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The Walking Dead #99 – Review

By: Robert Kirkman (writer), Charlie Adlard (art), Cliff Rathburn (gray tones), Rus Wooton (letters) & Sina Grace (editor)

The Story: Does Rick’s group still want to pick a fight with the bad guys???

A few things [with SPOILERS]: 1). Deflated Rick. - Man….remember a few issues ago when Rick was all full of piss and vinegar?  “Oh yeah!  Negan things he’s a bad man?!?  Wait until he gets a load of ME!!!”  It’s interesting to see how meek Rick suddenly is.  Was Abraham the only thing that made Rick so confident?  Or, is Kirkman getting a little meta: Rick is recoiling because he thought all of the central characters were “safe” in The Walking Dead; just as many online reviewers have pointed out that TWD feels too safe and we just don’t believe that Kirkman will kill Rick/Andrea/Michonne/Carl/Glenn/Maggie.  Maybe Kirkman has realized that himself.  Maybe Kirkman killed Abraham to upset the reader’s footing.  Maybe Abraham’s death will mirror Tyrese’s death as a harbinger of a really bloody issue #100.  And….to wrap it all up, maybe Rick is mirroring the reader’s new sense of unease.
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The Walking Dead #98 – Review

By: Robert Kirkman (writer), Charlie Adlard (artist), Cliff Rathburn (grays), Rus Wooton (letters)

The Story: Maybe Rick thought they could take out this new guy without any casualties, but that probably wasn’t realistic.

Review (with SPOILERS): 

1. Death of an underused character – So long Abraham!  I kinda like the fact that Kirkman killed our favorite military guy.  For one thing, his character wasn’t serving much purpose.  It seems like Kirkman had been toying with the idea of having Abraham lead a revolt against Rick (from the comments by Abraham’s new girlfriend), but then said, “Screw it.  That’s not going to work.” and killed Abraham instead.  So, let’s look at the fallout.  Abraham’s death does reinforce the “no one is safe” element that TWD was losing.  He’s a solider and a big strong man.  If Abraham can be killed with an arrow to the back of the head, it can happen to anyone.  Second, maybe Rick’s gang is a little complacent?  If you’re just strolling down the street because you’re only worried about zombies, but ignoring the danger from other humans, you can get an arrow to the head pretty easy.  Third, what impact will this have on the women in Abraham’s life?  We’ve seen how Rosita kinda fell apart after being dumped by Abraham.  How will she be now?  How with the new girlfriend be?  With the way these survivors cling to each other and how much solace they MUST find in having a companion, it would be horrible to have your companion die like that.  Fourth, what does this do to Rick’s plans for being the baddest gang in the Arlington area?  Rick wants to start a gang war with what?  He’s got Andrea, Michonne and a bunch of herbivores.  Is that enough?  The only crummy thing about Abraham’s death was the weird way he kept talking with an arrow sticking out of his head!  It was weird, like he didn’t notice the arrow or something.

2. Action! – Besides Abraham, we had a lot of other bad guys get killed in this issue.  Frankly, it was all shooting and chopping and penis biting (thanks Eugene).  This issue didn’t hurt for excitement.

3. Sex = Death? – I can’t say I’m optimistic about the future of the Rick/Andrea relationship.  Think of the couples we’ve seen sexually involved in TWD: Rick/Lori, Dale/Andrea, Tyrese/Carol, Tyrese/Michonne, Michonne/Morgan, Rick/“Arlington Woman”, Abraham/Rosita…  Am I missing anyone?  In all of those relationships, someone has died: shot, suicide by zombies, beheaded, died from wounds, zombie bite, eaten by zombies, arrow to head, cannibalized…  The only stable and happy couple in the series has been Glen and Maggie.  So, who do you think will die by chainsaw?  Rick?  Andrea?
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The Walking Dead #97 – Review

By: Robert Kirkman (writer), Charlie Adlard (art), Cliff Rathburn (gray tones), Rus Wooton (letters) & Sina Grace (editor)

The Story: Rick and his scouting party return to Arlington with news of the Bigger World.

Recap/Review (with SPOILERS): As was the case last month, The Walking Dead shows how much better it works when the reader can see a looming threat.  There’s nothing surprising about Kirkman using this approach because (a) it’s classic drama and (b) he’s historically used it well with Shane, the Governor, Dexter, the Cannibals, the zombies that invaded Arlington, etc.  Kirkman is really good at showing us a smoky threat in the distance, building it for 3-5 issues and then having a huge climax.  It may be formulaic, but it’s also  a useful storytelling technique.

Right now, this Negan character is kind like the shark in Jaws during the first hour of the film; we’ve heard about him, but haven’t quite seen him yet.  When Rick and gang run into Negan’s scouting party it’s like seeing the tip of the shark’s fin; we really don’t know what Negan will be like.  Will he be like the Governor?  Will he be Lord Humungous from Mad Max?  Will he look like the chainsaw dude on the cover of this issue?  The imagination runs wild and I love it.  All we know right now is that Negan is a bad character and by laying waste to the scouting party and then talking smack, Rick has thrown down the gauntlet in a BIG way.
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The Walking Dead #96 – Review

By: Robert Kirkman (writer), Charlie Adlard (art), Cliff Rathburn (gray tones), Rus Wooton (letters) & Sina Grace (editor)

The Story: A finale to the Larger World story-arc hints at possible future conflicts.

The Review (with SPOILERS): Yea!!!  We have a direction for the story leading up to issue #100!  That’s good and it’s in keeping with the “TWD formula”: For the most part, we’ve always seen the big blob of crap coming before it hits the fan. That doesn’t mean that Kirkman has foreshadowed every tiny event, but we’re usually able to smell it coming.  Consider the Governor or the trouble between Shane and Rick or the zombie herd that attacked Arlington.  None of those things just happened out of the blue, we had a few issues to anticipate the danger and think about what horrible things might happen when all hell breaks loose.  When TWD is at it’s best, the surprises are all in the details, not the general theme of the story.

