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The Walking Dead

Longbox Graveyard #72

Look out! Longbox Graveyard is reviewing a comic that’s currently in print!

I may be stuck in 1978 but even I can’t escape the multimedia success that is Robert Kirkman‘s (and Tony Moore’s) The Walking Dead, which is beginning it’s third season on AMC even as it sets sales records with it’s one-hundredth issue. Yet I still might never had read this series if not for my bloodthirsty teenaged son, who insisted I pack along his favorite comics series in the form of the first Walking Dead Compendium on a recent vacation.

(Yes, a thousand pages of flesh-eating mayhem passes for a ‘beach book” here at Longbox Graveyard.)

zombies can bring a family closer together

I suppose I qualify as a bad dad for providing these comics to my lad without vetting them first, and reading the series I did blanch a bit, realizing that my boy had preceded me into this maelstrom of blood, death, rape, and betrayal. But my boy is discerning, with a critical eye, and Walking Dead has gone on to become a talking point for us (as was the case the with Frank Miller’s Holy Terror), and in any case in this connected age I consider it impossible to dig a trench around my kids to protect them from this kind of content. Better we should enjoy these things together, along the way giving me a chance to provide my lad with some of the tools and perspective he will need to make his way in our increasingly weird and violent world.

And what a world it has become, with zombies clawing their way into the mainstream. It wasn’t always this way! My first encounter with the living dead came courtesy of George Romero‘s Night of the Living Dead, first discovered in the pages of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, then later experienced, in all its black & white grindhouse glory, on a snowy television broadcast in the middle of the night.

Like a lot of pictures, Night of the Living Dead isn’t nearly so scary for children as it is for adults. Fortified as I was against the movie’s most shocking moments by having read everything about it first, I found Night of the Living Dead only mildly affecting as a twelve-year-old. It would take years — and adult perspective — before the movie first started to disturb me, with its message that our own fears and prejudices are the greatest threat of all, and (especially) that grim scene in the basement, where a mother is attacked by her own undead child.

I guess you could say I grew up with zombies. I saw pictures like the blood-spattered Dawn of the Dead at midnight shows, caught the campy Return of the Living Dead on VHS, and saw Evil Dead 2 opening weekend in a mostly-empty Hollywood movie theater. In more recent years I’ve watched the zombie formula stretch itself in unexpected directions — comedy (Shawn of the Dead), last-man-on-earth story (28 Days Later), and even a gonzo road picture (Zombieland).

one of several Zombieland rules to live by … and I’m working on the cardio, too

I suppose it was inevitable that the soap opera genre try its luck with zombies, and the The Walking Dead is definitely a soap opera, making the most of the long form drama soap operas provide. Unlike most zombie stories — which need to introduce, develop, and eviscerate their heroes in a single sitting — The Walking Dead has the luxury of time and space to develop its world and cast. The story is slow-moving — I likely would not have stuck with it as a monthly book — but with 48 issues on offer in Compendium form The Walking Dead makes for a superior long read.

The series may at first seem to lack for originality. Series hero Sheriff Rick Grimes wakes up alone, in an abandoned hospital, in a set-up that reminds of Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later. He is behind the audience, of course, in piecing together that a zombie apocalypse has occurred (the tedious-but-necessary scene-setting burden of seemingly every zombie story), and his motivations are off-the-shelf: figure out what’s happened, find other survivors, find his lost family.

The first hint that we are in for something different comes at the end of the first issue, when Rick goes out of his way to return to the scene of a particularly affecting zombie encounter, to put the poor, immobile thing out of its misery with a shot to the head.

This sets the tone for what will become a theme of the series — that it is mercy, and compassion, that distinguishes the living from the dead. It is an uncomfortable realization, especially in a genre where zombies have become objects for all sorts of guilt-free kill-thrills, both in films and video games. They look like humans, see, and they blow up like humans, but it’s all OK, because they’re like, dead, right? No so the walking dead of The Walking Dead, where the story takes pains to point out that these bad guys stumbling around aren’t just some existential threat or fodder for target practice — they used to be like you and me, and like some modern-day Danse Macabre, we’re all headed that way ourselves, sooner or later.

