THE WALKING DEAD: DELUXE VOLUME ONE
by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore, Charlie Adlard, et al.
Image Comics, December 2005
ISBN: 1582405115 (over-sized hardback)

This review was first published in All Hallows #41, February 2006
© Brian J. Showers 2006

The zombie genre is dead. At least that's what I thought in 2003 after attending a film festival that featured one too many low budget zombie films by first time directors. The purveyors of these second rate re-hashes all seemed to be under the impression that tired slapstick and outrageous gore make for a good zombie film. Their comedy-horrors are pound shop imitations of Return of the Living Dead or Evil Dead 2 or Braindead. And forget about serious zombie horror, which seemed to peak in 1978 with George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead. So I declared, at least silently and to myself, that the zombie genre was dead. And then two things happened.

The first was Shaun of the Dead (2004), a brilliant horror-comedy (Note: not comedy-horror) that injected some serious innovation and wit into the genre. And the second came from a most unexpected corner, my local comic book shop. The comic is called The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman (writer), Tony Moore (illustrator for issues #1-6, covers), Charles Adlard (illustrator for issues #7-24) and Cliff Rathburn (grey tones). Serious zombie horror is back, and rapidly infecting legions of fans.

The Walking Dead is an on-going black and white monthly that is, as of this writing, up to issue #24. To date there have been four trade paperbacks collecting all twenty-four issues. But this review is about the oversized, 560-page, slipcased, hardcover deluxe edition that collects all twenty-four issues in one single volume.

The series centres on Rick Grimes, a small town police officer, who falls into a coma after a shootout. When he awakes weeks later in a hospital bed, he finds that society has crumbled and zombies have repopulated the landscape. Although the beginning is similar to 28 Days Later, as detractors enjoy pointing out, the story quickly deviates from imitation. Rick crosses the desolate countryside by car, on foot and even on horseback, witnessing the savagery that has befallen the human race.

Gradually Rick meets other survivors. But this blessing is short lived. Their efforts to re-establish a stable society are constantly thwarted, not only by the undead, but also by their own human foibles. And the zombies, though not featured in every issue, are always lurking on the other side of the barricade, a constant reminder of not only who they were, but what they've become.

One complaint I had while reading the monthly instalments is that there are too many characters. It's easy to get confused as to who's who and who did what. An entire month would pass between each 22-page issue. But when I read the Deluxe Volume 1, all twenty-four issues back to back in one sitting, the problem disappeared. By my count there are between fifteen and twenty players at any given point--each one is given weight, purpose and time at centre stage. Kirkman manages this juggling act masterfully with well-written, unexpected and downright clever dialogue. But he shouldn't get all the credit. Given that the book is black and white and all the characters are wearing civilian clothes, Moore and Adlard's character designs are impressive and slyly diverse. For the record, the cast of characters numbers at thirty-three to date, plus hundreds of zombies. This comic knows no bounds.

A criticism frequently voiced in the monthly letter column, one that is echoed across the internet, is that The Walking Dead has become a soap opera. "We want more zombie action!" the gorehounds moan in unison. I disagree. Kirkman could very easily subject the characters to one relentless zombie holocaust after another, but we all know how that would play out every time. Those expecting buckets of blood and limbs strewn about have misjudged what this comic is about. The Walking Dead of the title doesn't refer to the zombies at all but to the survivors. This is their story. That's what makes The Walking Dead special.

So why should you buy the Deluxe Edition 1 instead of the more sanely priced trade paperbacks? Like DC Comics's Absolute Editions, Image Comics's Deluxe Editions are slipcased and enlarged, measuring 12.5" x 8.5" (standard US comics are 10.25" x 6.75"). Reading these oversized comics is the equivalent of seeing a 70mm of your favourite film. Unfortunately, Moore and Adlard's sequential art is no Playtime. It certainly gets the job done on the standard sized page, but the panels aren't quite dense enough for the oversized treatment, and a few of the full-page panels feel oddly vacant and exposed. Not that any of this detracts from the overall experience of the story.

