In his introduction to this first collection of "The Walking Dead" series, writer Kirkman explains that rather than a simple gorefest, his goal was to create a character-based storyline which realistically shows what one person might face when civilization collapses. While he has certainly done that, he hasn't brought anything particularly new to the table. There are plenty of captivating stories about how human nature works under such stress, from William Golding's classic "Lord of the Flies", to Thomas Disch's science-fiction "The Genocides", to Portuguese Nobel laureate Jose Saramago's brilliant "Blindness". In this initial six-book collection, Kirkman shows us nothing we haven't seen before, either in film or literature.
The story starts, as many have pointed out, with a situation almost identical to the excellent British film 28 Days Later, with the protagonist waking from a coma in a hospital and then stumbling out to discover what's happened to the world. However, before everyone runs around yelling "rip-off" (oops, too late for that) it needs to be pointed out that this series was pitched to Image in 2002 and was ready to be launched in Spring 2003, but was bumped to a Fall release. Meanwhile, 28 Days Later hit wide release in the US in June 2003 , and Kirkman has said in many interviews that while he was shocked to see the same opening hook, he never considered going back to rescript the opening. In any event, it's not a big deal, but hopefully that dispels any notion of plagiarism.
So, after waking from his coma, Kentucky small-town cop Rick must try and figure out what happened while he was recovering from a gunshot wound, and where any other survivors are. There are the standard scenes one might expect: he visits home, gathers supplies, and makes a plan to head to Atlanta to look for his wife and son. His journey slowly acclimates him to the horror of the situation, but nothing can prepare him for the literal army of the dead he finds in Atlanta. Fortunately, he hooks up with a tiny band of 10-15 survivors outside of the city. The rest of the book is about the group's attempt to band together in the face of adversity and form some kind of new community. Kirkman does a fairly good job of this, although people seem a good deal less traumatized by the situation than one might expect. The only character I totally bought was the mechanic who was practically catatonic after seeing his whole family ripped apart in front of him.
As in all such end-of-the-world stories, a new pecking order among the humans starts to emerge, leading to tension and conflict. One of the catalysts for this is the question of whether or not the group should stay where they are. This debate is a little strange, in that it's only really held by two characters, and their camp is totally indefensible. This is where the book gets a little unrealistic -- the characters seem a good deal too carefree to the danger all around them, and naturally, there are several zombie incidents as a result. Still, a sequence where the hero takes a dangerous run into town to get some guns, and the subsequent training of everyone with guns is nicely done. Especially when the hero and his wife argue about whether or not their kid should carry a gun. This six-book arc ends with an excellent climax, and made me a little more interested in picking up volume two.
The artwork tends to be a little too flat and simple for my taste, with fairly even shading. However whenever there are zombies to be shown, these are given plenty of attention and detail, creating a kind of discrepancy in styles that I found a little awkward. One reviewer wrote that it resembles movie storyboard art, and I tend to agree. On the whole, the book was fine, just not that original -- but I'll be back to check out more.