The last story arc really suffered from a lack of direction and danger.  I guess there was a chance the the inhabitants of Hilltop would be cannibals or otherwise hostile, but we’ve already seen those types of stories and readers are cynical enough to know that Kirkman is unlikely to run the exact same play twice.  So, that left us with an overly long trek for the band to arrive at Hilltop; and it was boring.

As it turns out, Hilltop isn’t that much different that Arlington in that the folks inside are mostly sheep.  Not many folks with sharp-teeth in this joint!   About the only difference between Hilltop and Arlington seems to be scale: Hilltop is big enough to be self-sufficient; Arlington is not.  Actually, just that difference in scale illustrates how TWD has played the with theme of TRUST.  Obviously in the world of zombies, you can’t make it all alone.  So, you have to trust people.  Actually, you have trust a LOT of people if you want to have all the skills and labor supply that a self-sufficient society needs.  Rick trusts Andrea not to slit his throat as he sleeps, but that isn’t enough.  It isn’t even enough that he (mostly) trust the denizens of Arlington. To make it work, he’ll have to trust all of Hilltop too.  However, bringing that many people into your tent means you’ll inevitably get some rotten apples (which means rapists, cannibals and murderers in this world).

And, the threat is clear: There is another group of people who seem to be hard-core baddies.  They’re basically running a protection racket: Give us your food and we’ll keep the streets safe.  Is it really surprising that organized crime would arise in the post-apocalypse?  What’s also super cool is that we haven’t seen these baddies.  We just know their leader’s name: Negan.  Doesn’t that just sound awful?  And we get the stray comment about a captive that “If Negan has Crystal, she’s already dead…”  We also learn that the Hilltop-gang doesn’t even know where Negan’s base is!  Holy crap!  And, bad-ass commando/karate guy Jesus is scared of them.  Did you get the sense that Jesus was remotely afraid of Rick’s group????  Me neither…
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The Walking Dead #95 – Review

By: Robert Kirkman (writer), Charlie Adlard (art), Cliff Rathburn (gray tones), Rus Wooton (letters) and Sina Grace (editor)

The Story: Rick and gang finally see the community called Hilltop.

A Few Things: [as always....with SPOILERS]

Glad to finally see this place. - Well, it’s taken us a long time to reach this Hilltop joint.  At least 2-3 issues, right?  For me, one of the fun things is just seeing how different groups have fortified themselves against the zombie menace (and the stray bandits).  So, it’s kinda cool to hear that their walls were built out of metal scavenged off of barns whereas Arlington is walled off with those noise barriers from the sides of highways.  Lots of good tips in here for doomsday preppers!  It was also neat to see a community that isn’t built entirely upon scavenging cans of pinto beans from deserted houses.  The initial walk-through reminded me of visiting a Renaissance Fair with all the chickens, cows, etc.  For some reason, Hilltop also gave me a very strong “plantation” vibe…. It seems like there may be a strong division between classes of people.  It may not be that way, but that’s the vibe I got.

Something is clearly going on. - Well, those guys on the wall sure were jumpy, huh?  And then that “scouting party” came back and that didn’t go well at all.  It seems like Hilltop is having a little trouble with the neighbors.  I’d tend to think that Hilltop are the “good guys” since only bad guys turn messengers into assassins, but… One fascinating thing about TWD is that it doesn’t have to just be about zombies.  This comic could go on for years after the zombies have rotted away.  Let’s see the survivors sink deeper into barbarism and begin to forget the knowledge that mankind has accumulated over the millennia.  If it goes long enough, I’d love to see TWD explore a new Dark Ages.

Can Michonne get some dialog? - Am I the only one bothered by this?  Can we let Michonne do something other than mutely hack up zombies?  Remember a year or so ago, when there was a whole story-line about how Michonne was having difficulty adapting to the relative safety of Arlington?  Remember how upset she was when Morgan died?  Remember when it seemed (for a second) like there might be a romantic notion between her and Rick?  That was interesting. I just don’t understand why she can’t be the subject of a background storyline.  I mean….it isn’t as if these issues have been jammed full of cool events since we just spent several issues trekking to Hilltop.  It’s puzzling, especially with the boost the character will get from the TV show and her origin being explained in an upcoming issue of Playboy.
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The Walking Dead #94 – Review

By: Robert Kirkman (writer), Charlie Adlard (artist), Cliff Rathburn (grey tones), Rus Wooton (letters) & Sina Grace (editor)

The Story: The gang sets out to find one of these new cities that we’ve been hearing so much about.

A few things: [with SPOILERS]

1. Too much writing for the trade. - There was a time when TWD was equally enjoyable in both single issues and collected forms.  If you read the trades, you really couldn’t find the break point between issues since Kirkman doesn’t put the covers in there.  The story just flowed in trades.  But, if you read the single issues, you got a satisfying chunk of story and a cliffhanger each issue.  I used to always throw out TWD as an example of dual excellence whenever anyone would defend some tedious 6-issue superhero story… But recently, I feel like the single issues are suffering a bit.  I’ll bet this story reads just fine in collected form, but I’d like a little more punch and snap to these single issues.  Unfortunately, not enough happens here.

2. Keep playing the Andrea/Rick card. - Let’s keep playing with this relationship.  I LOVE both of these tortured souls and if they can find happiness anywhere, it would naturally be with each other.

3. Good use of Carl. - I’m happy to see Carl do something unexpected in this issue.  Rick’s group has gotten so tough that a shambling group of zombies just isn’t any danger, now that the “warriors” are the only ones leaving the protection of Arlington.  Send Carl into the mix and suddenly everything is scarier. I also like how Rick adapted to Carl’s presence pretty fast. He was pissed, but knew there was no point in going back.  It does beg the question of what is going to happen when Maggie finds out that Carl isn’t there.  She’ll shit a brick!  And I guess Rick has no way of letting her know.
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The Walking Dead #93 – Review

By: Robert Kirkman (writer), Charlie Adlard (artist), Cliff Rathburn (gray tones), Rus Wooton (letters) & Sina Grace (editor)

The Story: Is this promise of a new colony a blessing or a threat?

