Comic Review: The Walking Dead Compendium One

PrintE-mail Written by Ian Mat Sunday, 08 May 2011

Comic Book Reviews

The Walking Dead Compendium One

Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Tony Moore

Image Comics

Out now

Zombies always come out in force, and no more so than The Walking Dead franchise which turned 1.46 million viewers into fans when its TV show aired on Channel 5 in the UK earlier this month (April). But for those who can’t wait until season two to air in the US come October, this 1088 page lap-bruising compendium has got you covered.

Rare is the mailbox big enough to accommodate this two-inch thick paperback if ordered for £26.99 online. And its thickness could even put off readers not used to seeing their graphic novels come in Yellow Pages format. But like one of the namesake flesh eaters, once you start you won’t stop.

Small-town police officer Rick Grimes wakes up in a world of hurt. An arrest turned bad sees him shot and put into a coma – and regaining consciousness in a world where the dead don’t seem to sleep, either. Danny Boyles’ 28 Days Later beat Kirkman to this gimmick by 11 months but similarities aside The Walking Dead shambles down a very different track. The 48 issues folded into this compendium charts a very long road for Grimes and his fellow survivors and, without giving anything away, a very bloody one.

But The Walking Dead’s strength is not the zombies, it’s the people. There are no shallow characters here. Connections are made, broken, and re-made, all too frequently and then suddenly  ripped apart and choked down as zombie fodder. Let’s just say Kirkman, like the Lost TV show, doesn’t subscribe to the Hollywood notion that plenty of face time doesn’t make you immune to death and what comes after it.

And in a comparison with the TV show, of which Kirkman is an executive producer, it’s rare to see the show explore and expand on mere moments seen in the comic than vice versa. Usually the moving picture devours its source material at a rate of knots and a storyline that took months to unravel is covered in a single episode. Not so here. Key panels become recurring imagery in the TV series, like a pair of lovers’ entwined hands with a missing wedding ring. Just because zombies are slow, doesn’t mean this comic book doesn’t have pace.

Everything plays out in its own good time. At first it can seem maddening to read characters running from a crisis to get help, explaining everything in full dialogue, and then returning to the broken action. But as you get further into the series this real-life sense of priority makes sense. Characters out of the scene need clueing in on what’s going on before reacting. There are things constantly happening and just because the reader has an omniscient view of the big picture, those inside it do need their sit-reps, even if it’s about who’s minding the kids.

Dialogue aside, it is Kirkman’s level of detail that really grounds this story in reality. One conversation sees the characters discussing the best way to stab a zombie in the head with a knife through a wire-link fence without losing their blade. After some trial and error, they adopt a technique for putting wooden hilt guards on the knives to prevent them slipping through the fence. Who else would have put this much attention to detail into their story? Arguably World War Z author Max Brooks, who said he liked the series. It is this level of detail that saw Kirkman tapped to write Marvel Zombies, where the level of a super-powered zombie’s chattiness is based on how full its belly is.

The monthly series of The Walking Dead now numbers in the eighties and all bar six of these have been drawn by Charlie Adlard. His shadow-heavy style initially seems at odds with Tony Moore’s clean-cut, square-jaw pencils after the initial Days Gone Bye chapter. But by the time you’ve devoured Miles Behind Us through to the eighth story arc Made To Suffer, you’ll agree there is no better artist for this work. Speaking at the Cardiff International Comic Expo, Adlard told a crowd that he was in Angola with his missus when a familiar voice burst out of loudspeakers in a town centre. It was him in a recorded interview about the popularity of The Walking Dead and, overcome by shyness, he “sloped off into a marquee really quickly”.

The Walking Dead can be rightly credited for breathing new life into the zombie genre and dragging the spotlight away from vampires. And even when said spotlight swings back in full force to the bloodsuckers, these corpses will still be staggering along with its growing fan base towards the series’ eventual conclusion, with still no end in sight.

And with the words compendium one printed in bold on both cover and side of this behemoth, it is safe to say there will be another 48-issue beast in the offing to further bow your bookshelves with.

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