The comic book series it’s based on, however, was far more consistent in quality for far longer. It held my attention for 24 trade paperbacks, and I wouldn’t say it ever got bad. I just needed a break from this particular post-apocalyptic world for a while. I might very well check back in at some point.
The book deserves recognition, though. It remains the greatest zombie-related story I’ve ever experienced, and it succeeds by focusing not on the zombies, but on the survivors.
The zombies—I mean walkers, or any euphemism other than zombies—the walkers quickly fade into set dressing, albeit lethal set dressing. People prove far more dangerous, especially without the civilizing influence of society. The zombie damage has already been done, and this is all about what comes after—that’s the true cleverness in writer Robert Kirkman’s concept. And Charlie Adlard’s black-and-white art sets the mood wonderfully. It’s the rare comic book that benefits from a lack of color.
The comic is a master class in tension. The characterization isn’t deep, but we come to care about several key players just enough that we don’t want to see them die…but we know most will, some sooner and some later. It’s just a matter of when.
The important thing about tension…you have to release it at exactly the right moments or it will start deflating on its own and lose all its potency. And that brings us to issue #100, which inspired the final episode of season six and the first episode of season seven. It’s Negan’s big introduction, and Lucille’s big introduction.
Many of the characters we most care about are lined up before Negan, like in the TV show, and we know he’s going to kill one. But whereas the TV show faded to black for the length of a hiatus right after Negan struck his unidentified victim (and had its viewers playing guessing games for months), the comic shows us who dies that very issue.
We get that release, but the death builds up new tension, because we know this is only the start of a new threat for the survivors. It’s not about the guessing games; it’s about the danger and the struggle to persevere in spite of that danger.
Writer: Robert Kirkman
Artist: Charlie Adlard
Publisher: Image Comics
How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in The Walking Dead vol. 17: Something to Fear (TPB)
Appropriate For: ADULTS ONLY