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The beginning of the end!
on 5 June 2014
Having let the TV series pass me by for some time, I began watching it and was hooked. After a series of Walking Dead Marathons I had caught up with TV series and decided to fill the time until the next series with the books which started it all.
I was familiar with some aspects of The Walking Dead as I had read interviews with Robert Kirkman in CLiNT Magazine (sadly no longer running) which didn’t give much away in terms of plot, but gave an idea of the overall scope and angle of the series. The fore-word in the book emphasises the fact that this isn’t just a horror comic about flesh-eating zombies, that’s merely the backdrop to the story about Rick. This is a character driven story which happens to be set in a zombie apocalypse, if society were to find itself ‘fixed’, if in time some semblance of normality would return – Rick’s story would still continue.
I won’t use this review to compare the graphic novel with the TV Series as they are both excellent ways to enjoy the Walking Dead. The Walking Dead comics no doubt fed (and continues to feed) ideas into the TV series and it benefitted from being created after the Walking Dead world had been fleshed out (no pun intended). It’s clear early on though that if you came to the comics after watching the TV series, you are going to experience something which is very familiar, but also quite different – even if you remember the episodes well (and I do!), this offers a whole new level of shocks and surprise – no tension is lost and the books are edgier, able to show us the zombie filled landscape in a much darker way. It’s gloriously twisted and always grounded in reality.
Reality here is captured by the realistic interactions between characters, the way they speak and react to each other. Very early on the characters feel multi-faceted and substantial, without this plausability the books would never have been as successful, it invests in great characters and it’s their journey you experience. Having such a feel for the folk on the pages heightens the sense of danger and makes every situation more intense. The story opens with an fairly prescriptive opening, a man wakes up in hospital – his comatose state perversely protecting him from the horrors happening on the streets, this John Wyndham-esque introduction has been copied many times – and post-apocalyptic, zombie filled streets are hardly original. There’s never been a Rick Grimes before though and despite a dangerously formulaic start, The Walking Dead establishes itself as one of the most original and standout pieces of literature for a long time. Kirkman largely ignores the zombies, the fantastic artwork by Tony Moore tells us their story (their clothes and condition hinting at the human life before the ‘turn’) instead we see the quarrels, laughs and concerns of a band of survivors whose future is far from certain.
In a nutshell: Exploring the human condition by placing them in the midst of a nightmare. The genius of the Walking Dead is focussing on the those experiencing the nightmare, those who must deal with the monsters – rather than the monsters themselves. Constant gore and bloody dismembering can be visually stunning, but it can all get a bit ‘meh’ after a while – but seeing how people deal with that level of real fear, seeing how it shapes them is compelling. By the end of this volume the world and the lives of those in Rick’s group will never be the same, and there’s a long way to go yet!