Five Things:

1. How do you know who to trust?  - I really do like how TWD continues to be about everything BUT the zombies.  How do you know who to trust?  Clearly, no one can survive in this zombieland on their own, but where do you stop your circle or trust?  Rick’s gang has added new folks before: Michonne, Abraham, the Arlington folks…  Clearly, more people is potentially better, but only if it is the right kind of more.  If “more” means “more Governor” or “more cannibals” then it’s a bad thing.  And of course anyone who has survived this long in the apocalypse is going to be a little paranoid due to natural selection.

2. How badass is Rick’s gang? - Rick makes an interesting observation towards the end of this issue: His gang is pretty darn badass and maybe they don’t have to worry about running into bad guys because they’ll just kill them if they act funny.  How true is this?  What evidence do we have that Rick’s gang is all that tough?  Let’s see, they got smashed by the Governor.  They crushed the cannibals.  So, their record would be 1-1.  I guess they did take out that other group that attacked the Arlington compound about 10 issues ago, but that wasn’t really a fair fight with Rick’s group being fortified.  And, Rick’s group is clearly tougher than the original Arlingtonites, but those sheep are so wimpy that it kinda defies reason that they would have survived this long (it’s almost a plot hole).  I think it’s not THAT clear that Rick’s group is badass.

3. Adlard does great storytelling. - Simple storytelling excellence is easy to take for granted, but when you also review books like the GI Joe comics, you realize that you can’t just assume the the storytelling will be solid.  With Adlard, you rarely get anything flashy (although there are some pretty vistas in this issue), but you can always tell the characters apart and the action is always crystal clear.  There’s even a neat fight scene in this issue where Rick smashes a dude to the pavement and each panel flows from the one before.  That’s slick because we’ve all see countless comics that make you wonder, “how the hell did he land on the RIGHT side of his face if he was being thrown like THAT in the panel before?  Did he do a flip or something?”
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The Walking Dead #92 – Review

By: Robert Kirkman (writer), Charlie Adlard (artist), Cliff Rathburn (gray tones), Rus Wooton (letters) & Sina Grace (editor)

The Story: New stuff pops up, but is this going to be a threat or an opportunity?

Five things: 

1. Glad to see something intriguing happen! - I was really hard on the last issue of TWD.  The last “big climax” a few issues back (the unsuccessful insurrection by the Arlington natives) was kind of a dud and then when we have a few issues of fumbling long-standing characters, I did start to wonder if this series had jumped the shark when Andrea started talking to Dale’s hat.  So, it was nice to see TWD get back to a sense of mystery and exploration.  We haven’t had that in a long time (since Rick’s gang came to Arlington) and exploration is an important part of this series.  Just having a new scenario to exert some new forces on the equilibrium the characters are settling into is a great thing and can power the series through rough patches.

2. Interesting new scenario. - The new scenario is neat and kinda makes sense.  So far, Rick’s gang has mostly been out in rural areas.  Not a lot of people = not a lot of settlements.  Now we’re in the Washington, DC area and it makes sense that there would be more pockets of survivors and that they’d start to interact like a big game of Sid Meier’s Civilization where you can achieve supremacy via diplomacy, economic prowess or military conquest.  It sounds like Rick’s group was that “nation” in Civilization that was off in the corner doing its own thing, but will now be forced to find a way to deal with these other groups and who knows if their weaponry will be sufficient to be taken seriously.  Just the sense of exploration makes me a little giddy even if a nay-sayer would say that this scenario is similar to the prison/Governor set-up from ~60 issues ago.

3. Shoosh! Carl’s getting his memories back… - Man, this is going to be rough.  Poor kid and poor Rick.  Can you imagine having to tell your kid that his “dream” of killing another child was no dream… That it really happened?  And imagine telling him that it was the right thing to do because the other kid was a sick bastard.  If Kirkman keeps handling Carl this way, it’ll be a powerful reminder of just what a screwed up childhood this world forces on the kids.
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The Walking Dead #91 – Review

By: Robert Kirkman (writer), Charlie Adlard (art), Cliff Rathburn (gray tones), Rus Wooton (letters) & Sina Grace (editor)

The Story: Life drags on inside the Arlington enclave.

Five Things: [SPOILER WARNING]

1. What a bummer resolution to the Rick-Andrea situation!  Really?  Issue #90 ends with Rick and Andrea having a passionate kiss and then we come back to the scene at an undetermined time later to see Rick pushing her away?  That sucks!  There’s no real problem with having the relationship “end” in this fashion, but why did everything have to happen off-panel?  We don’t even know if they just kissed or slept together or had an affair for a week.  This was a really unsatisfying way to handle two characters in which the readers have a lot of emotional investment.

2. Don’t like the Rick – Carl relationship either.  Man, Rick just isn’t have a very good time.  Now his son is getting all kinds of chippy with him.  Hopefully Kirkman has a plan here because it isn’t fun to see Rick getting yelled at by his son.  There were such great dramatic possibilities when Carl got shot in the face.  Imagine if Carl had forgotten everything that had happened and had to be told that his mom was dead, that he’d killed Shane and later executed another child in cold blood, etc.  THAT would have been incredible to see if Carl would reform in the same way that he had formed the first time.  But, I really don’t get the point of having him get shot if it was just to have him scream, “You don’t understand!” at his father and argue with him about the proper terminology for this hole in his head.

3. Vague new threat.  So…someone is watching the Arlington enclave.  We’ve already seen that.  In fact, one of the last crises was strangers attacking the compound.  We don’t really need to see that again.  Granted….it probably won’t be precisely that same scenario.  This stranger could be friendly.  They could be there with GOOD NEWS for a change.  But, the fact remains that the cliffhanger on the final page didn’t hit with typical TWD crispness because it came out of the blue.
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The Walking Dead #89 – Review

By: Robert Kirkman (writer), Charlie Adlard (art), Cliff Rathburn (gray tones), Rus Wooton (letters) & Sina Grace (editor)

The Story: Will the Alexandria survivors accept Rick & Gang as the leaders of the settlement?

