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The Walking Dead #123 – Review

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

The Story: Negan attacks!

The Review (with SPOILERS): Pretty big event on the final page, huh?  Robert Kirkman has either done something very brave OR very eye-rolling.

The topic for discussion is – of course – the fact that Rick Grimes was shot with a bolt from a crossbow on the final page.  Negan’s plan of attack has been to smear all of his Saviors’ weapons with zombie gunk, so this would imply that Rick is infected with zombie goo and is going to die.  He isn’t shot anywhere that can be amputated either – right through the abdomen.

If Kirkman really and truly is killing Rick, that is a very brave decision.  He is the main character and it is his story that we’ve followed since issue #1 back in 2003.  Rick is also the central character of the highest rated drama on cable television.  Can you imagine telling your friends who watch TV, but don’t read the comic that, Rick is dead in the comics?  The thought of that might actually sell some comics…

However, it would make a lot of sense to kill Rick.  I personally think his story has been used up for some time.  It isn’t that we can’t keep having stories with Rick in them, but wouldn’t it be interesting to see how a survivors group of Michonne, Maggie, Andrea and Carl managed after Rick was gone?  We’ve never seen that dynamic.  It would be new and fresh and The Walking Dead could use a little freshening.  It isn’t so much that I want to see the group do any particular thing, it’s just that I feel like I’ve seen the story with Rick in charge.  I’d like to try something new.  Let’s see what ELSE this group of humans can do.
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The Walking Dead #122 – Review

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

The Story: After Alexandria is abandoned, both Rick and Negan prepare for the final battle.

The Review (with SPOILERS): This issue is mostly set-up for whatever comes next.  Judging by the letters page, we have four more issues left in the “All Out War” storyline, so the pacing really makes sense: Rick and Gang are bracing for the final battle, Negan is preparing a special type of weapon and Dwight might have some help on the inside.

Starting with Rick & Gang, it’s all pretty standard stuff: Rick knows they need to attack, Andrea is vigilant, Ezekiel is pulling himself back together, Maggie is dealing with her new leadership role, Health deals with only having one leg, Jesus is having a moment of quiet…  The only real call to action is that they don’t have enough food for the entire group.  That fact tells us that everyone hiding inside Hilltop is not an option: The people in there NEED to fan back out into the countryside again, and that isn’t an option until Negan has been dealt with.

It’s all fine build-up inside of Hilltop; nice little character moments.  I’m not sure that I care that much about character-building at this point in the story – I’d rather get onto the climax – but there’s nothing obnoxious and offensive about seeing this stuff.  And hey, Jesus is gay!  Who knew?  Subversion is awesome…

Meanwhile over in Negan-land, things are getting decidedly weird.  Negan has the great plan to smear zombie goop all over the Saviors weapons, and while I do think this foreshadows a sad death or two for Rick’s team (as they waste away from a scratch), it also seems really dangerous for Negan’s men.  I mean, he has thoroughly coated the barbed wire on Lucille with zombie goop, would you want to ride down the road holding onto that thing?  Oop! Hit a pothole and scratch your hand on the barbed wire.  Seems like it would make more sense to just stop on the way to Rick’s compound and get some zombie goop on the way.  And wouldn’t all of their weapons already have zombie goop all over them already?  I mean, it isn’t like we’ve seen the Saviors pouring peroxide all over their weapons before.
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The Walking Dead #121 – Review

 

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

The Story: Alexandria is burning!

The Review (with SPOILERS): This is a pretty good issue of The Walking Dead mostly because it has forward momentum from a plotting standpoint.  Even though there is some lurching and creaking, this story is clearly moving through a metamorphosis to “whatever comes next”.

So, let’s go through the events of the issue, because a LOT happens.  Certainly a LOT more than we typically get in an issue of The Walking Dead.

