The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor by Robert Kirkman and Ray Bonansinga

Read: 11 June, 2012

Rise of the Governor is an add-on to the Walking Dead graphic novel series, chronicling the journey of the eponymous character. If you’ve read the graphic novels (or, shortly I am sure, seen the TV show), you’ll know who the Governor is. If not, he’s the ruthless leader of a small town of survivors, and the antagonist of books #6-8. In the comics, he appears as a fully formed Bad Guy™, so this novel gives some of his backstory and an explanation (such as it is) for how he came to be that way.

Though a different medium from the graphic novels, Rise of the Governor is clearly part of the same series, and shared all the same weaknesses. In my reviews of the series, I’ve often complained about the editing issues, and these are present in the novel as well. Words and phrases are repeated close together in a way that sounds awkward, or a not-quite-right word will be used (a car is rolling down a hill: “The weight of the vehicle is building inertia.”). All problems that could have easily been solved by the use of a good editor.

There were also problems in the way that the narrator related to the characters. Or, rather, in the way the narrator doesn’t relate to the characters. The characters are blue collar guys, and it’s frequently pointed out (derisively) that one had attended college. And yet when a character starts turning into a zombie and begins to move, this is described as being: “like the typical residual nerve twitches that morticians might see now and again.” The killing of zombies is described in very clinical terms (“He hears the THWACK of another axe blade outside the closet, smashing through the membrane of a scalp, into the hard shell of a skull, through the layers of dura, and into the pulpy gray gelatin of an occipital lobe”). Why on earth would a a story about a couple blue collar guys from Georgia be narrated in this kind of way?

My last gripe is with the character exposition, which suffers terribly from what I like to call Dollar Bin Syndrome. The books in the dollar bin of a store have more differences than similarities – some are romances, some are murder mysteries, some are historical fictions, some have female leads, some of male leads… but all share one trait in common: They are universally terrible at introducing new characters. We see this in Rise of the Governor, where every new character is introduced with an emotionally dissociated laundry list of traits (usually physical, although sometimes the “twinkle of the eyes and salt-and-pepper hair” betrays some profound temperamental facet, or whatevs). It reads more like an eHarmony profile than an engaging novel.

But for all that, it did keep me interested and the character development was reasonably well handled. The Governor is a very difficult character to live up to, but I found his backstory to be executed satisfactorily. The twist at the ending was fairly gimmicky, but it fit in with the narrative and it did work.

If you’re into zombie stories / apocalyptic fiction / survivalism, or if you’re a fan of the Walking Dead series, Rise of the Governor definitely wouldn’t be a waste of your time. It’s nothing to write home about, but it’s worth reading.

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The Walking Dead #5-6: The Best Defense & This Sorrowful Life by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard

Read: 29 March, 2012

In The Best Defense and This Sorrowful Life, we continue with the survivors’ stay in the prison. When Rick sees a helicopter going out just a few miles away, he takes Glenn and Michonne to see if anyone survived the crash. But what they find instead is a whole town of the living, reminding us once again that the greatest danger in a zombie apocalypse isn’t the zombies.

These two issues suffer from most of the same problems as the others, namely the shoddy dialogue. The pacing does seem to have slowed down considerably, and we actually get something resembling an arch. We start off nice and slow with the short term goal of getting the prison’s generator running, which requires leaving the safety of the fence to syphon gas from nearby cars, and then we move into the hope/trepidation over the helicopter. The actual encounter with the living doesn’t begin until quite a ways through The Best Defense.

There are other classic storytelling elements that we haven’t really seen prior to these volumes. Rick is now given a foil, known by his followers as the Governor. He is the Rick that might have been. If you’ve recently finished watching Season 2 of the AMC show, one might say that the Governor is the Rick that Shane wanted him to be.

But these two volumes are incredibly brutal. The series has always been fairly graphic (it is a zombie series, after all), but these volumes have crossed the line between violence as a necessity for survival to violence as sadistic pleasure. It’s necessary to the story and character development, so I’m not saying that it shouldn’t have been included, but D and I both agreed that it didn’t need as much panel time as it got. And oh boy, major trigger warning!

Want to buy the books? You can buy The Best Defense and This Sorrowful Life from Amazon.

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