SPOILER WARNING

What’s Good: It’s nice that Kirkman isn’t screwing around with the newest threat.  There have been times in the past where he’s taken 6-12 issues to let a situation build and – in all honesty – that’s pretty much what I expected from this arc.  So, it was a welcome surprise that this grumbling bunch of malcontents just went right ahead and made their play.  Not only does it give some appreciated action and conflict to the issue, but there is nothing about this “threat” that indicates it’s worth a year’s build-up.  I mean, Rick and Gang have faced off with zombie hordes and the fricking Governor!  How is a grumbling malcontent who doesn’t even have a gun (at least not at first) supposed to be much of a threat?

So, Kirkman just uses this malcontent as a symbol of a community tearing itself apart.  It kinda makes sense. I mean we’ve never seen anything about the residents of Alexandria that indicates that they’re hardcore.  Everything in their back-story has suggested that they’ve led a relatively posh existence inside the wall.  On the other hand, Rick and Company are pretty hardcore.  These are the folks who’ve survived all the crappy not-so-zombie-proof “safe” areas (the RV, the farm, the subdivision), cannibals, the Governor, zombies, internal dissent in the prison… Did I mention the Governor?  How are these two groups going to blend seamlessly?  In some ways it reminds me of the challenges I’ve seen military friends have when they try to reassimilate to civilian life after dealing with things that civilians just can’t relate to or imagine.

The other cool thing in this issue was the montage showing that Rick’s gang is still tight.  You always wonder if Kirkman is going to have one turn on the group as this dissent in the community builds.  Nope, doesn’t look that way.  Rick, Andrea, Michonne, Abraham and Glen are a pretty badass team and it’s nice to see them (seemingly) staying that way.

It’ll be interesting to see how Kirkman plays the story out from here and I’m amazed that almost 90 issues in, I’m still hanging on every word.  This tale isn’t getting dull yet.
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The Walking Dead #88 – Review

By: Robert Kirkman (writer), Charlie Adlard (art), Cliff Rathburn (gray tones), Rus Wooton (letterer) & Sina Grace (editor)

The Story: Life goes on in the Alexandria compound now that someone has woken up from a coma.

What’s Good: As with all Walking Dead reviews I do, this review contains SPOILERS….

Honestly, there isn’t a whole lot to really cheer in this issue.  There is a nice little bit of Andrea as she fends of an unwelcome romantic advance.  This sort of love triangle is just what would probably happen in any small, closed environment.  I’d bet that the Alexandria compound doesn’t have a perfectly 50/50 ratio of eligible men and women, so some folks aren’t going to make a love connection.  Beyond the biological imperatives that these folks might be feeling, sometimes it would be nice to just have some companionship, ya know?  And, you can only imagine the potential violent messes that could arise from unrequited romantic feelings in this pressure cooker!  Chalk this up as another trademark Kirkman “slow burn”.

It was also just generally interesting to see the folks getting to work, scouting the immediate area, planning for the future, etc.  One of the interesting things about any post-apocalypse story is seeing how humanity tries to put the pieces back together and we haven’t gotten any of that in TWD in years.

The art is also a plus on this issue.  There is really zero showing off by Adlard; just good solid comic storytelling.
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The Walking Dead #87 – Review

By: Robert Kirkman (creator & writer), Charlie Adlard (artist), Cliff Rathburn (gray tones), Rus Wooton (letters) & Sina Grace (editor)

The Story: The survivors of the Alexandria compound set about rebuilding their walls and their lives.

What’s Good: [The top portion of this review is spoiler-free.  I'll have discussion of the big "Oh crap!" spoiler at the bottom of the page, after the Grade for the issue.] This is another one of those issues that features Kirkman doing quiet character-building.  He spends a good bit of time on our long-standing characters, while also starting to put names to some of these previously anonymous and interchangeable characters that were in Alexandria before.  Kirkman is a pretty efficient writer, so the only reasons to build some of these characters up is either (a) he’s going to be using them a lot in future issues or (b) to make it hurt when they get killed.  Adding these news folks to the mix is really necessary because so many of the Alexandria people who had names didn’t survive the zombie attack from several issues ago.

However, we can already see the beginnings of conflict beginning to brew.  For one thing, it seems like Kirkman is fiddling with a possible love-triangle with Rick, Andrea and Michonne.  There’s nothing overt (yet), but we clearly see Rick and Andrea getting closer and we also clearly see Michonne appreciating that Rick cares about her.  The prospect of a love triangle between these three is both thrilling and heartbreaking.  Thrilling because we readers who have followed these three characters really LOVE them.  Honestly, do you know any TWD readers who don’t love Andrea and Michonne?  We want them to be happy.  But, can you imagine what a painful issue it’ll be if in 5-6 issues, Rick and Andrea become an item and the heartbreak is what pushes Michonne over the edge?  Ouch….

Just the fact that I’m blathering away about a potential love triangle tells you all you need to know about the subtlety of Charlie Adlard’s art.  His style is definitely on the realistic side, and while he does inject emotion into his characters, he also leaves their expressions vague and open enough that the reader can start to pour their own thoughts and feelings into the story.  It’s just a sign of a mature and confident artist who has gotten to the point where they know what to show and what not to show.  Bravo!
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The Walking Dead #86 – Review

By: Robert Kirkman (writer), Charlie Adlard (art), Cliff Rathburn (gray tones), Rus Wooton (letters) & Sina Grace (editor)

The Story: The survivors reestablish their status quo in the wake of the big zombie attack from several issues ago.

What’s Good: Robert Kirkman is a master of the slow burn.  Every story cycle he starts out with the smoldering embers of the last story arc’s explosive conclusion. He gathers those embers into a pile, adds some fresh fuel and in ~6 issues you have another explosion.  What’s amazing is that the formula has stayed pretty constant throughout TWD’s run. It never gets stale since the “explosion” is always different.

This is one of those stories early in the cycle.  Basically, we bounce around the Arlington compound and touch base with a bunch of characters and see where their heads are.  Rick is worried about his son and wants to rebuild their compound better, and stronger.  There is fallout from the Rosita and Abraham break-up.  Rick has nice chats with Michonne and Andrea.  But the theme for this issue is character development and community.  Rick wants to live in this compound forever, he says. [Although you wonder how much of that is simply that Carl cannot be moved.  Perhaps all this ‘wall building’ is merely his way of protecting his vulnerable son?

