Sometimes I think I’m too hard on Robert Kirkman’s dialogue. After all, I pick up “The Walking Dead” and “Invincible” every month like clockwork and am always compelled to keep reading. So the dialogue can’t be that bad, right? Well, maybe. But every now and then you get an exchange like the one that opens this issue. One that’s so stilted and unnatural-sounding that it bears further examination. I was tempted to transcribe the entire page, but one of Kirkman’s biggest problems, dialogue-wise, is that there’s just so darn much of it. Gabriel, a preacher, is telling Douglas, leader of the new community our protagonists have just joined, how dangerous said protagonists are to said community. You’d think that in a zombie apocalypse, even in a relatively secure area, peoples’ patience for talkativeness would be pretty much exhausted by now. But nope. These two guys have no problem jawing at length about how much Douglas has no intention of forcing our protagonists out of the community, no matter what they might have done to get them there.
I think the main source of my problem with Kirkman’s dialogue is how it (unintentionally, I’m sure) does not trust the amazing artists Kirkman always seems to work with. When you’ve got Charlie Adlard drawing your comic, trust me, you do not need to have Douglas spell it all out. You can cut out 2/3rds of that dialogue and leave the rest to the immensely capable artist on the book. Also, it tends to be stuff that doesn’t necessarily need the explanation it gets. Maybe it’s being played for the lowest common denominator out there but, seriously, I think we all get it. Anyone who’s built a safe and protected suburb in the middle of the apocalypse had to have gotten their hands dirty. There’s got to be a simpler way to get all this across.
That being said, Kirkman has always excelled at putting together long term dramatic circumstance. It’s what makes his comics so compelling, no matter what (or how dang much) the characters are saying. The path that Rick and his group have been on is a slowly, steadily escalating arc and one that, in this issue, reaches a critical point of tension. Fitting to the book’s tone, it is a very subtle shift that at the same time has huge implications for the future of the book.
That being said, the second half of the book is probably the most purely entertaining thing Kirkman has ever printed. It’s a blatantly out of continuity story, in full color, drawn by Invincible alums Ryan Ottley and Cliff Rathburn. It transposes Rick and the survivors into a sci-fi superhero world where the whole zombie apocalypse was part of an alien plot to steal the Earth’s water. It is a gorgeous and delightful little aside, and over much too quickly. It’s a testament, though, to the success of the actual “Walking Dead” that such a drastic 180 degree turn in tone is so hilarious. Either way, it’s a fantastic celebration of the book’s anniversary.
So, while “The Walking Dead” still has the same problems that it’s always had, it’s also still buoyed by the strengths it’s always had. Perhaps the cast will never truly learn the benefits of terseness at the end of the world, but I’ll still probably be interested in how they got there and where they’re headed next.