I’ve been reading The Walking Dead in trade editions since they started coming out in 2004. For those that think this essay might be about the TV show on AMC called The Walking Dead, it isn’t. I don’t watch that show. I saw the first season and the first episode of the second season and dropped it. I found the show plodding and aimless, the dialogue ridiculous to the point of insulting, and generally found the program to be a huge letdown. I have heard from some that it’s gotten better (though others tell me it sucks still), but I don’t care. How many chances am I supposed to give a show? If you can’t ramp up to speed after the first season, then your show is a failure. Maybe I’ll catch it all one drunken weekend when the series has wrapped up, but I’ve no interest in following it week to week, and I’m not prepared to discuss anything specific about it.
The comic, however, I’ve been reading in trade editions since 2004. Frankly, I didn’t like that at first, either. The art was uneven and the drama was pretty sappy, and I wasn’t connecting with the characters enough to care whether they survived a zombie apocalypse or not. There was an introduction in the first paperback which told the reader how great the series was going to be, how profound and changing it would become, which turned me off. I walked away from the series for about a year, then went back when the story in paperback was up to where the protagonists met the Governor. I got hooked. This was no Mad Max dystopian future, it wasn’t full of insightful, annoying social commentary, it had become the rather touching story of human beings being fucked up to one another in order to survive. Even at this early stage in the story, the zombie horde was little more than an occasional nuisance. The real threat came from other members of the living.
This point was made shockingly clear in a splash page scene of the main protagonist’s wife getting shot in the back while clutching her newborn baby. I realized at this point that I had grown to like these characters, enough to hope for their success, and to see this hopeful thing snuffed out in a very large, graphic way was disheartening. I became a fan, and started to follow the adventures of this widower, Rick, and his increasingly weird son Carl as they tried to make it in a world where no one could be trusted. I picked up volume after volume, gripped by the depths to which our heroes would sink in order to stay alive and defended. I scanned panel after panel of them walking through the wilderness, scavenging what little they could and losing hope for a stable future. I read, and read, and read about their actual and metaphorical journey. Then I started to get bored again.
At one point, they are led to a fortified suburban enclave where a group of people have holed up and formed a community. Then it started to feel like a soap opera. Just people fucking each others’ partners and getting jealous about it. Yeah, people died, but it was often due to over-the-top reactions by blowhards with post-traumatic stress disorder. It wasn’t like I needed to see more death or deaths caused by zombies, to the contrary it seemed like deaths were being shoehorned into the plot in order to make it engrossing. I was getting bored of the series, and figured I would drop it soon if things didn’t turn around. And turn around they did, in vol. 17, Something to Fear.
It hardly necessitates me claiming “spoilers” when this edition has been out since last November, and the floppy comics produced well before that. Anyone who reads this blog knows that I willfully spoil shit without penitence. How else am I supposed to write about the things I want to discuss? Besides, I’ve already dropped plenty of plot points in this essay already without cautioning “spoilers,” so fuck yourself. So by this point in the story, the folks in the suburban enclave have met another larger, far off community who is willing to trade supplies. Unfortunately, this larger community is being terrorized by a gang known as the Saviors, who demand half of their supplies in exchange for not fucking up the commune. Our heroes have a run-in with this gang, kill several of them humiliatingly, and then are back on the way to the larger group for supplies when they’re accosted by the Saviors. I’m leaving a lot of incidental stuff out, but the important thing, the instance that makes me want to shake my fist at Robert Kirkman and which will keep me buying new trade editions for the foreseeable future, is that the leader of the Saviors pulls Glenn out of the group and bashes his head in with a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire. Oh, and Glenn’s girlfriend, Maggie, had just revealed she was pregnant. Did I forget to mention that? Glenn was brutally snuffed before he got to be a real dad for the first time.
And there it was, the same sickening pitch that lured me in the first time will lure me in for another half dozen or so volumes. Fucking Robert Kirkman. Playing with our sensibilities and emotions like some puppeteer. Forcing us to face our most deviant proclivities while you toy with our heartstrings. I don’t necessarily want to read a comic where a main character gets his head caved in so badly that his eye begins to pop out, to watch him calling for his girlfriend while a spiked bat crashes into his skull over and over. You made me do that, Robert Kirkman, with your slow burn suspense story and pandering to the lowest gory denominator. Goddamn you, Kirkman. Just take my wallet and leave me sobbing in a corner with my brutal self-realizations.