We do get to see zombies, but having fought off hundreds of swarming zombies inside the walls, it’ll take a lot more than 5-10 roamers to unsettle our survivors now!  They treat the zombies almost with disdain.

There are still a lot of mysteries.  It seems like Rick might really lose his shit if anything bad happens to Carl and we don’t know what form the new danger would take, and that’s fine.  It’s always fun for TWD fans to guess: Will it be zombies?  Will it be human cannibals?  Kirkman also seems to be noodling around with Rick’s relationship with both Michonne and Andrea.  I personally think you could get a very powerful storyline by establishing a love triangle among those three and then have it go wrong.  Who would you bet your money on if Andrea and Michonne were trying to kill each other?  What is the gender ration in the post-zombie world?  I’d imagine having a 60/40 split either way would lead to all kinds of societal stress…

This is another very strong issue from Charlie Adlard.  TWD is so rooted in first person realism, that it doesn’t give him a chance to really show off.  But his storytelling is excellent.  TWD would get really confusing if you ever had questions about who was talking or what was going on in the story.
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The Walking Dead #86 – PREVIEW

thewalkingdead86_cover

THE WALKING DEAD #86

story ROBERT KIRKMAN
art & cover CHARLIE ADLARD & CLIFF RATHBURN

How do we deal with what comes next?

RETAILER WARNING: MAY NOT BE SUITABLE FOR ALL AGES

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The Walking Dead #85 – Review

By: Robert Kirkman (writer), Charlie Adlard (art), Cliff Rathburn (gray tones), Rus Wooton (letters) & Sina Grace (editor)

The Story: The humans clean up after laying a massive smack down on the zombies in last month’s issue.

[SPOILER WARNING ]

What’s Good: Comics can’t be breakneck all the time.  The Walking Dead is a marathon that alternates lots of issues of quality character-building with an issue here or there of action and terror.  In issues #83 and #84, we got a LOT of that action as the zombies came pouring into the “safe zone” outside of Alexandria and the humans (led by Rick) decided that this was the time and place to make a stand.  In those issues, you could just see that “a lot” of zombies were killed, but this issue really drives it home as we see the survivors setting about burning all the corpses.  Wow….that’s a whole lot of dead zombies!

What makes Kirkman such a good writer is how he can bounce from the action of last issue to the calm and post-traumatic stress of this issue.  After spending the last ~10 issue being certain that the survivors were going to be driven out of Alexandria by the zombies, I love that we’re getting to see them learn from the mistakes that allowed this near catastrophe to take place and make affirmative efforts to fix the situation.  Rick and his gang seem to be 100% in charge of Alexandria now.  When they first got there, they were the guests, were worried about fitting in and didn’t want to rock the boat.  Now they’re in charge and have all kinds of plans to fortify their living quarters.

Kirkman also isn’t above giving us an “Oh Shit!” moment when Rick’s girlfriend comes lurching out of the pile-o-zombies, lurching towards people with her almost severed hand from where Rick chopped her with his hatchet because she was slowing the group down and was going to get Carl killed.  As if the scene of Rick chopping her to save his and Carl’s lives a few issues ago wasn’t harsh enough, having her reanimated corpse lurching back to life just shows that Kirkman really isn’t pulling his punches.
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The Walking Dead #84 – Review

By: Robert Kirkman (writer), Charlie Adlard (art), Cliff Rathburn (gray tones), Rus Wooton (letters) & Sina Grace (editor)

The Story: After the shocking events of the last issue, the survivors need to man-up.

What’s Good: [SPOILER WARNING]

If you thought that this issue would continue the bloodbath we got last month, you would be wrong.  After issue #83 (where Jesse and Ron got gobbled up by zombies, and where Rick chopped Jessie’s wrist with an axe to get her to let go of Carl, and where Carl got shot in the head due to some very unsafe gun handling by Douglas), I really expected this to be the issue where Kirkman thinned the herd again and distilled our core group back down to a few members before moving TWD on to the next set piece.  And Kirkman probably could have written that story as a pretty good issue even if he’s already shown us THAT story (in issue #48)… But, what we get instead is something completely awesome!

Rick and company decide that they’re taking a stand.  It starts organically with one-handed Rick fighting the zombies to give the doctor time to work on Carl, but just as things look bleak for Rick, Michonne comes flying in with her katana, leading her and Rick to fight back-to-back against a whole herd of zombies.  Of course we all expect Michonne to be the first of the survivors to suck it up and get down to business, but what happens next is truly incredible.  One by one, the survivors peek out of the houses where they have been hiding and go running out into the fray.  It isn’t too surprising that Abraham springs into action; he’s a military man after all. But some of the coddled survivors from the settlement, the fat science teacher and even Gabriel the priest come running wielding blunt instruments.

The fat science teacher even has the best couple of lines of the issue.  First, as he opens the door to the church to go to the rescue, he tells the priest, “C’mon Gabriel.  You can’t sit this one out” and later, when Abraham suggests that he take a breather in the turmoil he says, “This is a story people are going to tell.  I’m a part of this — I’m not giving up.”

And that’s this issue in a nutshell…  It’s all about a group of survivors who have been running for their lives from zombies and they are SICK of it; and by running this gauntlet they are born again.  In the end, they kill every single zombie that came into the compound and have retaken control of their destiny.

If you’ve ever recommended The Walking Dead, you’ve probably used the phrase, “It’s actually not about zombies.”  Well, maybe it wasn’t about zombies for the reader, but until this issue it was about the zombies for Rick and the other characters.  By the end of this issue, the zombies are, as Rick says, “a manageable problem.”
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The Walking Dead #83 – Review

By: Robert Kirkman (writer), Charlie Adlard (art), Cliff Rathburn (grays), Rus Wooton (letters) & Sina Grace (editor)

The Story: As the walled enclave turns into a zombie-filled death-trap, Rick & Gang make a break for it.