It’s a shorter journey for some of us than others, and as the story later reminds, you don’t have to be dead to be among the walking dead. As in many zombie stories, survivors are often transformed in ways more horrible that the undead themselves, and The Walking Dead gives us some choice specimens to despise, where survivor communities have been founded on bloodsport and rape, and you often have more to fear from a gunned-up chance encounter with a living person than you do from a zombie popping out of the closet.

the Walking Dead’s “Governor” is quite a sweetheart

The Walking Dead starts off grim and gets darker as you go along. The art and story are consistent throughout as they track our little band of survivors through their undead odyssey, fighting for daily survival even as they come to terms with the fact that there will be no rescue — that life has changed forever, and for the worse. The long form of the story offers plenty of room for character development, but it is rarely of the good kind — for every hopeful pregnancy, marriage, or moment of human triumph there are decapitations, child murder, and amputations to spare. This first Compendium comes to a particularly gruesome conclusion and it isn’t spoiling much to report that the body count of The Walking Dead makes George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones look like Sesame Street.

Which is not to suggest you should avoid The Walking Dead. I put it firmly in the category of a “good” bad time, and not just for zombie fans. The extended format allows for readers to come to care for the characters, which ratchets up the tension when they get into one of the series’ trademark no-one-is-safe tight spots. It’s also fun to see Kirkman’s take on familiar zombie tropes, and to play the “what would I do to survive?” fantasy game in your own head as you confront, through fiction, the kind of disastrous world-after-tomorrow that drives so much of our daily anxiety in these troubled times. I even recommend The Walking Dead to fans of the television series, both because I find the comic superior to the show, and because the show and the comic have developed along sufficiently diverging lines that each has something fresh to offer (though the spoiler-adverse may wish to wait until the conclusion of AMC’s third season before plunging into this particular Compendium).

We live in miraculous times, my friends, where a black & white independent zombie book is still going strong after a hundred issues, a zombie soap opera is one of the highest-rated shows on cable TV, and Longbox Graveyard likes a comic from the present century. Rejoice!

And Happy Halloween!

NEXT WEDNESDAY: #73 Panel Gallery: Nick Fury By Steranko

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About Paul O'Connor

Revelations and retro-reviews from a world where it is always 1978, published once a month or so at www.longboxgraveyard.com!

Posted on October 31, 2012, in Reviews and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 19 Comments.

  1. I got to see NOTLD when I was in middle school and they played it during the day at a cool movie theater locally, my (very patient) dad took me. This was before I took a summer job to buy a VCR so I could watch horror movies. I remember back then you had a choice between VHS and Beta… anyway, I sort of varied between levitating because I was so blown away I was getting to see it and wanting to crawl under my seat I was so terrified (and I knew the plot). Of all the scenes, the killing with a garden trowel frightened me the most. I couldn’t even cover my eyes, it was like I was paralyzed. The screams of the mother made my blood run ice-cold. Funny, since I thought at the time it was violent, watching it now it’s mostly suggested… but the audio during that scene is still HORRIFYING to this day. Great post. Happy Halloween!

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    • Hey, Mrs. Boom! Thanks for reading and commenting! I don’t do too much horror stuff here at Longbox Graveyard (though I do plan another Tomb of Dracula review in a couple weeks), but I hope you’ll stick around and become a regular.

      Your very patient dad also sounds like a very cool dad. My own father loved movies and took me all the time though he drew the line at most horror movies. We saw a lot of science fiction — for example, we saw all the original Planet of the Apes films in theaters — but I can’t recall seeing a horror movie with him. In the summer of 1974 the horror movie I really wanted to see was The Exorcist, but it was a no go … and secretly I was a little relieved, because even I knew I wasn’t ready for that picture at twelve years of age, but as a subscriber to Famous Monsters of Filmland, honor required that I bug my parents to let me go.

      So while I got to see French Connection and M*A*S*H and Logan’s Run in theaters with my dad, I was on my own scaring up horror movies, and that meant I was dependent on TV. In those days it meant getting the newspaper or the TV Guide each week and going through it line-by-line to scout the movies that were on that week. Friday and Saturday nights were the most fertile hours, and I must have seen pictures like Scream And Scream Again and Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things dozens of times. I was genuinely thrilled when I saw Night of the Living Dead was scheduled … and genuinely outraged when it wasn’t aired as advertised! (I was convinced some coalition of angry moms had shut it down). But it came around a couple weeks later, and I got to saw it, and the rest is history.

      It’s something we’ve lost in this era of Netflix and DVD and general geek plenty … the effort it took to track these pictures down made them that much more worth seeing, forbidden even.

      Thanks again for reading and replying!

