"The Walking Dead" #148 is as bleak as you'd expect it to be. This is a character-focused issue, writer Robert Kirkman spending the installment moving pieces into place. Kirkman jumps between several different scenes but spends just enough time with each to lure fans in closer with each passing page. There is a horizon line of violence that is fast approaching as Alpha shows an emotional side before returning to vicious mode. Meanwhile, Rick tries to keep the community together as tensions rise to the breaking point, forcing him to turn to the last person anyone wants to see again.
What's fascinating about "The Walking Dead" as a book is that it is still such an exhausting comic to read. Kirkman's command of tension is taxing on a readers' emotions, but in the exact way one would want. Charlie Adlard assists in drawing this tension out through his steady, solid character work. Everyone, from children to adults, looks exhausted all of the time. It's hard to live in this world and everyone wears their scars in full view. Almost seventy issues later Carl's eye scar is still an unsettling reminder of what the world has become. Adlard's detail on these smaller moments enforces this tone. The creative duo also assist each other with the flow and pace of the action. The body language throughout alternates between near-constant tension, fear and rage. As Rick's meeting begins to go awry the panels feel crowded, Adlard using tight shots and intense angles to kick up the drama.
Alpha, meanwhile, shows cracks in her armor over the decision to banish Lydia from The Whisperers, which sounds like I am describing the turmoil around an '80s pop group. Kirkman uses the moment as another chance to pull readers in close before reminding readers how Alpha has reached her status. It adds stakes to what is an inevitable confrontation between the two camps, with Lydia showing her desperation to stay with Rick's community now that she's learned what the world could be like. The body language Adlard gives her is sociopathic, portraying her as the only calm, relaxed character in the issue, who also happens to commit the most heinous act.
The cliffhanger is a big one as a familiar face literally takes the spotlight. At this point you'd think that after everything he's been through, the person he asks for help is akin to trying to stop a fire by pouring gasoline on it. None of what happens can be any good moving forward and watching the game unfold left me wanting to see what's next as soon as possible. Kirkman has become a master of pacing in this book; over 10 years in the writer has total control over the storytelling in this series. It's written to be read enjoyably in the collected editions yet month-to-month the stories remain as enthralling as ever, even without a single walker to be found. "The Walking Dead" is like a tea kettle slowly beginning to boil and it's only a matter of time before someone gets scalded by the hot water. Or something far more gruesome, knowing the series.