  • Leaving Alexandria: It’s burned and ruined.  While I have some factual problems with the storytelling, I’m glad to see Rick & Co. away from this stronghold.  The Walking Dead is like a shark and it dies if it stops moving forward.  Even with Negan out there, the status quo in Alexandria has been too comfortable.  The story doesn’t need zombies clawing at the walls all the time, but it needs more stress because stress is the fuel for dramatic tension.  It should always be zombies, bandits, cannibals, food rationing, disease, weather, a less than ideal gender ratio, etc.
  • Leaving Alexandria II: I’m very pleased at how quickly the decision to leave Alexandria happened.  Rick just kinda said, “We’re leaving.” and then it happened.  A part of me feels that the pace is inconsistent with some of the other storytelling in the series: This feels like there could have been a caption box saying, “Two days later…”  But, I’ll put that aside because I’d rather see them get on with the story rather than Rick arguing with some housewives about how Alexandria isn’t safe anymore and beating himself up over whether it is all his fault.
  • Leaving Alexandria, fact check: How ruined is Alexandria, really?  I mean, it still has good walls.  Aren’t walls the most important thing in the zombie apocalypse?  Just erect some tents or find the place that sells those $799 aluminum carports or go to Home Depot and get some of those $599 tool sheds.  And can you really put all the belongings of the whole community in a couple of buses?
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The Walking Dead #120 – Review

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

The Story: Negan goes on the offensive.

Review (with SPOILERS including some from much earlier in the series): Honestly, I have kinda mixed feelings about this issue.

On one hand, the All Out War seems to finally be rocking along, supporting characters are dying, bases are being destroyed, old friends come galloping to the rescue…  On the other hand, we’re still not done with the storyline.

I was actually sitting down to write a totally positive review until I remembered the last time that Rick & Co. were rousted from a base (by the Governor in issue #48).  Even though some of the Governor’s raid happened in the previous issue, the action in issue #48 is gloriously tight.  The deaths of supporting characters like Herschel’s son and Alice the Doctor only get a panel or two.  Herschel just gets a BLAM and he’s dead.  Even the death of Lori and baby Judith gets all of two pages (one full-pager of them getting splattered, one of Rick looking back and then urging Carl to run).  The Governor died over the space of a couple pages.  By the end of the issue, Rick and Carl are on a hillside overlooking the carnage of the prison and holding onto each other.  The End.

In this issue, we spent longer on the plight of Heath and Denise than we did on Lori, Herschel and the Governor combined.  That doesn’t necessarily make this a poor issue, but it’s a little window into how The Walking Dead has lost a few mph off its fastball over the years.  People talk about issue #48 years later for a reason.  It is tight, condensed, pulls no punches, etc.  Nobody will ever talk about issue #120 in such glowing terms.
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The Walking Dead #119 – Review

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

The Story: Tides turn in the war between Rick and Negan.

Review (with SPOILERS): After the weird, messy issue that we got last month, this was a return to normalcy for The Walking Dead.  It wasn’t a great issue, but at least it wasn’t filled with weird art and odd story-telling constructs.

The main plot point of this issue was Negan turning the tide on Rick & Company.  This happens via Ezekiel’s failed attack and I’m not sure how to feel about this.  On one hand, it seems strangely unplanned for Rick’s army to have no contingency planning for a failed attack.  The upshot of Ezekiel’s failure is that not only did he fail to wipe out the outpost of Negan he was responsible for, but that such outpost would then be free to help Negan out of his zombie problem from a few issues ago.  As we saw by the end of the issue, this allowed Negan to “steal a march” on Rick.

It just seems really odd that there was no plan if any prong of the attack failed to avoid just this sort of problem.  What happens is that Ezekiel basically went home and cried for a few hours, when instead he should’ve  sent a runner to Rick to let him know what happened.  Why didn’t they think of this in advance?  Why didn’t Michonne suggest it to him?  I mean, it seemed like Rick had everything else planned out, right?  On the other hand, these guys are all amateur generals, so it isn’t too unsurprising that they would overlook something like this.  Probably if Abraham was still alive, he would have pointed out this problem with Rick’s plan.

Let’s just say that “mistakes were made” and leave it at that….
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The Walking Dead #118 – Review

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

The Story: Rick & Co. press the attack against Negan’s men.

