13 June 2012

Review: The Walking Dead, Vol. 1: Days Gone Bye

The Walking Dead, Volume 1: Days Gone Bye
Created, Written and Lettered by Robert Kirkman
Penciller, Inker and Gray Tones by Tony Moore
Additional Gray Tones by Cliff Rathburn
Cover Price: $9.99
144 pages
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What follows is my review as posted on Goodreads.

I checked this out along with A Fistful of Dollars on DVD, Bruce Springsteen's The Promise and Stephen Mitchell's English translation of Lao-tzu's Tao te Ching. I've already noted a common theme of self-reliance, but also an emphasis on deconstructing society and espousing the values of brotherhood and community that mean so much more than status symbols. I have seen the 2-hour pilot episode of The Walking Dead TV series (which I watched as it aired the first night) but oddly enough I haven't seen a single minute of footage since. I came into Days Gone Bye with a working knowledge of the set-up but quickly found myself in wholly unfamiliar territory.

By the time Rick arrives in Atlanta, I already had a tremendous admiration for the ability of Frank Darabont to develop a 2-hour TV episode out of a single issue. Where Robert Kirkman's comic treats the opening as mere establishment, Darabont's teleplay creates a whole world unto itself. That pilot episode could have been a standalone feature film, with Kirkman's comic providing the skeletal structure but surprisingly little of the actual substance. I also found myself significantly more interested in the story because now we were into stuff I hadn't seen on screen at all.

I should have felt some relief that Rick was able to reunite so relatively easily with Lori and Carl, but instead I saw only more trouble. It didn't take much guesswork to piece together Lori and Shane's dirty little secret. Seriously, the one guy who was supposed to watch his back just happens to be the guy "escorting" his wife and son through Zombieland? Yeah, that's on the level. Plus, the guy's name is Shane. I have yet to encounter a single Shane I consider an upstanding, respectable person. I'm not prone to prejudice or anything, but Shanes are all jerks. There, I said it.

There is something almost silly about Rick's upbeat nature. He awakens from a month-long coma into this nightmarish world, gets whacked in the head by a kid with a shovel and two pages later he's cheerfully handing over police department firearms and a car? I'm not saying he was wrong to do it, mind you, but just that his enthusiasm smacks of a sort of naivete unbecoming of a man with his training. It's almost like he's the night security guard sneaking his buddies onto the premises to get drunk and do donuts on the company lawn or something.

Of course, creator/writer Kirkman makes explicitly clear in his foreword that The Walking Dead is ultimately about Rick's evolution. It's easy to see why he would begin to change and harden just through these first six issues and perhaps it's best that we first meet him at a time in his life when he's driven by a can-do, Three Musketeers-type optimism.

Side note: I'm sure Kirkman did his homework and all, but as a Kentuckian I'm a bit fuzzy on the nature of Rick's branch of the law. For a town as small as is suggested, it would seem likelier that he would have worked for either a county sheriff's department or perhaps an outpost of the Kentucky State Police. Surprisingly few towns in Kentucky have a local police department, though there's no reason he couldn't have been in the employ of one such agency.

I've heard several readers remark how much they favor reading The Walking Dead collected editions versus the monthly issues. I have a strong sense why that it is having now read this first arc. I've encountered the same dynamic with DC Comics's current Batwoman book. Most monthly titles are given collected editions at regular intervals, but in cases like these it feels instead like a graphic novel is first serialized before finally being presented as the singular body of work it was intended to be all along. Kirkman's storytelling is patient, willing to plant seeds in one issue but not check to see what has come from them for another two issues. A monthly reader may find himself or herself annoyed by this, but the "trade waiters" (those who wait for the collected edition trade paperbacks) are able to digest in one setting an entire portion of content that include satisfactory payoffs, etc.

One other thing I liked was that there are several individual pages throughout that read like vignettes in the middle of the overall story. It was very reminiscent of the structure Daniel Clowes used in his original graphic novel, Wilson (which I read and reviewed yesterday). Kirkman uses the convention wisely, allowing us to catch our breath and chuckle before throwing ourselves back into the melee. I really hope this is an ongoing part of the series.

There are some very clever bits and some genuinely captivating character moments throughout Days Gone Bye and it seems a strong opening for the series. I look forward to the next volume.

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