Zombie Comic Review: The Walking Dead Book One

The Walking Dead opens with action: two police officers trying to stop an escaped convict. After trading bullets, one officer, Rick Grimes, is hit and critically wounded. He wakes from a coma an indeterminate time later, and the world has, quite literally, gone to hell. Shooting the main character and putting him in a coma is a heck of a way to start a series, but it gets us hip deep in zombie action without getting bogged down with how civilization is falling apart. It also gives us a nice audience surrogate who gets to experience the horrible new world of the undead with the same fresh eyes as us. The Walking Dead isn’t the first to use this trick; it also showed up in 28 Days Later and The Day of the Triffids.

Robert Kirkman, the man behind The Walking Dead, said that he came up with the series after becoming frustrated with zombie movies that all had the same flaw: they end. In The Walking Dead, the story just keeps going. It’s a pretty great premise, and gives Kirkman a lot of latitude to explore different ideas and hold zombie movie conventions up to the light to see what works and what doesn’t. And because this is a zombie story, he has a lot of freedom with the cast. People die, people join the group, and life in the undead world goes on.

Tanks versus zombies

Actually, let’s explore that a bit more. I say “people die” because a high level of attrition is a staple of zombie movies. You have to whittle down the cast until there are only a few left at the end. But that can’t work in a comic with a continuing story, right? Well, it kind of does. One thing I respect about Kirkman is that he never shies away from offing a character. If someone puts themselves in harm’s way, or if they lose the will to do anything to survive, they’re just not going to last long. Kirkman’s not afraid to take this to dark places (sometimes a little too dark for my taste, but that’s a story for later reviews), which is generally appropriate given the genre.

With that in mind, the long format allows us to get to know some of the the characters more than we would in a film, so their deaths become all the more poignant. Sure, there are some characters who get killed without a whole lot of time on the scene, but you have to expect a bit of cannon fodder in stories like this. A bigger issue is that some of the characters are pretty archetypical. Rick, for instance, is a stock reluctant leader with an overdeveloped sense of duty. He really doesn’t have a whole lot of depth, although he gets a little more as the series develops. Thankfully other characters, like Tyrese and Andrea, are a bit more nuanced.

One thing The Walking Dead likes to do, especially in the beginning episodes, is experiment with conventions of the genre. What happens, for instance, when you cut off a zombie’s head? According to Kirkman, the head remains zombified and is potentially still dangerous.

Perhaps the more interesting place The Walking Dead goes with the genre is experimenting with ways to camouflage and blend in with a horde of zombies. Early in the story Rick and Glenn venture into the city in search of some guns. Unfortunately, the city is just jam packed with zeds, so they stumble upon an ingenious yet disgusting notion: cover themselves with gore and viscera to confuse the zombies. The fun part is that it seems to work pretty well, at least until a sudden rain storm blows in.

Book One collects the first twelve episodes of the comic, or the first two trade paperbacks (Days Gone Bye and Miles Behind Us). This is significant because, after the sixth issue, the series switched artists from Tony Moore to Charlie Adlard. Where Moore is cleaner and more detailed, Adlard has a much darker and chaotic style. I like both artists, but the transition between the two is a bit jarring.

Kirkman is an interesting writer in that he tells a compelling story but gets bogged down with rote dialog. All too often characters serve as exposition machines, or simply robotically recite their thoughts and feelings. I’m not a comic book person, so I don’t know if this is a staple of the medium, but it’s definitely an area that could be improved upon.

In addition to the comic itself, the book offers some special features. These include sketches, cover art, a letter from Kirkman, and a short comic that about Morgan and Duane’s Christmas. I particularly enjoyed the sketches and bonus comic.

So is The Walking Dead worth getting into? I sure think so. While it has its share of flaws, it’s also a rich, often unpredictable story told by a guy who’s really passionate about the genre. You may not like every character or plot arc, but taken as a whole The Walking Dead is a solid entry into the zombie canon.

Grade: B

32 Comments

Angelina

I don’t remember a Morgan/Duane Christmas. Was that before or after that thing happened to Duane?

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zombiemutts

I have been holding off reading these so I can enjoy the TV show. I have added the entire series to my amazon cart and emptied them a dozen times now.

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Dave

If it makes any difference, the show and the comic are quite different, although there are hints the show is going to go back into comic territory.

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Yatkuu

Yeah, I was a bit disapointed by that actually. Let’s wait and see how this will turn but I sure hope they come up with new ideas!

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Dave

I can see what you’re saying, but I’ve also not been too impressed when they go too far outside of the comic’s plot. The best examples being the fake gangbangers and the trip to the CDC, which I thought were both pretty big missteps.

Yatkuu

The first episodes of this comic were just amazing… You just made want to read them all over again!
I don’t know if you had seen this MOC on my Flickr, I once recreated 1 frame of the comic trying to be as close as possible to the original – the frame were Rick wakes up in the hospital – this is to me one of the strongest images in the story. I have been playing around with some photo effects and I just posted a revamped version of the picture:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/yatkuu/6264193987/
What do you think?

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Yatkuu

Thanks! My initial idea was to try to reproduce the first pages of the story… gave up after 2 frames! Still, I might get back to that someday.
Btw, this could be a fun contest idea… Reproduce a scene of the comic or the show..

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Dave

Hah, I don’t blame you on that score. But a couple carefully selected frames might make for an interesting project.

And that’s also a brilliant contest idea. Adding that to the ideas list right now!

Yatkuu

On a completely unrelated note, I’ve been meaning to ask you… All these books that you are reviewing do you get these as paper versions or do you get the electronic version (kindle or other ebook format)?
I’m asking because we (european retarded) are only getting started with ebooks and I was thinking this could probably be a nice way to get an easy access to all this type of literature (not to mention that I just don’t have enough room to store my books).

Dave

Most of the books we review are eBooks, although I’ve done some (like this comic) that are actual books.

zombiemutts

“I can’t wait to see this big project you are working on!”

Yeah me to…it would be nice if I didn’t tear it down every week when I get a new idea to improve something. :/

And as for your second question. Let see…I think only 1 so far for me has been a hard copy (Tooth and Nail) and then two more that are upcoming will be a hard copy (The Reapers are the Angels and Rise Again.)

Everything else has been an E-Book and then everything from here on out will be as well. Kindles are nothing short of amazing. No eye fatigue and I burn through books faster than I ever have in my life. Plus its nice not having dusty books laying everywhere. I have taken 9 large boxes of books off to donate and have another 20 or so to go.

The Kindle has completely changed my reading habits for the better.

Yatkuu

Sounds really cool… Another thing that is making me seriously consider getting a kindle is the serie I’m currently reading – the game of thrones saga. Jeez, these books are good but they are also damned big and heavy… almost impossible to hold and read while in bed!

zombiemutts

Exactly. And the thing about the Kindle is that it holds still so your aren’t getting distracted.

I have read all those books and yeah…pain in the ass to hold.

Dave

I keep almost picking it up, and then not. It just seems to gimmicky to me.

Let me know what you think when you finish it though!

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zombiemutts

Just wait until Dave sends you a video clip of him yelling at you mocking what you wrote. His voice gets all high & whiney when he screams.

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