Waiting for the Trade
By Bill Miller
The Walking Dead Vol. 1 – Days Gone By
by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore
Collects The Walking Dead # 1 – 6.
Why I Bought This: So when the Walking Dead TV show came out I remember rolling my eyes at the ads and thinking “great, more zombies.” While I enjoy the occasional intelligent horror movie, I had my fill of zombies sometime between the Dawn of the Dead remake and Land of the Dead, which despite being by Romero I’ve still never seen because there were just too many damn zombie movies in the three year period leading up to it. I haven’t completely abandoned the genre, but I’m in no rush to experience it anymore—for example I saw Zombieland for the first time this past Halloween and Planet Terror for the first time this past February. With the TV show I was content to ignore it but it started getting great reviews in Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone and really everywhere so my attitude changed to I’ll rent DVD season one someday to see what the hype is about. That still hasn’t happened, but late last year I got Marvel Team-Up vol. 2 by Robert Kirkman and holy God was it a good book with a perspective of Marvel’s Manhattan that was fresh and new in showing how a city of so many heroes can and probably should casually intersect more often. So now this Kirkman has me intrigued and the new season of his show is starting and friends in real life are going apesh*t for it when lo and behold the same email I mentioned in the Iron Man review arrives and vol. 1 of this series is being sold for $3. And so here we are.
The Plot: Small town police officer Rick is trying to stop a prison break when he is shot and falls into a coma. When he wakes up the hospital is completely abandoned. Soon he stumbles upon a room full of zombies. He escapes, and makes his way home to find his wife and son but they are long gone without a note or anything else. He soon runs into a father and son, who tell him what they know of the zombie apocalypse: basically it happened about six weeks ago, media outlets are down, last he heard the government had asked people to go to the cities so they could be better protected by the military. Rick’s in-laws are from Atlanta so he assumes that is where his wife went. He stops by the police station to raid the armory and heads off to find them.
In Atlanta the zombie apocalypse is much worse and Rick narrowly escapes thanks to the help of a lone teen who has been using the rooftops to avoid the zombies. The teen leads Rick to a campsite outside where about a dozen people are staying waiting for the military to arrive, and Rick learns the fate of his family (I’m going to avoid more specific spoilers until the critical thoughts section). We get a few chapters of slowly building internal conflicts among the campers both on survival tactics (should they stay outside the city? should children be allowed to carry guns?) and on a more personal level (romantic triangles, people disapproving of other people’s lifestyles, etc). Eventually there is a major zombie attack on the campsite and we lose a few characters and then in the final chapter one of the personal conflicts leads to a shooting.
Critical Thoughts: This is really good. I don’t read many non-superhero comics and I was surprised at how intense some of the scenes can be, particularly the second trip into Atlanta to forage for supplies. The black and white art is also really detailed and perfect for this material. Kirkman’s writing remains quite strong, although different from the Marvel story of his I liked.
I tried to avoid major spoilers in the plot synopsis but we need to talk about Rick’s family so let’s do that here, feel free to move on to the next paragraph if you don’t want to know. I don’t mind them being alive but I was surprised at how quickly he finds them; both from a narrative standpoint as you’d think an ongoing series would want to stretch the search out a bit, and from a credibility standpoint it is the only note in the story that rings false. There’s like 8 million people in Atlanta, plus whatever excess population the government herded into the city and yet Rick finds the two people he’s looking for in a day. However, it is a forgivable choice in that if Kirkman wanted Rick to find his family and they are not in Atlanta and haven’t been eaten, it’s a big damn world and there’s no mass communication so no matter when he finds them coincidence is probably going to have to play a part in it. Plus having a wife and kid to protect raises the stakes Rick (and thus the reader) and the initial personal conflicts we get from them showing up so soon also read well.
My other criticism is this book does not have the natural chapter/issue breaks included and I hate trade paperbacks that don’t include some sign of where the original individual issue endings were. I like to absorb a chapter a time when I read. I like to see the original covers reprinted. It’s a little thing but one I always find it to be irksome when I encounter it.
Grade A. Believe the hype. This was more suspenseful than I’d have thought a comic book could be and it is both well-written and well-drawn so that several scenes have an emotional impact that to be frank most horror movies don’t bother to slow down enough to provide. I liked it a lot. Now my only dilemma is whether to rent the TV show or stick with the books going forward.