15 years ago, zombies were the black sheep of the horror world. You typically had to raid the video rental shelves for Italian movies from the 70s to see anything you hadn’t already seen a dozen times. The list of really good subgenre films could be counted on two hands, and that was including some fringe titles like Dead Heat. Fast forward to today, and frankly, the walking dead are kind of played out. Too many movies, too many comics, too many TV shows. More important, too many bad ones. Still, when it first hit the stands, The Walking Dead was a breath of fresh…well, it was welcome. The series was everything this zombie starved fan was hungry for. Like the author, I had always wanted to follow the characters (those few who might survive) after the credits began to roll. What happened to those folks on the helicopter at the end of Dawn of the Dead? What was up with that island in Day of the Dead? What happened to New York City after Zombie? What would have happened to the badass reporter in Nightmare City (among other names) if he wasn’t hooked up with that idiot woman who kept complaining that everyone deserved it? Would he have found more explosive TVs to throw? Well, that’s what this comic was created to explore; the ‘and then…?’ factor. Awesome.
Re-reading the first trade all these years later, I totally see what I saw in it at that time, though to tell the truth, it’s not that great. That said, the ending is awesome, and from what I understand, that amazing moment is totally botched in the TV series, which is too bad. It’s a defining moment in the comic, and should have been in the show as well. It’s also weird reading it, and remembering all these characters I know won’t make it very far. I forgot about that couple and their kids. I forgot one dude even had a kid (shows how long she makes it). I know there’s a lot of nasty death on its way. Unlike many later story arcs, much of the death in this one is caused by the undead. What makes the comic work is what makes the best zombie movies work, the drama of people in a horrible situation. Zombies are like a natural disaster. They don’t have a plan, they don’t have a goal, they’re not evil, they don’t want to hurt you. They just feed on whatever is in front of them, moving without thought for self or for the future. It is this relentless, mindless danger that makes them far more spirit crushing than many classic monsters and villains. You can kill a dozen, a hundred, but there are always more, always coming, always lurking, like living under constant threat of bombing. You just never know when or where, only that eventually, they will strike.
The Walking Dead Volume 1: Days Gone By
Author: Robert Kirkman
Artist: Tony Moore
Starting with a not too surprising revelation, the story picks up with the aftermath of the disastrous attack on the camp. Our survivors must move away from Atlanta if they are to avoid the city’s roving hoards. They meet up with new folk, run afoul of a dumbass with a gun, and find sanctuary…maybe. The harshness of survival and the fragility of life are forefront. And we’re still at the point in the series where the zombies seem like the real enemy. There are hints of the human ugliness to come, but on the smallest of scales so far. And we see the first real cracks in Rick’s armor, which author Kirkman will spend the rest of the series (as far as I’ve read) systematically destroying. The relationships that form are interesting, as people try so hard to get a little happiness and human connection.
I’m getting a little of that feeling I had when first reading this series all those years ago, before zombies were so overplayed in books, comics, and movies. This really is the series I dreamed of in the 90s, when I was consuming every zombie thing I could get my hands on (what little there was). This is the kind of thing I wanted to do in a roleplaying game, when I still regularly played. The ongoing story of survival in a world gone so horribly wrong. And by volume 2, it feels like Kirkman is getting a better handle on things, on how the story will go and how the characters will interact. Plus, there’s that last couple of pages, that set up the multi-volume arc that is about to begin. That’s when the real horror, the human horror will become more obvious, when the zombies become what they’re best at being, the quiet, menacing threat that lurks in the shadows. And when the real villains of the series step forward.
The Walking Dead: Volume 2: Miles Behind Us
Author: Robert Kirkman
Artist: Charlie Adlard