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

SPOILER ALERT

The Walking Dead has always been a slow-paced story, but this story is setting the bar higher (or lower?) than its ever been.

You’ve got Rick wandering around town talking about bread and giving out relationship advice.  You’ve got Andrea aggressively questioning the newcomers.  You’ve got newcomers talking about whether this place is trustworthy.  You’ve got Rick and Carl discussing his career options.  There just isn’t much to grab onto yet.

It’s all well and good to watch the characters that we’ve (mostly) grown to like living their lives, but I also don’t want to see The Walking Dead become even slower paced than it has been before.  It makes me wonder if Kirkman doesn’t have a plan or that he’s out of ideas and is just milking the story.

But, since we know that TWD isn’t going to become Archie, the danger will have to come from somewhere.  Right now we’ve got three possibilities.  I just hope we get on with developing these stories:

  1. Negan – He’s clearly not going to stay locked up in the cell forever.  And Kirkman is making great efforts to remind us of Negan’s attempts to manipulate Carl and befriend him, but Carl is going away to be a blacksmith.  Hmm… That seems odd: Reminding us of the Carl/Negan dynamic in the same issue where it is announced that Carl will be leaving the city.  Regardless, I’m amazed at how much charisma Negan has lost by growing his hair out.  He’s like the anti-Samson.  Grow his hair out and take away his bat (the jawbone of an ass?) and Negan is just a dude in a cell, and not a very interesting one either.
  2. Newcomers – Well, they clearly didn’t come all this way to fit quietly into Rick & Co’s lives.  But, beyond the obvious mutual suspicion, I don’t see a THREAT looming here.  The newcomers don’t seem to be evil and we know that Rick’s crew isn’t evil either.  So, what bad could happen?  Maybe they’re legitimately new characters who are going to be built up  to join the main cast and there won’t be any stress and conflict.  Jesus joined without any real stress.  Still, it seems a waste to not make something stressful happen.
  3. Zombie! – It all seems a little too convenient with the zombies right now.  It reminds me of a movie where there is some pompous corporate jackass boasting about how how *they* have “mastered the weather cycles of Earth” and how the “planet works for US now…” only to learn the hard way that Mother Earth will NOT be controlled and the corporate jackass is killed by a hurricane/shark/earthquake/Godzilla.  It’s the same story any time the arrogance of man allows him (it’s always a man) to think he can control the uncontrollable, and it comes back to bite him.  That’s kinda what I see going on with the zombies.  They’re basically a force of nature now and Rick & Co. seem to be getting a little cocky with how they can herd and control them.  It’s like the zombies aren’t even dangerous anymore… They’re just flood waters to be diverted into a ditch.  You know that won’t last.  To be honest, I’d like to see another round of the zombies being scary.  The political stuff with Negan and other survivors is fun, but it doesn’t quite compare to the horror of being gnawed alive or seeing your loved ones eaten in front of you.

The other thing I’m struck by is the change in Rick.  He’s kinda gone very quickly from a guy who yelled a lot and covered a lot of pages entirely in word balloons to a man of few words.  I mean, you could totally see that scene with him and Eugene talking about Rosita playing out differently with Rick going on for pages about the nature of relationships.  Now he’s almost Herschel-like.  I understand that this is a new Rick, but the combination of his shorter dialog and his new visual appearance makes him seem a little too old.  He’s not acting like a 40 year old man who has had his eyes opened, he’s acting like a 65 year old who is dispensing advice while letting the young folk learn lessons themselves.  I suspect this is just something for writer and artist to work out.  Either the dialog OR the art change would be okay, but the combo ages Rick a little more than they probably intended.  They’ll probably get this recalibrated in a few issues.

Watching the Rick/Carl dynamic continues to be interesting.  I’ve been complaining for months that TWD isn’t showing enough forward progress in the story, but if you look at where Carl was in the first story arc to now, he’s changed a lot.  Back then he was very much a child and now he’s a young adult.  Nevermind that he’s probably aged more rapidly than the rest of the cast, Carl has come a LONG way.  Kirkman clearly has some sort of plan for Carl/Rick/Negan because “Carl Grimes – Apprentice Blacksmith” isn’t going to be a very popular comic.  I have no idea where this Carl story will end up and that’s kinda fun.

Andrea is also in an interesting place.  Suddenly SHE is the one doing the harsh interrogation of newcomers (as opposed to Rick), being dubious of everything they say, etc.  Remember back when Andrea was the young and naive college student (or was that her sister) and it was scandalous that she was sleeping with Old Man Dale? Now she’s this awesome sniper with a facial scar and is in charge of interrogating newcomers.  I guess the one thing I’m missing is why they’re so suspicious of newcomers?  I guess all newcomers are a theoretical threat and we’ve met some lousy characters (prisoners, Governor, Hunters, Negan), but something really bad must have happened off-panel to make these folks so passionate about  not trusting people trying to join the group.

I’d also like to see what Michonne is up to.  Why is an A-list character who sells action figures getting no page time?  That would be like Wolverine not appearing in X-Men or Snake-Eyes not being in GI Joe.   Weird…

I guess to sum up, the comic is still good, but it’s a little deliberately paced for my tastes and there are an awful lot of characters who need panel time considering that we are very early in the next story cycle.  When are all these characters going to get time?  Or are they going to just fall to the side like Maggie has?

The art is still perfectly fine.  I think I say this every month, but TWD isn’t a comic that you buy for the artwork; and that has become more true as we’ve moved to this more rapid publication schedule.  It’s lost a little since Adlard handed over inking duties.  It’s just not as crisp and doesn’t have as much depth and vitality as TWD used to.  With some comics, I might be disappointed because I value comic art very highly and think the artists should get headline billing over the writers, but TWD isn’t a comic that needs to blow my socks off with splash pages.  I just need to know that Andrea is hassling the hell out of New Girl in the interrogation chamber and that Rick has decided to take a mellower approach to life.  The art still delivers that.  I worry a little that this new art style won’t be able to deliver the goods the next time we see someone pulled apart by zombies, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.

Conclusion: TWD is still a very solid comic.  Well written, nicely illustrated, it really drives home how much some of these characters have evolved since issue #1.  The pace is a little slow though, and there isn’t much “WOW!” anymore.  I’m sure it will come, but for now you’re buying this comic with an eye towards a payoff in 20 issues.

Grade: B

-Dean Stell

 

 

Grade

Conclusion