“The Walking Dead” has bucked a trend it had for so long and it’s actually made the zombies the menace on the page. Rick and his friends are safe in a gated community, but once a herd of zombies surround them they don’t feel safe as much as they do trapped. It’s the little things in this arc that resonate.
For years, we have been seeing Rick as a broken man with life only taking more chips off and breaking small shards into more microscopic slivers of despair and denial. In this issue, there is the feeling that Rick might just be slowly getting reassembled. Some things are going his way and it’s nice to see him catch some breaks. But what will he look like all stuck together with whatever adhesive this new world can offer? What parts can’t be fixed and what new shape will this man take? These are all questions that lay on Rick’s horizon because no one ever comes back from what he’s been through. They might survive, possibly even move on, but they don’t come back. Ever.
If you look through decades of horror you will often find the best stories are about being penned in by the terror outside. Works like “Alien” and “The Thing” and Romero’s Unholy Trilogy all work on that great understanding that you can hide from horror but it will eventually seek it out. And before it breaks down your doors and grinds your bones for bread, you will have one hell of a tense ride on your hands. Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard are milking that tension perfectly to make this comic pop with worry and excitement.
This comic is an interactive experience now, as I’m pretty sure I’m the most tense and untrusting person involved in this tale. As Rick leaves Carl under the care of someone else, and someone who would have motive to perhaps want to hurt Rick, I am pulling my hair out with worry while he shrugs it off. Could this gated community be making our intrepid heroes soft?
Adlard’s work is the Keyser Soze of the sequential page; The greatest trick it ever pulled was making you believe it wasn’t there. He never intrudes on the story, or overplays any moment. He simply facilitates great scripts into still looking as emotional or gory as they need to be but all the while making you feel comfortable on the page. He chooses the right panel size, or zoom, or angle, for nearly every scene and yet it all feels so simple.
It’s appreciated that this far into a series you can still believe absolutely anything can happen – and it usually does. Kirkman makes this arc feel like a real horror movie, and yet, like the best, he keeps the characters in the bright center and focus of every scene. This arc feels like the most definitive zombie tale Kirkman has told yet in this zombie comic and he’s doing it damn well.