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

This was a pretty interesting issue.  The Walking Dead delights in being a “slow burn” and that can be frustrating while readers are waiting for the story to coalesce (like a kid waiting for the Jello to harden), but once it does turn the corner and develop a sense of direction, TWD is able to instill more of a sense of anticipation that just about any other comic that I read.

This issue seems like it might be turning the corner to doing something real.  I say that mostly because of the sheer number of players in motion right now.  You’ve got the newcomers getting settled, we’ve seen them find Negan and resist his charisma, Rick is out visiting Maggie at Hilltop, Carl is having employment challenges, and maybe the zombies are changing.

Probably my favorite part of this issue dealt with Negan.  I liked how quickly he saw that his “HELP ME!!!” charade wasn’t working on the newcomers and we even saw him revert back to vintage Negan.  I really do wonder what Kirkman is going to do with Negan in the long term.  He’s too interesting to kill, and Kirkman probably could have killed him at the end of All Out War, but he’s such a fun character that Kirkman kept him around.  It was probably like when you were a kid and your parents told you that you were too old for some of your toys and they were right, but you kept one stuffed animal anyway because it was awesome.  I’m looking forward to what becomes of Negan.  I also enjoyed that the possibility of the newcomers naively letting him go didn’t come to pass.  That could have been a good story, but it would have been a little too fast.  I mean, surely anyone who has survived the zombie apocalypse this long isn’t a dummy.

I also enjoyed Carl’s very real-life problem that he missed out on the opportunity to become an apprentice blacksmith.  It’s funny how as society is re-emerging in TWD, problems that are familiar to us readers start to show up.  Carl had a chance to do something and he dithered a little bit, and Rick was reluctant to let him go, and now the opportunity is gone.  Kinda like when you mean to ask a girl to the prom and before you can ask, she tells you that someone else asked her.  It’ll be interesting to see how Carl deals with this.

One thing I didn’t really buy was this continued exposition about Rick the Leader.  The dude is famous now; so famous that he had to change his appearance to get people to quit gawking at him.  I just don’t buy that the hardened survivors of the apocalypse are star-struck when they meet Rick Grimes.  “WHOA!  It’s RICK GRIMES!!!  Kids!  Look!  It is RICK GRIMES!!!  Please shake my hand!  Sign my jacket!”  Part of the problem is that I just don’t like Rick all that much and don’t see him as a believable leader, and all this idolatry makes the other people look weaker than they should.  I also don’t understand where Kirkman is going with all this.  Surely there is a storytelling purpose for upping Rick Grimes so much?  Maybe it’s to make it just that much more dramatic when Rick screws the people over somehow.  Or maybe it is a subtle metacommentary on how the re-establishment of a society has caused the populace to over idolize political leaders and attribute things to them that they don’t really merit?  I think I like that.  I’ll go with that later suggestion until proven otherwise.  Kirkman has gone subtly meta before in TWD.

But of course the big moment in this comic is the, “OMG!  Zombies are talking!” moment.  There isn’t much to go with on this story yet, so all we can do is speculate.  Honestly, I would really welcome a change-up in TWD.  Lots of zombie fiction has altered classic Romero zombies somewhat; look at the recent fad of “fast zombies” and “infected…” We’ve gotten lots of good stories from those innovations.  So, I’d kinda like a wrinkle of, “what if they could communicate?” or “what if they haven’t totally forgotten who they were in life?”  I’m excited for innovation in TWD because it can’t just continue being a story Rick & Gang re-establishing human society only to have it ruined by a combo of zombies and the Governor/Hunters/Negan over and over and over.

On the other hand, I am immediately cautious of this development because there is probably a very real chance that these zombie voices were imagined.  If they were imagined, that is VERY problematic.  With one notable exception, TWD is a comic where you don’t know what they characters are thinking.  As the reader, you are a fly-on-the-wall and you are only privy to what they say and what they do.  There are no narration boxes and no thought balloons.  The notable exception was the Telephone story back around issue #55.  That story was fine, but I’ve always thought it was a mistake by Kirkman to let us readers SEE what “Lori’s voice” was saying on the telephone.  Kirkman could have told the same story just fine and only shown us Rick’s side of the conversation.  Obviously, TWD is Kirkman’s story and he can tell it however he wants to tell it, but I just find it weird that he’d disdain thought balloons and narration boxes, but be okay with showing us the imaginary voices that characters “hear.”

The art is fine.  TWD has been more visually appealing in the past, but  honestly, this isn’t a comic I read for the art anyway.  The softer and looser look that inker Gaudiano is bringing to the book just isn’t as good (or as appropriate for the subject matter) as the solo work that Charlie Adlard did for years.  But, it still tells the story perfectly fine so I’m happy.

Conclusion: It seems like things are starting to move forward.  There are some red flags in this issue, but I’ll reserve judgement until we see what Kirkman is doing with them.

Grade: B

-Dean Stell