What’s Good: [Spoilers ahead.  If you haven't read the issue, just skim to the bottom, see the "grade" and come back after you've read it!] Wow!  Damn!  That’s all that can really be said after an issue like this one.  One of my criticisms of The Walking Dead over the last few issues was that I was starting to feel like certain characters were “safe” and that (unfortunately) Kirkman was going to have to kill someone to make me really buy into the long-standing notion that anyone could die at any time in TWD.

Well, we don’t get a straight-up death of a major character in this issue, but we DO get something pretty traumatic that could lead to death.  Actually, I don’t see how this injury is anything but fatal.  The events of this story could play out in so many tantalizing ways.  If Carl dies, will Rick really have the balls to put a bullet in his own son’s head when he reanimates?  There is an interesting parallel with Morgan who was unable to “kill” his zombified son.  If Carl dies, what will become of Rick?  Will being without his child be a lifting of a burden in a way and free him up to be a better leader…. or…will it ruin him?

So, many other superstar moments in this issue.  Michonne spilling her guts to a dead man before getting her “game face” back on.  Goodness do I love Michonne!  How about Maggie and Sophia making a decision to stay behind and Rick being 100% willing to leave them because he doesn’t want to waste the time to try talking them out of it?  Amazing, considering all that Rick & Maggie have been through together!  How about Ron & his mom getting gobbled by zombies and Rick chopping off her arm to get her to let go of Carl? Sheesh!  Only a few moments earlier Rick and this lady were being all snuggly and now he is ignoring her pleas for help and hacking her arm to save his son.  What about how blatantly clear it was that the residents of this enclave simply can’t hack it when the shit hits the fan?  Our original gang is basically dealing with the zombies like they are old pros whereas the “civilians” are peeing their pants and firing guns wildly.  How about Andrea coming up with a pretty decent plan to help her friends inside the wall?  Did you really think she’d turn tail and run?  I know that if I ended up being in The Walking Dead, I want to be on the team with Rick, Andrea and Michonne.
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The Walking Dead #82 – Review

By: Robert Kirkman (writer), Charlie Adlard (art), Cliff Rathburn (gray tones), Rus Wooton (letters) & Sina Grace (editor)

The Story: Zombies are breaking into the safe little enclave.

What’s Good: [SPOILER WARNING]

It’s amazing how an issue like this– that features the first full-on zombie swarm since around issue #58 or so– has so many great human moments.  When we broke away at the end of issue #81, the zombies were pouring into the compound through a weak place in the wall, and Morgan (who has been with us since issue #1) got bit.  I love that we quickly see Michonne come to the rescue.  Not only is she kinda the group’s resident badass, but this is her back in her element.  Remember how much trouble she had adapting to life inside the walls?  Remember all the issues she was having with her relationship with Morgan?  Even though she does seem to legitimately care about Morgan, this is what Michonne does: she chops up zombies and otherwise protects the group.  Without that, she’s a fish out of water and she’s the one who might almost be happier with a more frenzied state of affairs.

As things go from bad to worse and our survivors realize that there is no way to hold the compound, they are forced to retreat into the homes.  It struck me that this series has come completely full circle.  For all the experiences that our survivors have been through, they’re back to having nothing but window glass between them and hordes of zombies.  At this moment, none of these folks are in any better shape than any of them have been since the outbreak.

Other great little bits in this issue…  1) Seeing the minister have a chance for redemption by opening the door to let some folks being chased by zombies into his church.  Remember how we learned that during the initial outbreak that he’d refused to open his doors?  The unfortunate thing is that in drama, that kinda noble sacrifice doesn’t usually get rewarded with a long life.  2) Andrea isn’t going anywhere.  I mentioned this in my “pick of the week”, but you just know that she’ll do something to help.  And….she too is revisiting a scene from the past.  Remember how Andrea is the one who came to save the day when the gang escaped from the prison?  3) And how about Carl?  What an freaky thing that a boy who thinks he is 8 (since they may have missed his birthday), is trusted by his dad to watch over the dude who got bit by the zombie because everyone knows that Carl would put a bullet between the dude’s eyes if he wakes up a zombie.  Could there be a bigger statement on how screwed up these people are than trusting an 8 year old to have the judgment to euthanize a guy if appropriate?  4) And Rick has again come right back to putting his own child’s safety above everything else.  Can’t say I blame him, but this hasn’t been a theme for a long time in this story.

I also love how Kirkman ends this issue.  He’s spread out all of our favorite characters, and while you know that some of them are going to escape and probably some of these groups are going to meet up to continue the story, it’s pretty unlikely that everyone is going to escape.
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The Walking Dead #81 – Review

By: Robert Kirkman (writer), Charlie Adlard (art), Cliff Rathburn (gray tones), Rus Wooton (letters) & Sina Grace (editor)

The Story: Attack of the zombies OR “You gotta sink those fence posts in concrete!”

What’s Good: [This review contains spoilers] Kirkman has been teasing the hell out of us readers for ~6 months with this whole “No Way Out” storyline.  We’ve had teaser images and hints of what might go down, but he’s used the intervening issues to do some outstanding character building work on both his main characters and the supporting cast.

Big events abound in this issue as Kirkman gives his characters a final few panels of the good life before a weak fence post proves to be the undoing of the happy little enclave.

Kirkman covers some HUGE ground with Rick.  Remember the slumber party at Rick’s house from last issue (with the widow of the abusive husband that Rick executed a few issues ago)?  While some people might see it being icky that Rick sleeps with her, is this widow really less emotionally damaged than Rick?  Who’s taking advantage of who?  And it seems that this single night with a desperate woman is going to help Rick move on with his life.  Anything that makes him get rid of The Telephone…  Tom Katers (of iFanboy, Around Comics, Tom vs. Aquaman) made an excellent point a few months ago: The Telephone is the first and only time in TWD that we’ve seen anything that wasn’t real.  When we saw those word balloons coming from the phone, that was Rick’s insanity speaking.  But, we have never had another thought bubble or narration box in TWD.  The Telephone needs to go and if these events help Rick leave The Telephone behind, this story will be stronger and more cohesive going forward.

