Grateful for the Dead


Ten years on, The Walking Dead remains one of the bleakest yet most compelling series in comics.

THIS year marks the 10th year of Image Comics’ The Walking Dead comic series, and the spotlight on Rick Grimes and his fellow Alexandria Safe-Zone residents shows no sign of wavering – courtesy of some very entertaining plots laced with nonstop action, twists and cliffhanger endings.

Things did not look this positive in the first dozen issues, though. Back then, Robert Kirkman’s story of a cop fending off zombies while searching for his loved ones sounded too much like it was lifted from some B-list zombie movie to me. Even the twists were downright predictable, such as Rick’s wife having an affair, and the zombie-related events.

However, my perception of Kirkman’s finest creation (to date) changed during a trip down to Singapore with a bunch of Walking Dead fanboys, during which I was given a crash course in zombology and learnt the true meaning of the “Walking Dead”. After that, I went on a marathon read of the (then) 70-plus issues of the series.

Contrary to popular belief, there is actually a lot of (ahem) life in The Walking Dead. In fact, making it to the century mark in issues is a huge achievement, especially for a non-Marvel/DC title.

Despite the body count, the title’s greatest appeal is in its characters. Imagine being in a post-apocalyptic setting where survival instincts require you to adapt, accept or obliterate anyone or anything to stay alive, and you will understand why Rick, Michonne (ex-lawyer turned katana-wielding badass), Andrea (ex-law firm clerk turned ace sniper) and the rest of the cast do the things they do.

In short, desperate circumstances bring out the worst in people and sometimes this dark side gets even darker, especially when it involves other living people, and not zombies.

In this world, the human population has to work together to eliminate the living dead and rebuild the world. Unfortunately, we are also our own worst enemy and having a common undead enemy has not helped Rick and gang much.

Ironically, the single-minded brain-eating zombies are the most “honourable” characters in this comic, as they don’t scheme, backstab, or bear any grudges. Encounters with other communities of survivors run by dastardly characters such as the Governor and Negan – the series’ current primary villain and leader of a group known as The Saviors – have shown an ugly dimension to the “survival of the fittest” concept.

These run-ins have all ended with the lead characters being severely affected by emotional and physical trauma.

The Walking Dead #114

Writer: Robert Kirkman

Artist: Charlie Adlard

Publisher: Image Comics

The Walking Dead #114Creators: Robert Kirkman, Charlie AdlardPublisher: Image Comics

THE most recent dozen-plus issues have seen Rick facing his toughest challenge to date – serving Negan, the psychotic leader of The Saviors, who is Rick’s Joker, Bane and Carnage all rolled into one

Rick and Negan’s contrasting leadership styles have made the last three story arcs extremely interesting but painful at the same time, especially since the sadistic Negan has absolutely no qualms in unleashing “Lucille” (a baseball bat covered in barbed wire) on Rick’s finest.

Negan’s dastardliness stems from his unpredictability. He can be extremely reasonable at times (such as forgiving Rick’s son Carl for killing a few of his men), but become over-the-top violent for the oddest reason (like when he gutted an informer for snitching on Rick).

While Negan’s iron-fisted approach is highly questionable and even abhorrent, the man’s methods have proven to be efficient, especially his “food for protection” arrangement – for half your supplies, he will protect you from zombies ... and from himself.

Had he and Rick not started out under bloody circumstances (Rick and his team killed a few Saviors, and Negan retaliated by introducing a regular character’s skull to Lucille), both of them could have actually been BFFs, combining the resources and skills of their respective communities.

Unfortunately, there is just too much hatred between them now, and Rick hatches a covert plan to avenge his fallen friend and free his people from Negan’s oppression by killing the man! Outnumbered and outgunned, Rick’s only hope is to convince the other colonies of Hilltop and Kingdom to unite against their common enemy.

With the stakes this high, Rick is forced keep his plans so hushed up that even his most trusted lieutenants are kept in the dark. Having brought Hilltop leader Jesus and Kingdom leader “King” Ezekiel on board, Rick embarks on his boldest move yet.

With an alliance in place and his key personnel finally informed, Rick is all set to remove the bane of his existence, only for the plan to hit a snag before it begins, as Negan arrives a few days ahead of schedule. Things soon escalate to the point where Rick decides to launch a kamikaze assault on Negan, which is immediately foiled by Negan’s snipers.

With Rick reduced to a helpless state, Negan embarks on his usual mind games and tries to break Rick in front of his followers by threatening to use Carl for “batting practice”. Fortunately, the cavalry arrives in the nick of time in the form of Jesus and Ezekiel’s teams, forcing forces Negan and his Saviours to withdraw. Obviously, a rematch is inevitable and Negan’s battle cry in the epilogue promises more bloodshed to come.

So, after a decade of roaming, lurking and skirting with the living and the living dead, there is still no end in sight, and no clear explanation to what caused the zombie outbreak, or who was responsible for it.

What we DO know is that seemingly hopeless situations can bring out the worst in people, and there is no other comic out there that chronicles this human condition better than The Walking Dead.

Comics courtesy of Earth 638 (email: earth638@yahoo.com, Tel: 012-663 1584, facebook/earth638)

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