Sometimes, we are reminded that “The Walking Dead” is, at its core, a soap opera. In this issue, the boy who lost a chunk of his head to a close-range gunshot wound wakes up from his coma with a touch of amnesia. How far you’re willing to stretch that willing suspension of disbelief will determine how you react to this issue. That is the big moment of the issue, right at the top, and it could leave a sour taste in your mouth for the rest of it.
While a bit disappointing that Robert Kirkman couldn’t pull the trigger (so to speak) and be more realistic about the injury, it isn’t enough to sour the whole issue for me. It’s time to accept it and move on. Let’s consider this a speed bump on the road, and consider maybe that the initial image of Carl’s half-blown-off face was more symbolic than literal. We see it as his father saw it, which of course would be overblown and horrific. Maybe it wasn’t so bad, after all? Maybe?
Kirkman doesn’t let up on the drama, though we’re clearly in a bit of a rebuilding phase. As Rick leads the cleanup of dead zombies and the rebuilding of the town, we’re starting to see some dissension in the ranks. Given the rough and tumble diversity of town residents, this shouldn’t be a surprise. After this issue, though, you know who to keep an eye on, and often why it is that they got there. Little things that seemed like simple dramatic cast-away bits start coming home to roost, as characters change and begin acting on their perceived slights. When those who feel shafted by recent changes or who disagree with the leadership band together, you know no good is coming. And, as usual with The Walking Dead, the humans might just be more destructive and dangerous than the zombies.
For a book that’s better than three-quarters talking heads, there’s no lack of drama or tension. Kirkman does a great job with making every conversation count, leading the readers through a specific story and showing where the cracks in the armor are.
Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn are the rocks of the book. While the story intensity might vary a bit from issue to issue, there’s not much to ding the art over here. It’s consistent from issue to issue. If you look over the long haul of the series, you can see the evolution of the art, but from issue to issue it’s not apparent. The characters are clearly identifiable beyond verbal tics. Adlard keeps a cast of humans in ragged clothes individualized, with solid acting chops. For a zombie horror soap opera, there is a lot of subtlety and occasional understatement to the emotions on the faces of the main players. Horror is all about the timing and the hiding. Adlard knows how to milk a scene out for maximum suspense, keeping his “camera” up close to hide the surrounding areas, or holding it back to let the reader see only what the character your following sees. They’re simple little tricks, but them mean the world to a book like this.
So, if you can put aside one plot point — and you had better, or the series might be lost on you forever, sadly — this issue is an entertaining story beat, filled with dialogue scenes that do more than just explain things and zombie scenes that tease more than shock.