We also get a wonderful reversal of fortunes as Glen hatches a planl to rescue Andrea from the guard tower.  Kirkman builds the hell out of the tension as the rescue party shimmies over the mob of zombies because you just know that someone is dying in this issue.  Will it be Glen?  Will it be a redshirt?  But, just as we are convinced that Glen and Andrea are the ones in trouble, suddenly they are the safe ones as the enclave is undone by wobbly fence posts.

Month after month, Charlie Adlard just nails this series.  I almost feel like it is a shame that most of the credit during the launch of the TV show was given to Tony Moore.  Moore may have started it, but this is Adlard’s series now.  His framing of scenes to build the tension or the way his characters convey emotions is top-notch.
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The Walking Dead #80 – Review

By: Robert Kirkman (writer), Charlie Adlard (art), Cliff Rathburn (gray tones), Russ Wooton (letters) & Sina Grace (editor)

The Story: No Way Out begins.  Will the zombies get a snack?

What’s Good: This issue was a bit of a tease.  [SPOILER warning]  The thing that makes this comic series and book so special is that it isn’t just a ZOMBIES ATTACK story.  So, it would have been disappointing in a way just to have someone leave the gate of the enclave open and have the zombies swarm in.  What we get is a scenario where our protagonists are now surrounded.  They’re safe, but there isn’t an obvious way out of the enclave…and Andrea is stuck in the tower on sniper/lookout duty.  So what we have is more of a siege scenario: No one is getting eaten, but no one can leave either.

After depriving us of some all-you-can-eat zombie-on-human action, Kirkman gives us some great character work.  A few issues ago, Douglas basically ceded leadership of the group to Rick and we see Rick really rise to the occasion.  The guy who was cracking up a few issues ago, just needed a crisis.  His message is basically: Stay calm.  We’re safe for now and we’ll figure something out.

But the superstar moment of this issue happened when the battered widow of the man Rick killed a few issues ago asks if she and her son can stay with Rick & Carl.  In a dual scene, we see Rick and Jessie discussing Rick’s heroic nature (she admires him, he thinks he’s just doing the natural thing) but the heat is upstairs in an awesome scene where the other boy confronts Carl in the dark about how Rick “killed his Dad”.  Just about the time you get nervous for Carl, he deals with the situation is a way that shuts the other kid up AND leaves the parents completely unaware of what happened.  In some ways, I’m starting to see The Walking Dead as Carl’s story.  Much like the Star Wars films really ended up being the story of Anakin Skywalker (and not Luke), we thought this was Rick’s story, but I think in 50 issues we’ll say it was really about Carl, especially after a touching father/son moment in the middle of the issue.

Another cool thing about this issue is that there are so many ways the story can go from here.  Will the zombies find their way inside?  Will Andrea be safe?  Will Rick be sorry he distributed guns to everyone?  Will one of the precarious romantic situations boil over? It would be just like Kirkman if the true danger was the humans inside the compound.
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The Walking Dead #79 – Review

B y: Robert Kirkman (writer), Charlies Adlard (art), Cliff Rathburn (gray tones), Russ Wooton (letters) & Sina Grace (editor)

The Story: As life passes in the sleepy little enclave, danger is closing in.

What’s Good: The tension was just palpable in this issue.  It’s hard to discuss without getting a little SPOILERIFFIC so you’ve been warned.

Kirkman spends the entire issue bouncing from scenes inside the enclave (Note to Mr. Kirkman: Can you give this joint a name, please?) showing the survivors going about their lives and discussing the fallout from the last few issues.  The whole thing is a pretty classic horror movie set-up.  Show normal stuff.  Show impending doom and everything about this issue screams “BAD THINGS ARE ABOUT TO HAPPEN!!!!”  So, every time we leave a discussion of Rick and Andrea discussing her sniper skills during the shootout in the last issue to bounce over to Abraham and gang on construction duty, we kinda cringe.  I like Abraham, but you know he isn’t safe (since no one is safe in TWD).

Kirkman uses this tension very well and he doesn’t spoil his own stories by releasing 7 page previews of his comics, but he did start teasing issue #80 a few months ago.  We know that we’re headed for a big zombie mess in that issue, so Kirkman works with that and spends the whole issue just teasing us.  When you think about it, the zombies themselves haven’t really been a problem since Rick, Abraham and Carl got caught in the zombie herd around issue 58 or so.  That’s almost two years without a zombie attack.   It’s time.

The theme of this issue could also be “life goes on”.  We touch base with most of the major characters.  Budding romances are discussed.  Changes in leadership are afoot.  People are happy.  People are sad.  Andrea is wearing Dales hat.  But through it all, we keep seeing Abraham and gang doing routine zombie clean-up.  This won’t end well!
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The Walking Dead Vol.1: Days Gone Bye – Review

By: Robert Kirkman (writer/letters), Tony Moore (art) & Cliff Rathburn (gray tones)

The Story: A man wakes up from a coma to find the world has been overrun by zombies.

Review: News Flash!!!!!  There will be a TV adaptation of The Walking Dead beginning on AMC on Halloween night (Oct. 31, 2010).  Unless you have been under a rock, you will have already heard this news and if you are a big fan of the comic series, you have doubtless been telling family and co-workers how awesome the show should be.  Likely you’ve been hinting to these same people that you just happen to have a complete collection of The Walking Dead in the socially-acceptable-for-adults “graphic novel” format (since no only geeks would be seen to read -sigh- “comic books”) and would be very happy to loan these trade paperbacks out.

Or perhaps you are a non-comic fan who has seen the news of the show and believes that you should always read the book before you seen the movie.  So, you go on Amazon or drive to your local bookstore and look up The Walking Dead.  Where do you start?

Well, it is pretty easy with a series like TWD… You start with #1 which is the subject of this review and is titled “Days Gone Bye”.  This volume is not Watchmen when it comes to sales figures, but it is still making appearances on Top 10-20 monthly sales lists years after its release (which is an achievement in the flavor-of-the-day comics industry).

