Writer: Robert Kirkman
Artist: Charlie Adlard
The refugees have finally decided to move away from the undead-filled necropolis of Atlanta, but the journey they'll be undertaking is not an easy one. The weather turns harsh, as the biting cold of winter has arrived. The roads are filled with wreckage, which take backbreaking effort to clear for the group's RV. And then there are the zombies, aimlessly roaming the land looking for flesh to devour; there is no place where they are not to be found.
But these are merely the external problems that face the group. Anger, sorrow, suspicion, fear, and desire eat away at the refugees' morale. With the world in ruins around them, how long will it be until they too descend into madness and savagery? Can the veneer of civilization and humane behavior be maintained when everything else has fallen into chaos?
"Let's just skip Christmas this year, okay? I don't want to upset the kids."
Although this title has the trappings of zombie horror, it is actually a survivalist adventure in the "post-apocalyptic" mode. The themes explored are all hallmarks of this subgenre. For instance, the concept of retaining the Self in the midst of a ruined world is a powerful and traditional element in "post-apocalypse" fiction, whether the cause of the fall is nuclear war, a divine rapture, a super-plague, or, as is the case here, when the dead rise from the grave. Kirkman expertly examines and articulates this thematic point in through tight utilization of the basic elements of story.
The plot is simple; the group packs up camp and drives down the road, meeting some new characters. This trip brings the setting home to the reader, as the characters labor to clear away wreckage or go about bundled in blankets to fend off the cold. The pacing is leisurely, but accented with a few scenes that spike the anxiety, when strangers are encountered. Through interaction with these strangers, both living and undead, the reader can gauge the degree of spiritual hardening that the characters have suffered.
The dialogue is well utilized both as a controlling element of mood and as a means of character delineation. At times, this issue gets wordy, creating a sedate and conversational pace. Then Kirkman cranks up the intensity with sharp dialogue. Solid lettering helps out in conveying the mood. Moreover, the words hint at the internal conflicts going on within the characters, both as individuals and as part of a struggling community. The few scenes between Rick and Lori shows this to good effect, as does the "roamers" conflict.
The art is good, but a bit too rough. The compositions are very good, capturing the drama of the situation and maintaining a visual flow that complements the written narrative. Motion, stance, and a sense of weight are also noteworthy elements of Adlard's craft. However, there's no finesse here; the fine details are absent. This is especially noticeable in the facial expressions; everybody either looks wooden or animated with outrageous emotional intensity to the point of caricature.
"Yeah…the end of the world changed him…but look at how it changed me."
I originally came to this title looking for zombie-filled horror. But instead, I've discovered one of the smartest "post-apocalyptic" tales around. This isn't a genre that I normally have much interest in, but Kirkman's skillful exploration into the challenges of survival has won me over. Moreover, the astute study of these characters, laboring to persevere in spite of the madness around them, has been top-notch with psychological insights. This is a superb title. I highly recommend it.
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