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

The Review (with SPOILERS): There’s just too much material here for an excellent single-issue.  Counting off the top of my head, without reviewing the issue, we have (a) the discussion of the missing scout and whether zombies can talk now, (b) a tease of flirtation between Maggie and some new patrol-guy who we just met in this issue, (c) the reintroduction of an ass-kicking Sophia, (d) a discussion between Rick and Maggie about leadership and happiness, (e) a teaser of what is going on with Michonne, (f) the actual search for the missing scout, (g) Carl’s occupational drama as an apprentice blacksmith, (h) a potential rebellion by the Newcomers, (i) budding romance between Carl and Sophia.  That’s too much for 22 pages.  You can’t do all of those stories justice with a few panels here and there.

To be clear, the story concepts themselves aren’t without merit.  There are just too many of them going on at one time.  It would be nice to think that all will be addressed in their good time, but it would probably be as efficient from a storytelling perspective to wait on a few of them and tell theses stories in the next year.  I mean, I enjoy seeing Maggie possibly able to love again after Glenn was brutally smashed 31 issues ago.  That’s awesome.  I like Maggie.  I like seeing her happy.  I’m just not sure that the overall story has room for THAT as well as everything else.

With that said, there is a bit of inconsistency from issue-to-issue as well.  Last issue, the big reveal was that the zombies might be talking.  “OMG!  The zombies are talking!”  This issue development is reduced to a sidebar that barely warrants discussion.  Last issue we had the kinda touching drama that Carl may have missed out on his blacksmith apprenticeship because he and his Dad were too slow to pounce on the opportunity.  I really liked that story.  It had little kernels of wisdom to “strike when the iron is hot” that every reader can identify with because we’ve ALL missed out in our lives…  Then, in this issue, that drama is just yanked away as Carl is enrolled as Apprentice #2.  I just don’t understand why that story needed to be resolved now in an already crowded issue.  Why not let Carl wallow for a bit, have Sophia start to flirt with him a few panels per issue and let us readers worry (passively) that Carl will dither again and miss out on something else?

Basically, issues like this make me feel like Robert Kirkman needs an editor and life manager, someone to tell him when he is perhaps too stretched between various multi-media projects to focus on his bread-and-butter– someone to tell him, “hey man, these are all nice story concepts, but how about picking just one and doing a great job with it?”  He’s also paying the price for his characters becoming too precious and needing their own storyline.  He needs to kill some characters not just for shock value, but to stream-line his story.

But with all that’s going on, I’m still curious to hear what has happened with Michonne; even if this vague mention is a little exploitative to the readers…

Oh yeah, and where is Negan?  Remember when there was all that momentum building about Negan being locked in the basement and what a mess it would be when he got out and cliffhangers about the Newcomers releasing him?  That doesn’t even get a mention in this issue.  Frustrating…

The art continues to be fine, but nothing exceptional.  It’s not art that I look at with an eye toward buying original pages anymore, because it has way too many awkward panels.  But it still manages to just crush the key panels.  Like that scene when Maggie turns away from the guy who is flirting with her and she smiles.  That panel is perfect.  It would be so easy to mess up that panel and make Maggie smile like she was on a roller coaster or like she’d just seen a clown, instead we get a smile that is just to herself because she kinda digs the guy who is flirting with her. But she sure as hell isn’t going to let him know that yet.  So, even though I’m saddened that the art isn’t a tour-de-force anymore, there is nothing wrong with this stuff.  Carry on…

Conclusion: A messy issue…  There is almost no momentum as storylines seem to be randomly mushed together.  There are about 4-5 really nice character moments that are getting lost in the plot mayhem.  Why not let us enjoy those moments a little bit?

Grade: C

– Dean Stell