The Walking Dead #4: The Heart’s Desire by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard

Read: 23 February, 2012

The story picks up at the cliff hanger from Safety Behind Bars, and continues to cover the survivors’ stay in the prison. Zombies make very few appearances in this volume and are, for the most part, just background scenery to the real story taking place among the living.

Unfortunately, the greater focus on interpersonal relationships brings to the forefront Kirkman’s weakness in writing dialogue. Overall, I’ve found the writing in this series to be rather bland and, at times, suffering from the kind of awkwardness that an editor might easily have fixed. From a character standpoint, we meet Michonne who seems like she has the potential to be an interesting character, but she behaves erratically- alternating between character and caricature at the flip of a switch. She clearly has a history that I hope will be exposed in future volumes, but I found in frustrating that the survivors took very little interest in who she was, how she had survived for so long, or how she came to have two zombies following her around on a leash who “stopped trying to attack [her] a long time ago.” Seems like the kind of thing the survivors ought to want to know more about…

Closing the issue, we have a rather lengthy speech from Rick Grimes about survival in a zombie apocalypse that was, frankly, cringer-worthy. While it had all the markers of “the badass teaches everyone a little something about their darker natures” speeches that we get in the movies, it suffered from all the failings of these sorts of monologues – superficiality, a lack of logical consistency, and an awkwardness that turns the characters into mouthpieces for authors who want to sound cool.

This was by far the most difficult volume of the series to write so far because it had so little action to carry it through and, unfortunately, I didn’t feel that Kirkman is capable of handling the interpersonal complexities that were needed. That being said, he and Adlard’s artwork did convey some sense of psychological breakdown – that the immediacy of survival had been keeping everyone’s heads together, but that sustained (relative) safety is highlighting the cracks.

I don’t want to give the wrong impression. I may not be impressed with The Walking Dead, but it’s still an interesting series and I’ll be reading volume 5. It’s pulp, but it’s a very quick read and the illustrations make for a different experience than I’m used to.

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The Walking Dead #3: Safety Behind Bars by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard

Read: 17 February, 2012

We love zombie stories  because it feeds into our destructive impulses. The zombies destroy the daily stresses and struggles of our modern life. No more bills to pay, no more 9-to-5, no more damn kids on mah damn lawn… And then there’s the possibility of building anew from the ashes of society, a clean slate on which the survivors may impose their will in a way that many of us feel too helpless to do in our real lives.

We had a few false starts in this direction in Miles Behind Us (such as the discovery of the Wiltshire Estates), but the immediacy of survival kept the characters’ attention. But in Safety Behind Bars, the survivors find a respite in a prison. Zombies are no longer a threat, there’s no lack of food, and there’s even working showers. This is where the lesson comes in.

Zombie stories generally teach the same lesson. They wipe away the society that gives us so much stress and ennui, and they give us the opportunity to rebuild, to make it different, to make it good. But we’re doomed, says the zombie story. Given every chance to make a society, we will still be our petty selves, we will still play power games, we will still destroy ourselves. We are flawed, so flawed that the dreary world of rules we live in now is preferable to the freedom zombies give us. The zombie is never the monster in the zombie story – people are.

Kirkman didn’t do a terrible job at exploring this theme, but it’s just been done so many times that it was somewhat tiresome to read through. From the opening of the volume, I knew that the survivors had reached a safe haven, and I knew that would mean trotting out the tired old “we’re our own worst enemy” trope. Unfortunately, he did not disappoint.

That’s been my impression of the series so far, really. The dialogue is so-so, and the plot is basically just running through the standard zombie story plots. It’s enjoyable insomuch as I enjoy zombie stories, but it’s nothing special. Even as far as zombie stories go, the fast pace of the comics means that I don’t feel like I’m getting to know the characters, or to care about them. I’m hoping that it will get better as the series trods on, but so far I’m not impressed.

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The Walking Dead #2: Miles Behind Us by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard

Read: 14 February, 2012

In Miles Behind Us, we follow Rick and the other survivors as they hunt for food and meet some other people. There’s the standard story of the survivors who keep the zombies captive rather than kill them (which has never, in the history of zombie stories, ended well), and a few other adventures.

This volume has a different artist from the first, although it’s not necessarily obvious to someone like me who isn’t really familiar enough with the graphic novel medium to know what to look for. I did start to notice a difference in feel about halfway through, though. I commented in my review of Days Gone Bye on the way that the use of detail helped to highlight elements of the story. That’s still the case in Miles Behind Us, but the details are used to express emotions rather than to create the ambience of fear. In particular, the new artists use shadows very deftly to convey brooding, sadness, anger, menace, etc.

The plot is interesting, but I feel like the dialogue itself could have used more polishing. There were a few instances of fairly awkward phrasing that a good editor could have fixed. And as I complained in my review of Days Gone Bye, the fast pace makes it difficult for me to feel for the characters. The artwork helps somewhat, but I still feel like the story is kept at a very superficial level.

I found the use of bold in the dialogue to be fairly distracting. Maybe this is just a graphic novel convention that I’m unaccustomed to, but it made it difficult to read because I was putting emphasis on the bold words, even though this disrupted the natural cadence of what was being said. I was unable to find any pattern or sense to the selection of bolded words. If anyone here is more familiar with the conventions of this genre, I’d appreciate an explanation!

Overall, I enjoyed the book. I enjoy the zombie/apocalyptic setting, and the graphic format makes this series a very quick read. so far, it’s nothing special, but it’s certainly good enough.

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