"The Walking Dead" was a must read last issue. This issue is decidedly less of a "must read," but it's still a fine comic, as usual.
In the last issue, Rick Grimes' young son Carl was shot in the face during a battle that left the right side of his head entirely missing, including his right eye. This issue is mostly a battle as our heroes try to maintain control of their walled city, defeating dozens if not hundreds of zombies that have made it inside. Carl is tended to mostly off panel, and at the end of the issue, Rick is talking with renewed hope to his son, bandaged up, and alive but with his fate still unclear.
And therein lies my issue with this comic. Carl's injury rendered as it was in issue #83, does not seem like a survivable injury to me. In a world of hospitals and world class surgeons perhaps, but not in a zombie apocalypse and during an attack of epic proportions. There are things in this issue - like our heroes pulling together as a real team invested in one another's survival as we have not seen in a very long time - that are wonderful and rewarding and well-executed. However, Carl's survival, which though not assured by any means, does feel imminent, and doesn't work for me and creates some failure in the issue. Individual readers will certainly disagree as to whether Carl's survival (should that be the path we're on) is a suspension of disbelief that they can bear. For me, I tend to think it bends the book too far, especially since it is a book that deals in harsh realities with astonishing frequency. It is, in fact, one of the great strengths of the book. So I would hate to see that undone here. Carl's survival feels to me like the cheat I expect from my average superhero book (and don't appreciate) but I expect better from "The Walking Dead."
That said, Robert Kirkman does much in this issue that actually restores the book and Rick to a former place of hope, something the book and Rick have largely lost since the prison and the death of Laurie, the baby, Tyrese, and others. Rick's optimism and drive at the end of the book while begging Carl to pull through, points the book in a good direction that I hope Kirkman will find a way to follow through on regardless of Carl's fate. It's the humanity on display in this issue, in direct opposition to the lack of humanity in Rick in the last issue, that reminds me what a great book this is and can be when it's firing on all cylinders. I wish I could reconcile the reality of where Carl's situation seems to be heading, with the renewed sense of direction in the book this issue. One excites me greatly and the other disappoints me greatly.
Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn's work is strong as ever here, and in an issue heavy on mostly silent battle sequences, they deliver superbly. The heavy lifting is in the art this month, as most of our emotional moments are relatively silent and it's powerful stuff. Character expressions have always been a strength of Adlard and here; in the wordless battle panels they're particularly strong: stoic Michonne, enraged Rick, fearful Gabriel, determined Abraham. You really feel who each of these people are through Adlard's nuanced work, and feel for them as a result.
"The Walking Dead" is the comic book that brought me back to comics years ago, and I suspect I'll read it as long as Kirkman and Adlard continue to show up with all they've got to tell these characters stories; but I confess to feeling frustrated by what felt like a tough decision made in the last issue, that's now being reconsidered. I like when this book makes the tough decisions and doesn't reconsider them. And if we're going to reconsider things, then I want Tyrese back.