Saturday, April 5, 2008

Walking Dead #48 Review

Warning: Here There Be Some Fairly Vague Possible Spoilers. If you care about that, go read it first. This post will still be here when you get back. There will also be discussion of the book in general, not just this latest issue.

I've been reading comics for three decades or so, and I just read one of the best: Walking Dead #48 by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard. It was the final part of a six-part storyline called "No One Is Safe", and it lived up to that title in spectacular fashion.

Imagine if an episode of Friends showed the titular friends sitting around, saying lots of cute sentences beginning with "Could I be any more...?" when suddenly masked robbers broke down the door, and everybody except Lisa Kudrow wound up shot in the head during a home invasion.

That's about what just happened, in terms of the cast (if not in the juxtaposition of tone - The Walking Dead is many things, but not cute). Kirkman has left himself a nearly clean slate, taking out characters that normal dramatic convention would have protected, and there's absolutely no telling what will happen to the characters left standing.

Since I just used a TV show to illustrate a point, this is as good a time as any to go on a little digression. The letters page often includes fans urging Kirkman to pursue a TV adaptation of the series. It would need to be on cable, and if HBO ever does it, I'd have a reason to sign back up (the finales of Six Feet Under and The Sopranos also marked the end of my interest in cable). Kirkman seems protective enough of his creative integrity that I doubt he'd be willing to make the necessary sacrifices to get onto a network, even if a network was crazy enough to try to water the show down enough for broadcast. (I can't remember offhand whether there's ever been any nudity in the book - quite possibly - but there's some rough language, and the violence is beyond Quentin Tarantino's nightmares.)

However, Kirkman would be in a bit of a bind, at least from the perspective of hardcore geeks like that guy I keep seeing in the mirror. For us to be satisfied with an adaptation, it would have to follow the source material - the comic - fairly closely. It wouldn't have to be as close as 300, where the comic essentially served as the movie's storyboards, but at least the major plot beats and characterizations would have to line up or the show would, in the eyes of fans of the comic, suffer greatly in comparison.

The problem here is that if the show was at least moderately successful, becoming at least a cult hit, then the mainstream entertainment media would be very interested in reporting any "scoops" about upcoming developments. Following the comic would mean that it would only take one entertainment "reporter" who could read something more complex than TV Guide - and there must be one of them out there somewhere - to completely spoil the show's events far in advance.

Just to get out in front of the retort that slavishly following the comic didn't hurt the popularity of 300 any by giving away future events: a two hour self-contained movie is a completely different proposition from an ongoing serial.

Unfortunately for me, if Kirkman's smart, though, and I think he is, he won't worry about appeasing the fanboys by adapting the comics with no new twists. It pains me to say so, but we just aren't a big enough audience to worry about. According to the sales charts at The Beat (I inexplicably can't stop reading the sales charts each month, although I've been out of the comics business for almost ten years), The Walking Dead normally sells in the ballpark of 22000 copies of each issue. I'm just a shade too lazy to look up sales figures on the trade paperback collections (my preferred format), but even if we get really optimistic and say that the trades sell a little more than the individual issues, that only brings us to around 50000 people reading the comics. Of those, probably - maybe hopefully - only a fraction are actually fanboyish enough to care about this issue.

50000 people is far too low a number to worry about offending by straying from the source material. Even if the decimal point were to move a couple of spots to the right, it still probably wouldn't matter. So the smart money is on Kirkman making whatever changes he thinks will work (note: not changes that suit-wearing, note-giving imbeciles with titles containing the words "vice president", "executive", or "in charge of" think will work). Besides, we fanboys will deal with it if it means getting a Walking Dead series off the ground. We complain and moan and write indignant blog posts, but we always buy our tickets and "collectible" spinoff merchandise.

That said, and with the full promise that a Walking Dead series would be the first real "appointment TV" show for me since The Sopranos ended, I don't quite get the mentality that a movie or TV adaptation somehow gives more legitimacy to a comic. I often simply don't care about the adaptations. I was the biggest Spider-Man fan you've ever heard of for many years, but I didn't really care about the first movie and haven't bothered watching either of the sequels. Comics can stand on their own as a creative medium as well as novels or movies.