So, how is this volume that collects issues #1-6 of the comic series?  “We” all presume that this is what the first season of the TV show will be based upon, so is it good source material?  If you’ve never read comics, will you like it?  If you lend it to a co-worker, will they enjoy it or fling it back in your face?

What’s Good: Robert Kirkman does a wonderful job of establishing the basic story in this first volume.  That is the feeling of being alone, loss of family, join at reunion with people you had thought were lost and, of course, the zombies in the background.

It is very important to note that this series isn’t really been about zombies.  This comic is not “Night of the Living Dead”.  The zombies are a dull, background noise that kills characters when they least expect it or when they become careless.  Sure, there are a few “oh shit” moments in this volume where the survivors have to get away from the zombie hordes, but that is not the focus of the story.

So, if the zombies aren’t the focus, what is?  It’s the people, dummy!  Imagine being in a small group of ~10 survivors clinging together, starring at the end of the world.  How do you find food?  Where do you sleep?  And most importantly, who is in charge?  Is it the strongest?  The smartest?  The most vicious?  Although it becomes a theme in later volumes, there are seeds planted here about the breakdown of basic human institutions.
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The Walking Dead #78 – Review

By: Robert Kirkman (writer), Charlie Adlard (art), Cliff Rathburn (gray tones) & Rus Wooton (letters)

The Story: Chaos comes knocking at the door of the walled enclave, setting a very bad sequence of events in motion.

[Spoilers lie below...]

The Walking Dead is another one of those series that never flings out a stinker, ho-hum issue, but this issue is better than most for a couple of reasons.  For one thing, we have a couple of funerals in this issue and that allows us to have a quiet moment for Kirkman to expound on the root nature of humanity in a post-apocalyptic world.  Does this environment show people as they really are, now that they are free of society’s expectations for behavior?  Or has this horrid world warped people so that they are not much better than the zombies wandering the wastes?

Then, just when things are getting all touching… BANG!  It’s action time as the enclave has to deal with that band of rednecks who have been popping up here and there for the last few issues.  I won’t spoil the outcome of the fight, but with Kirkman’s history in this series, you are on pins and needles because he has shown us time and time again that no one is safe.  And the big action leads to us recalling one truism that has been in place throughout this series: gunfire attracts zombies.  And….there is a lot of gunfire in this issue.  Oh boy!

As if that weren’t enough, we close the issue by touching on another constant theme since our survivors found this gated community: Is the fact that Rick Grimes is paranoid and slightly nuts a good thing or a bad thing?  He may not make good company in decent society, but it seems like the community might be glad to have him when the shit hits the fan.
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The Walking Dead #77 – Review

By: Robert Kirkman (writer), Charlie Adlard (art), Cliff Rathburn (gray tones) & Russ Wooton (letters)

The Story: An issue for cleaning up emotional baggage combined with a reminder that the zombie wasteland is still a pretty scary place.

What’s Good: [Spoiler warning] If you follow the teasers released by Image, you know that TWD is headed for some big stuff around issue #80.  So, this issue felt like Kirkman doing a little bit of house cleaning before we get to anything big.  Most of this house cleaning is emotional and as we visit the characters in a series of short scenes at the beginning of the issue, we are reminded of what badly damaged people our survivors are.  In a way, this psychological damage is not exactly news, but it hits home more for me now that they are in the artificially safe walled-off suburb than when they were living in a prison or an old RV with zombies thumping on the walls.  The psychological damage is shown from so many angles that there is going to be something for everyone to identify with.

Of course, it wouldn’t be TWD without some violence or the threat thereof.  And, in this issue we get both.  In typical TWD fashion, the violence serves to show just how fragile life is.  TWD doesn’t play out like a video game where you get injured and have to rest to regain strength……these folks just die.  Healthy one second and then…..bang…..they’re gone.

As for the “threat” of violence, that is coming along on a couple of fronts that I don’t want to spoil any more, but makes me very eager to keep reading the title in the months ahead.

It sounds like a broken record, but AGAIN the art is just stellar.  Kirkman has said he will keep doing this book forever, but I think it’ll end when Charlie Adlard quits because I can’t see someone else doing these characters as well.  And I’m only partially kidding when I say that.
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Invincible #74 – Review


by Robert Kirkman (writer), Ryan Ottley (pencils), Cliff Rathburn (inks), and Rus Wooton (letters)

The Story: Our heroes run to the rescue as the Viltrumites attack the Coalition of Planets’ headquarters on Talescria.

What’s Good: Man, it’s about time.  It feels like forever since the last issue of Invincible, but I guess the fact that I’ve reacted so strongly to an additional month’s delay means that this whole Viltrumite War thing has managed to suck me in more than I expected.

I think that part of this is because that now that the Viltrumite War has begun in earnest, Kirkman’s attempt at a cosmic-styled adventure is actually quite a bit of fun, which I didn’t expect given how bland some of those set-up issues were.  However, when the stakes are this high and when all the key players are pulled together, the end result is fast, grand, and undeniably exciting.

Much of this is thanks to Ryan Ottley, who is putting out some of his best work to date.  Apparently, Ottley is just really, really good at cosmic stuff.  Everything is extremely vibrant, dynamic, bright, and wonderfully detailed.  The action sequences are bombastic, over-the-top fun that’s a real treat to read as well as look at.  I also can’t help but mention how much I like haggard, scruffy looking Mark.  This is just great stuff all around from Ottley.  Also, the Great Thaedus actually fights this month and man, that guy is just jacked underneath those unassuming robes.  I couldn’t help but laugh.

As far as Kirkman’s script goes, there’s a lot to like here.  I continue to enjoy Tech Jacket’s place, even though I never had any prior attachment to the character.  His powers add something really unique to the heroes’ power-set and general look, and his youthful voice and unassuming awkwardness is a nice fit.  I also continue to enjoy the growing chemistry between Nolan and Oliver, which remains unique and highlights not only Nolan’s role as teacher, but the more unique aspects of Oliver’s racial lineage.  Together with Mark, the three have a great dynamic.
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