The real treat included in the Deluxe Edition 1 is a collection of Tony Moore's twenty-four covers, reproduced in full colour without the title, publishing info and barcode. These beautiful covers aren't included in the trade paperback editions and make the Deluxe Edition worth owning for anyone who's already a fan. Other extras included are character sketches and rough page layouts, and Kirkman's original proposal and five-page submission to Image Comics.

Like Romero's Dawn of the Dead, Kirkman and company's The Walking Dead is a landmark of the genre. The book is not about zombies so much as the interaction between people stuck in a horrible situation. So if you're sick to death of zombie's, but can't seem to keep away from them, this is the book for you.

If you want to sample The Walking Dead before you buy, the entire first issue is available for free at www.imagecomics.com. But be careful. It's infectious. You'll find yourself running like a Danny Boyle zombie to you local comic book shop to find out what happens next!

More information on Robert Kirkman and his writing can be found at: www.funkotron.com

Brian J. Showers is from Madison, Wisconsin, but these days he reads, writes and lives in Dublin, Ireland. His primary interests include ghosts, comic books, horror films, good beer and anything else a proper boy his age would enjoy.



Addendum

My review of The Walking Dead for All Hallows #41 was originally meant to be an 'inter-review'. I emailed Robert Kirkman as I was writing the review, and then again a few weeks later. Never heard back from him. Of course with all the monthly titles he writes that was to be expected.

Imagine my surprise when I picked up issue #28 of The Walking Dead last Thursday, read it (another fabulous issue), turned to the always lengthy letters column, and found my questions both printed and answered! This also marks the first time I've written to a comic book letters column, albeit unintentionally.

I originally tinkered with the idea of slotting the answers into the finished review, but couldn't really get them to fit without major re-writes. So for what it's worth, here are the questions and answers separately:

Hi Mr. Kirkman,

I wrote to you a few weeks ago about possibly doing a short interview. I'm writing a review of the Deluxe Edition #1 of The Walking Dead for All Hallows. I'm not looking for lengthy ponderings-just a few sentences. If you've go the time, below are my questions:

Kirkman: I don't usually read these emails until it's time to make a letters column . . . so the time for this, I'm sure has already passed. Sorry about that . . . but I'll answer your questions just the same.

With the current zombie trend being comedy-horror, what made you choose to do something more serious, something that could have potentially been unfashionable?

Kirkman: I didn't do this book because of some trend. I had plans to do this book long before 28 Days Later came out. We lucked into being on the cusp of this hot new zombie trend but I did this book solely because I wanted to.

With the trade paperbacks already available, why did you decide to publish in the deluxe format?

Kirkman: Frankly? Because I wanted a book like DC's Absolute Editions of my own stuff. I thought it would look cool and make a good Christmas present for folks.

Where does the plot come from? Do you know what will happen next or do you let the characters play out their scenarios naturally?

Kirkman: It varies. Sometimes I let the characters run wild and sometimes I have things planned out.

Do you pay much attention to those decrying the series for becoming a soap opera and its lack of hardcore zombie action?

Kirkman: Not really. Most comics are just soap operas in one way or another. I doubt people will consider this arc to be very soap opera-like . . . but in 10 issues or so, things could quiet down and get back to the kissie stuff. This book will always be changing and morphing as things go on.

What has the reception for the Deluxe Edition #1 been like? Will there be a Deluxe Edition #2? And when can we expect it?

Kirkman: Reception has been good. There WILL be a Volume 2. We just have to put out another 24 issues first. So yeah, after issue 48, there will be a volume 2. And for the people who don't want to spend $100 on the limited edition, there will be small 12-issue hard covers that are not limited and have fewer extras.

Cheers,
Brian J. Showers

Kirkman: Thanks for writing.



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