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

The Story: The mystery of the whispering zombies is revealed….

Review (with SPOILERS): After last month’s hot mess of an issue, it’s a pleasant surprise to see The Walking Dead dust itself off with a very credible effort.  It would be nice to see this series develop some consistency, but that probably just isn’t in the cards as the series is being written more and more for binge consumption in collected editions.

Of course, the big event takes place in the second half of the issue where we see Dante’s group learn the secret of the talking zombies.  Learning that these talking zombies are actually normal humans wearing zombie skin was a pretty nifty reveal.  When you’ve consumed a healthy helping of fiction in your life, you kinda live for the moments when a storyteller can show you something you haven’t seen before; and this is one of those times.  True, it’s a play on the early reveal that smearing oneself with zombie guts would keep the zombies at bay, but it’s still pretty different.  And the reveal was so nicely handled from a storytelling standpoint– we see Dante’s group doing their very orderly, teamwork-driven attack against the zombies and …  WTF?!?!? Was that zombie holding a knife?  And did it just take a swipe at one of Dante’s group?  I liked how the moment was revealed to the reader in the same confusing manner that the actual characters would have felt, a very, “Did I really just see what I think I saw?”  Then a couple of the humans are killed in the ensuing confusion and we the readers are left to contemplate whether this talking zombie is really some kind of smart zombie.  It just looks so evil when it’s whispering away at Dante.  The zombies themselves are only scary in the way that sharks are scary, they aren’t really evil.  So, it was a nifty twist to see zombies as something scarier.

Now, there are a number of questions raised by the reveal itself.  I trust that Robert Kirkman will come up with some reason as to why skinning a zombie and wearing it’s skin is the way to go.  I mean, why not just do what the other survivors do and avoid the zombies?  What is to be gained by shuffling along in the herd?  Perhaps it helps them to control the herds and use them as weapons?  I also have a question about how exactly you skin a zombie and whether the skin wouldn’t be so rotten that it wouldn’t just fall apart.  And getting a buddy to actually sew the skin shut seems a little excessive.  And what’s the point of shuffling along with zombies way out in the middle of nowhere?  Anyway, it’s a neat reveal, but I hope there is a solid storytelling reason for this novel approach.

The rest of the issue is a bit of a miss.  There is a quick follow-up on last months BIG CLIFFHANGER that the Newcomers had attacked Andrea and were going to perhaps torture some answers out of her.  Of course, that BIG CLIFFHANGER only merits a single, solitary page in this issue and there’s no resolution or payoff.  It’s things like this that are really hurting this series.  You can’t keep dropping BIG CLIFFHANGERS and then have the next issue treat that storyline as an annoyance.  And then there was more of Rick and Maggie yammering about how nice and boring things are.  I guess there is a school of dramatic storytelling that says you have to show the characters at peace so we really appreciate what they will lose when the zombie-skin people find them. But we’ve been reading TWD for 132 issues! We KNOW that these characters will never have a respite because once they do, there is no reason for the series to continue.

And what happened to the big tease last month when we finally heard about what happened to Michonne?  And Negan doesn’t show up again after all the build-up of his relationship with Carl and his attempt to get the Newcomers to release him?  Weird…

The art certainly has its moments.  From a sequential storytelling perspective, it is still spot on.  The reveal of the whispering zombies is masterfully done.  On the other hand, just as you’re appreciating the skill and nuance of the whispering zombies, we are treated to a splash page of Dante holding his sword.  It’s one of those splash pages that makes me scratch my head.  I mean, I barely know what this character’s name is yet.  Does he really merit a splash page that was cynically scripted for the original art market?  Is there a demand for original Dante splash pages?  And it isn’t even a very good splash page– weird lighting/shading, strange body proportions, eyes closed, etc.  It’s not a good splash page when your eyes are drawn to the character’s lower left leg when we’re supposed to be appreciating his triumph over the zombies.

Conclusion: For this issue, I choose to look at the positives and appreciate the masterful second half of this issue.  Nicely done…

Grade: B+

-Dean Stell