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  2. @Paul: Your dad sounds like my dad. We went to the movies together constantly – from the original Planet Of The Apes to John Wayne to James Bond to Raiders (which he loved) and the first original Star Wars (which he didn’t). My fondest memories of my childhood are going to the movies with my dad, even when I was at the age when it supposedly wasn’t cool. (He drew the line at both horror and, usually, sci-fi, so I’d see those with friends if he bailed.)

    I’ve seen the original Night of the Living Dead but I’m ‘meh’ about it. It doesn’t work for me – and I first saw it on a Halloween so I should’ve been all over it. I like the first hour or so of 28 Days Later and both it and The Walking Dead share DNA with Day Of The Triffids. I love Zombieland, though. I think it’s a terrific way to present zombie-based material. And I also like the British mini-series Dead Set – a zombie outbreak on the set of the tv series Big Brother.

    I came way late to The Walking Dead, but it’s a great soap opera comic – individual issues can be slow and it’s best read in big chunks and I’ll stock up at San Diego and then settle in for the winter.

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    • Fully agree on reading Walking Dead in big chucks — I did the first forty-eight issues in a couple days via the first compendium, and Miles has collected the following fifty-odd issues in graphic novel form, which I will return to someday (a second big Compendium has just been released, too).

      Forgot about Day of the Triffids — that’s the one where everyone goes blind looking at a meteor shower, and then they get attacked by giant carnivorous plants, right? A British film if I remember correctly, and kind of a minor classic. I’ve been referring to the larger weeds on my property as “Triffids” for years without sparing a thought for the movie.

      I tried Dead Set when it showed up on local cable, but couldn’t get into it — not because it was bad, but because it did so good a job of emulating the usual ego-based reality show that it made my flesh crawl. Readers with a higher tolerance for reality-show DNA should check it out.

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  3. Walking Dead 1-48 is an amazing read.I read the title when the book was at issue 75 and power read that series in about a week. 1-50 in my mind was an A. The weakness of issues 1-6 were obvious. The series begins after the current artist takes the reigns. From 50 to 104 are very good as well. I read Walking Dead monthly ever since issue 75 and the storyline up to about issue 90 has been of similar caliber of the original. The current store Arc with Rick and the Survivors battle with the evil gang led by a guy named Negan has been over the top slow with momentary flashes of action.

    Issue 100 was the promise of major deaths and what everyone thought would be a conclusion to the said storyline, but it did not. We are at issue 104 right now and this storyline still has no end in sight and feels like we are at the middle chapter in this painful arc.

    Anyways I am sure you will get there..great article as usual bro. Keep em coming!

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    • Thanks for the comments and kind words … after the harrowing conclusion to Walking Dead #48, I am taking a break from the series, but the following volumes are all on my son’s shelf for whenever I choose to go back to it. Maybe by next Halloween! I read that first compendium in a tent cabin in Yosemite, it was a good near-single-sitting kind of experience, out in the spooky woods.

      The series does have its slow patches which is why I think it is best as a collected experience … you can whip through the pages when the pace slows down, not sure I’d be so keen on that if I was reading it as a monthly book.

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  4. I felt that it was my duty as a comics fan in the 2010s to at least be somewhat familiar with The Walking Dead, and have been reading them in trade, either 12 (hardcover) or 6 (paperback) issues at a time, whichever the library had on the shelves.

    I am through issue 60, and going to take a bit of a break to catch my breath and let it settle in. I enjoy it, but there is something repetititie about it — we find new surviviors, we lose somme survivors, man is a greater threat to man than the zombies are, etc …

    That said, I have enjoyed them, and it quite an accomplishment, pop-culture-wise.

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    • Yes, increasingly I think what sets this series apart from other zombie dramas is its length. There’s just so much more opportunity to get to know characters over thousands of pages, rather than the bang-you’re-dead pace of a zombie movie.

      On the TV side, too, there is the “what would I do?” bit of audience identification — I think the story is better, overall, as a comic, but the characters are definitely more relateable on the TV side. The secret here, as in many stories in this genre, is that a zombie story really isn’t a zombie story — it’s actually a dysfunctional family story where the zombies are a force of nature pushing the story along or dialing up the tension as the authors require.

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  5. I read the big 48 issue book over a month or so last year. It was so heavy (figuratively) that I felt a little depressed every time I put the book down to return to reality. I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing, but either way, some powerful stuff in there, and it gets you thinking for a lot longer than the usual comic book fare.

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    • Yeah, I’ll admit that as much as I enjoyed that first compendium, I haven’t been in a hurry to read the following volumes (and my kid has them all, so they are close at hand). I’ve also stalled out on the TV show. Maybe next October I’ll be back in the mood.

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