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

The Story: Locking Negan up was always going to be a bad idea…

Review (with SPOILERS): If The Walking Dead could have a sub-title, it could be, “Hoist by one’s own petard.”

This whole shift in tone for The Walking Dead over the last several issues has really focused on a kinder, gentler and older Rick Grimes.  To me, he seems almost like Herschel, and I almost felt like they had made him too old.

But, what we saw in this issue is that he’s still the same old Rick.  For one thing, the scene where he beats the hell out of the highway patrolman shows how he continues to put a lot of stock in symbols.  Whether it is The Prison, some walled town, or now a Road, Rick always looks at these sorts of symbols as things that show that humanity is getting its act back together.  Or he’s had some selfish motive for valuing the symbol.  With the Road, it is obviously important because it is linking the various human settlements, and those settlements are important because moving from single-cities to a network of connected communities is a natural evolution.  But Rick really cares about the Road because his son is going to live in another community and he needs the Road open so that he can go see his son.  If a few highway patrolmen need to get flogged so that Rick can see his son, so be it.

You also see Rick’s ego coming into play with Negan.  He tells people that Negan is a prisoner because their community is too civilized to execute him.  But, the real reason is that Rick wants to rub his victory in Negan’s face.  He wants to visit Negan every day and spike the football in front of him.  That’s why he brings Negan his food personally, but makes a minion clean out Negan’s shit bucket.  The clever thing is that Negan knows the score.  He knows that Rick is making a mistake by not killing him for prideful reasons, and he knows that Rick will eventually pay for making the wrong choice for the wrong reason.

The other development in this issue is that we see the newcomers find Negan.  One of our commenters last month pointed to this possibility; that the newcomers would find Negan, he’d fill their heads with lies about Rick and they’d release him from jail.  I’m happy to see this storyline moving forward.  As readers of these reviews know, I’ve grown weary of the deliberate pacing of The Walking Dead.  It is has never been a fast comic book, but it has gotten slower over time and my opinion is that stories need to move more rapidly as they age.  And this story is gracefully moving forward.  I’m not entirely sure I want to see another round of Rick vs. Negan, especially after finishing two years of . But we’ll see what Kirkman & Co. come up with for these two…

I’m also still frustrated by the lack of Michonne.  Actually, “confused” might be a better word.  Once you get beyond this image of Michonne as the ninja assassin – which she’s never been – she’s a pretty complex character.  Kirkman has done more to give her nuance and unexplained emotions as anyone else in the comic.  I’m unclear why he’s brush her aside when she is popular AND interesting.  I’d rather see what she and Ezekiel are doing than watch Rick in his little circle of self-destruction.

So the good news is that the story seems to be moving forward.  The Waking Dead is the ultimate page turner and as long as the story has forward momentum, it is an entertaining read.  The bad news is that we seem to be stuck in the same story themes that are pretty well-worn: Rick dealing with Carl’s maturation, Rick’s pridefulness, and Rick vs. Negan.  It won’t be a terrible story, but I doubt this will be the BEST story that Kirkman could have told us.  He’s like an aging pitcher who has lost a his fastball, or a successful comedian who loses the ability to be funny because he is surrounded by yes-men who laugh at his jokes whether they are funny or not.  There’s a lot more to The Walking Dead than Rick, and I’m just frustrated that we have to have a tunnel-vision view of the world.

The art, as usual, is on point in this issue.  It is solid and incredibly good at storytelling.  It’s so rare to have a panel in TWD where the action or emotion is unclear.  That being said, this still isn’t the high-water mark for TWD artwork.  That was back around #60-75 or so.  This is more rushed and looser.  The addition of an inker helps with production, but the final product isn’t as crisp.  The art is fine, but it isn’t anything I’d consider purchasing as original artwork anymore.

Conclusion: Finally,the story moves into gear… Unfortunately, it seems headed to a very familiar destination.

Grade: B-

-Dean Stell