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The Walking Dead S05E01 – Review

Original air date: October 12, 2014

Review (with SPOILERS): You won’t find many episodes of The Walking Dead that nicely encapsulate what the series does well (at times), while also reminding you that it is a deeply flawed dramatic series.  It’s a hard episode to review and I found myself liking it less the more I thought about it.  So many rewrites…

I can totally see why half my friends loved this episode, but I see a lot of nits to pick…

The Glass Is Half Full: You won’t find many scenes on basic cable more intense and uncomfortable than the opening scene in the abattoir.  It first built dread with an agonizingly long build-up: ominous knife sharpening, practice swings with the bat, creepy/cold stainless steel everywhere, lots of cuts to bodies on slabs… It’s all kinda preposterous! I mean, that knife was probably sharp already, right?  But, it gives time to ponder the threat to Rick & Co. and to contemplate the mechanics of everything– why the bat? Why are they kneeling?  How’s this slaughtering going to happen?  Long pauses are uncomfortable.

And then they start executing the no-name guys and – ugh – the SOUNDS!  The smack of the bat on a head and the rush of air coming from the severed windpipes.  Yeesh! They really put a lot of effort into making sure that we were uncomfortable as hell.  And then they killed FOUR no-name guys when we kinda got it after just one.  It was awful.  But it was also really effective.  Rick & Co. wanted to leave that room, and so did the everyone else watching this scene.  Tthe creators really committed to that scene, and they were able to invoke a universal feeling of discomfort with their audience.  The bar for causing discomfort just keeps going up.

The zombie scenes were a total romp.  The herds rumble along, eating the no-names and getting vanquished by the heroes and we are entertained.  It’s all good fun.  It should be routine at this point, but they keep finding little innovations like the Flame Zombie or nifty ways to kill them and it keeps working.

The other bonus from this episode is that we weren’t forced to endure monologs from either Rick or Carl.  Perhaps the writers realized that we don’t really want to hear Rick talking about how good people do bad things sometimes or hear Carl talk about anything.  So Carl spent the episode locked in a train car and Rick was literally gagged.  Andrew Lincoln is a fine physical actor, so the less talking and more doing, the better.  Nobody likes monologs and perhaps they’ve figured that out after 4 seasons.  Hopefully we never have to endure a Rick monolog as his companions listen in rapt attention.

It’s also encouraging that we aren’t going to linger in Terminus for a whole season the way we loitered at the Farm and the Prison.  One of the cool things about a post-apocalypse story is the opportunity to see lots of different micro-societies, and it would be a shame if we didn’t see more of the countryside.  I’d rather leave Terminus with questions than stay past the story’s freshness date.
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The Walking Dead #132 – Review

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. Continue reading

The Walking Dead #131 – Review

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.
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The Walking Dead #130 – Review

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. Continue reading

American Vampire: Second Cycle #4 – Review

By: Scott Snyder (writer), Rafael Albuquerque (art), Dave McCaig (colors) and Steve Wands (letters)

The Story: The Gray Trader comes after Pearl.

The Review (with SPOILERS): This has been a very challenging review to write.  Anytime that happens it is a sure sign that the comic is one that I had high hopes for that has let me down in some way.
What’s weird about writing this type of review is that they easily veer heavily into what is wrong with this issue and the ways that it has disappointed me.  Then I proof-read the review and realize I have written 1000 words about the shortcomings of the issue, and then given it a “B” for a grade.  Which is weird…
So, just know that there is a longer analysis of the negatives of this issue as it relates to the prior run of American Vampire.  It was deleted, but this issue has slightly disappointed me for a couple of reasons.  One is that it really misses Henry.  Not only was the Henry/Pearl relationship fascinating, but Henry was interesting with everyone else too.  Great character.  He was also kinda the reader’s eyes into the world of vampires.  We could identify with him because he was a human and without him, there isn’t a similar anchor for our perspective.  And the Skinner/Pearl relationship isn’t anywhere near as interesting as Henry/Pearl.  In fact, Skinner just isn’t that interesting.  He’s just an anti-hero and while I think he was fine as a cool supporting character, he’s not quite strong enough to carry the series.
The other thing that hurt this story arc is that it felt less anchored to a point in American history.  It’s set in either the late 1950s or early 1960s, but there is no big theme to help me fix this story in time.  It sounds like that will change in the next story arc as our vampires get sucked into the space race.  THAT sounds very, very cool and not just because “Duh….vampires in effing SPACE!!!” but because the space race is an important part of American history.  I hope that we’ll also get some civil rights movement (possibly involving Cal) and some Vietnam War stuff in there too (again, Cal is a former soldier and could play a part).  But this story didn’t have that historical anchor and it suffered for that.

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Spread #1 – Review

By: Justin Jordan (script/creator), Kyle Strahm (art/creator), Felipe Sobreiro (colors) and CRANK! (letters)

The Story: A post-apocalypse nomad finds a baby that could hold the secret to defeating a demonic plague.

Review (with minor SPOILERS): This was a pretty solid first issue.  The post-apocalypse genre is very crowded.  It happens to be one of my favorite genres just because I like to see what storytellers can do when you take away certain rules.  It’s the same thing as telling a story where gravity didn’t exist or where faster-than-light travel was possible: Taking away rules opens new avenues for storytelling.  So, I’ll sample most things post-apocalyptic even if it means I get a healthy dose of crap sometimes.

Spread is pretty solid.  The reasons for the apoclaypse are vague: something about digging too deep and unleashing something nasty and horrible.  Humanity isn’t totally destroyed as we see dead researchers and their crashed plane.  And there are bandits, there are ALWAYS bandits.  But the focus is on a nomad named “No” who wanders the land and is immune to The Spread.

No has a neat look to him.  He looks like a less muscly version of Wolverine in civilian clothes: messy black hair, unshaven, sideburns, Candian wilderness attire, etc.  And we learn quickly that No can handle himself well in a fight when he uses twin hatchets to take down a Spread-possessed researcher.  Along the way, he finds a baby who may be the secret to saving humanity from the Spread, get’s chased by lots of Spread monsters and that’s it.  End of issue #1.  So, we meet the protagonist, his reason for being in the story and learn the basic set-up of this world.  Some comics take 4-5 issues to accomplish that.  Spread #1 pulls you in enough that you’ll be curious to see what happens in issue #2.
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The Walking Dead #129 – Review

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…
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