I like zombies.
So it’s strange that I had never read any of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead. Because it’s got zombies and stuff.
Anyhow, I read this book today:
It’s The Walking Dead issue 105!
I mentioned this book in our weekly comic book review podcast, stating that I wasn’t exactly sure how to assign a grade to this type of issue. Imagine watching a single episode of a daytime soap opera. You learn that Charles is sleeping with Cassandra and that she might be pregnant with Jose’s baby. You learn that Mark is blackmailing Eric. You see, with your eyes, Emily fighting with William. You watch it, you take it all in, you finish ironing your bed or whatever the fuck people do while they watch daytime soap operas, but it doesn’t mean anything to you because you don’t have a clue who these characters are. You’re not in the loop, and the result is shallow and pointless melodrama. You want to feel the emotions that you know the musical cues are supposed to emphasize, you just don’t have the tools to do so.
Now, imagine that daytime soap opera is a bad ass survival epic, brutal and twisted and gory and delightful. You really think that you should be loving it, and you’re pretty sure that you would if you had any context. You don’t have any of that thing. You are pretty comfortable rooting for the stoic kid with the bullet hole where is right eye used to be, and you’re pretty sketched out by the fascist fucker with the wives and face-ironing, but really you don’t have a clue where this all started or where it’s going. Shit, any one can write pulp, what makes this book any different?
Super hero comic books usually don’t work like this. The periodical format is so thoroughly ingrained in the roots of the genre that we expect the background to find its way into the writing over the course of the issue. Even in the age of the cross-over event and the mini-series we still, at least, generally expect our super hero stories to work for a reader whose entire worldview encompasses the last three issues.
Soap operas don’t play by these rules. They’re long, melodramatic, convoluted, and unpredictable. They’re not friendly to casual viewers because they have no real interest in appealing to casual viewers. They cater to the true believers, the initiates who are willing to engage a heap of characters over the long haul. This can be extremely rewarding (it’s also why Smallville was a piss-poor super hero show, but a halfway-decent soap opera) but the joys of the continuous serial narrative are insurmountably beyond the grasp of he who hesitates to commit.
Does that mean they’re not great stories? You read Dickens in high school for a reason, right?
Every bit of evidence I can gather, having read a grand total of one issue of The Walking Dead, suggests that Robert Kirkman is writing a killer book. If I had to take a stand, I’d give issue 105 a “B” on its own merits. Ignore that grade completely, because the real strength of this book is in how hungry I am to read issues 1 – 104.