the penis… From a guy who is serving a useful role in the community by making ammunition to a guy who gets the hot girlfriend that used to “date” Abraham, Eugen has now become the man leading the prison break and pushing vicious enemy soldiers off the roof.  Talk about an arc of redemption.  He’s either going to take Rick’s place or die horribly…
  • Noise: It was a totally hectic issue!  As I mentioned above, the art didn’t really keep up, but there was a lot of stuff going on.  Lots of nameless characters dying.  Lots of bullets and frenzy.  Lots of CHARGING.  Lots of RETREATING.  I’m not sure it served the story that much, but it did create the sense of a chaotic atmosphere… Maybe that was the point?
  • Zombie goo thing: I found the whole thing of Michonne finding a zombie-goo encrusted knife to be a little weird.  I mean, haven’t these people seen lots of weapons with zombie-gunk on them.  Just because you find a knife with some gray ooze on it doesn’t mean that Negan had this cunning plan.  Maybe the guy just stabbed a zombie and then dropped the knife?  I understand why it was here.  There needed to be some way for the survivors to understand the fate that awaited them.  There needed to be something better than just Rick getting sicker and sicker and nobody understanding WHY.  But, this was a kind of a clumsy way of introducing this to Rick’s crew.  Why couldn’t Negan just yell some snappy Negan-talk over the wall, “Hey you #$%%@!  That arrow was covered in &%$# zombie juice!  You’re dead, mother-%$#@#$!”

Other than that, it wasn’t too eventful of an issue.  We should expect a few more issues of this before reaching the finale of this story.

Conclusion: Solid storytelling, interesting story possibilities, despite the art having trouble keeping up with the schedule…

Grade: B

-Dean Stell