On to the comic at hand: The Walking Dead #48, now on sale at every good comic shop.

Last issue ended (as is Kirkman's wont) on a cliffhanger. The prison where our protagonists have set up homestead was under siege by a makeshift army led by a psychotic (a fellow known as the Governor, one of the nastiest villains ever to grace the printed page). Rick, the book's main protagonist since its first issue, ran to find his wife and children to try to get them to cover. He turned a corner to find his wife Lori kneeling, their newborn daughter in her arms, with someone holding a shotgun to the back of her head. The image was staged so that we readers did not see who was holding the gun.

That cliffhanger is resolved, frankly a bit limply, within the first couple of pages of this new issue. What happens is perfectly logical, but I still felt it was a bit of a letdown after the shock of that last page (which wasn't a complete surprise - an image of Lori holding the baby with a gun to her head was actually used as the cover of #47).

From there, though, things get shocking and brutal. This issue is one gutpunch after another as our protagonists have their final - and I do mean final - showdown with the Governor's townspeople. There are some very emotional moments of real humanity interspersed with (and sometimes brought about as a direct result of) horrible, graphically rendered violence. This sort of material does not glorify violence in any way. Quite the opposite - by holding it up to the light, it exposes how awful it truly is. The Governor did something absolutely shocking back in issue #46 (that issue's cover should give you an idea) that would no doubt get him on Al-Queda's Christmas card list (hey, see what I just did there?), but should serve to remind the readers that there are actually people in the world who do things like this given the chance, and coddling them is not at all wise.

Kirkman, like Romero (who Kirkman frequently cites in the letters pages as a huge influence and inspiration) before him, is far more interested in what a zombie apocalypse does to its survivors than in the zombies themselves. The primary conflict in these stories is always between humans, not living versus undead. The zombies are always there in the background, though, as a looming threat, and when the prison fence gets compromised by the Governor's tank, they swarm inside to get their, um, licks in as well.

A lot of the good guys don't make it, some of whom will be surprises to anyone used to conventional horror movies. Then, just as we realize we're approaching the end of the issue, we get an image that may be more horrifying than any other we've seen in this book to date, and that's saying a lot. Two more characters are lost (yes, two - there's been some online debate as to whether one of them might have survived, but Kirkman has unequivocally stated on a least one message board that she did not), and those few who remain are left completely shell-shocked.

We seem to get a brief denouement as the survivors take stock of what has happened and begin to grasp the enormity of their loss. Then, in a powerful full-page illustration that ends the issue, we see that the crisis may not be quite over. I don't know whether Kirkman and Adlard meant to convey an imminent threat or just show them in the background, but the zombies on the last page seem to be getting a little close to our shattered protagonists. Next issue may open up with a calmer aftermath, leaving us to presume that the survivors were able to move on without significant opposition, or it may pick up right there on the hill outside the prison, with (maybe) yet another close escape.

This may have been the best issue yet of a consistently excellent series. There's no way to know where Kirkman is taking us next, but I fully intend to be along for the ride. I only wish that the "No One Is Safe" trade paperback would come out next week so I could add it to my bookshelf - I'll definitely want to pick it up whenever it does appear.

Most powerful dialogue from the book: "They - - They didn't - -". Trust me, in the context of the scene, it's devastating. Strong runners-up, with expletives deleted because this is a family blog: "Look at what you made me do! Just ****ing LOOK!" and "I just - - I killed that boy...I killed him."


Enough rambling. Here's a picture of the cover of The Walking Dead #48. Go read it (after reading at least issues 43-47, of course):

1 comment:

those we left behind said...

Hi

just read the review - interesting take on that last full page - I hadnt thought about the imminent threat there, it just seemed like the 2 people were trying to draw strength from each other, and everything else didnt matter.

Good review - will look up your pages more often.

Dont forget to check out my site from time to time;

Those We Left Behind

Cheers