Robert Kirkman has two goals with this issue. The first is to shore Rick back up from the devastation and the shaken confidence he displayed at the end of the last issue. The second is to check in with most of the cast to set the stage for the big hundredth issue that’s due out in time for Comic-Con International: San Diego next month.
What the issue winds up being is, taken on its own merits, a series of people being morose, unsure of themselves and generally sad. There’s a funeral, a decision to leave, some personal revelations and then a final decision to set up issue #100.
The thing is, when read as part of the overall story arc in the eventual collected edition, it’ll feel right. It’ll be the calm before the storm. And seen in light of whatever events happen next issue — and Kirkman promises they’ll be major and gruesome — this issue will likely seem more poignant than it does now. This will be a key issue in showing how all the puzzle pieces got to where they had to be, but that doesn’t mean it’s satisfying as its own piece.
That’s why it’s tough to review this issue as a standalone book. There’s not a single story in here, nor even a classic beginning and ending. It’s a series of small events.
To that point, it’s an excellent showcase for Charlie Adlard’s art. The look on Rick’s face on the next-to-last page is unsettling in the most perfect way. The acting of the characters, overall, is as good as it gets in serialized comics fiction today. It’s all the side glances, the minor gestures and the very human body language that define the scenes as much as the words that surround them.
Cliff Rathburn’s gray tones do a great job in setting the mood, too, with appropriate tones to indicate night scenes without weighing a page down. And when the scene is set during the day, the absence of his gray tones give an even brighter feel to the lighting than you’d otherwise expect. It’s too often overlooked, but it’s a key part of the series’ look.
“The Walking Dead” #99 can be judged as either a part of the whole or as a single thing. The art carries it nicely either way, but your ultimate enjoyment will depend on which angle you take. I have to choose the latter, and grade the book as highly as I do based on the art and the smaller moments/revelations that we do get.