Review (with SPOILERS): Right from the first page, this was a strange, disjointed and sub-standard issue.

We start with a dust-up at the Hilltop settlement between Mayor Gregory and Maggie.  It was just so odd to start an issue with this story.  Usually TWD flows directly from issue to issue.  When you read the trades, you usually cannot tell where the breaks between issues happen.  This scene has nothing to do with Negan’s speech about rape that ended last issue.  So, it was very weird to start with a character we don’t care about (Gregory) and a character that has been totally absent (Maggie) for the whole of the war with Negan.  I’m just not sure what the point of the confrontation was?  Gregory is just a weasel and when Negan pushed him aside a few issues ago, I honestly thought that the zombies had probably eaten him off-panel.  Gregory is such a non-character that I was totally fine with that resolution.  So, it is weird to see Kirkman devoting pages to his survival and return to Hilltop with a few of his henchmen?  I didn’t realize he had Kal and those other guys with him.

Then Maggie starts yelling at him and for the first time I became aware of how much speechifying is going on in TWD.  I mean, there are a LOT of people standing on soap boxes in front of slack-jawed civilians, telling them how we’re going to fight and how we’re going to live.  Rick has done this a LOT; Negan does it too.  But for some reason, when Maggie and Gregory are bickering about whether Gregory is a dick or not, I thought, “So, do all the people just stand there and watch like it’s Shakespeare in the Park?”  It really is weird when you think about it.  I’m not saying this was the worst speech in TWD history, but it is the one that made me think the speeches were weird and that they were happening too frequently.
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The Walking Dead #117 – Review

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

The Story: Having trapped Negan in his compound, Rick begins the next phase of his plan.

The Review (with SPOILERS): This is an issue that is just “doing work.”  The big event was last issue when Rick feigned an attack on Negan just so the gunshots from the skirmish would draw the zombies down on Negan’s compound and trap him.  That was kinda cool and very unexpected, using Zombies as a weapon.  Here we just see Rick moving on to wipe out Negan’s outposts before they learn that Negan is in trouble.  That’s all fine and I’m sure there will be some interesting bloodshed, but seeing Rick & Co. attack nameless thugs isn’t all that exciting.

The more intriguing thing is that Rick sends Michonne back to their home-base to give Andrea and Carl assistance “in case Negan counterattacks.”  Hmm…  Let’s just say that there is a lot of ominous foreshadowing about Andrea and the Alexandria Safe Zone.  We have all this talk about Negan making a counterattack.  We have Negan’s own little speech about how the key to crushing Rick lies in attacking Andrea.  We have this thing about how Michonne and Ezekiel are all lovely dovey/flirty before being split up.  It seems like Ezekiel is going to do the dangerous thing (attacking the outpost) while Michonne is doing the safer task of guarding the home base.  I can’t say this is going to end well.  I’m not sure what will happen in Alexandria, but all signs point to it being bad.

Negan also gets a nice turn in this issue.  The Governor was never this interesting.  Seeing his little speech where he thinks he has Andrea in his grasp, only to realize that it is really someone else with short hair was really cool.  That single panel where he realizes his mistake, turns his head to the side, squints his eyes shut and squeezes the bridge of his nose…  Awesome job, Charlie Adlard!  That is just what people look like when they’re frustrated and realize that a strand of hope has been ripped away.  I also loved that Negan has a very keen tactical sense.  He knows that it was hopeless to fight through the zombies.  His bravado wants him to kick ass, but he is too smart to do something hopeless.  But then he also realizes that they are dead meat if they sit trapped in the compound for very long.  I can’t wait to learn more about Negan.  Who was this guy before?  He’s too smart to just be some common thug.  I wondered for awhile if he was some ex-high school jock who had a loser job before the apocalypse and he is now getting to relive his big man on campus days. But Negan is way too bright, aggressive and tactical to imagine him with a loser job.  I love that he’s such a rich character that I’m actually starting to wonder about his past and ascribe personality traits to him that haven’t been exhibited on the page.
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