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Grateful for the Dead

  The Walking Dead: Days Gone Bye

 

Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore

Image, 2004

Rating: 4.5

 

 

Posted: December 22, 2004

By Dave Brennan

As Robert Kirkman explains in his introduction to The Walking Dead, a good zombie movie is much more than a celebration of gore and violence -- it's a social commentary; a reflection on ourselves and the world we've grown accustomed to. A world turned upside down brings out the most basic human emotions and needs, shifting priorities from superficiality to survival, and putting everything else into perspective along the way. It's the survivors we sympathize with, not the shambling, mindless corpses bent on devouring the last vestiges of humanity, no matter how good the special effects are. Yet even the best zombie flicks are limited by budget and running time, which is why The Walking Dead, with its immense scope and revolving cast of characters, just might end up being the greatest zombie story of all time.

Kirkman's epic wastes no time in getting started, as police officer Rick Grimes awakens from a gunshot-induced coma to find his small town overrun by the living dead. Armed with a single-minded determination and a sack full of guns, Rick sets out across the corpse-littered landscape to find his wife and son, threatened by the ravenous undead at every turn. Not much more really needs to be said, except that the plot of this first collected volume is beautifully simple and a tribute to a classic horror scenario: Zombie Apocalypse + Ragtag Band of Survivors = One Hell of a Fun Read.

The Walking Dead certainly borrows plenty from the films that inspired it. Rick's post-coma introduction to the zombie menace is straight out of 28 Days Later, while the diverse group of survivors and their internal conflicts are taken from, well, pretty much every zombie movie ever made. Yet whereas those films are typically predictable in that they'll be wrapped up in two hours or less, with a project this ambitious in scope, anything goes. Within The Walking Dead's ongoing format, Kirkman is completely unrestrained, free to explore all aspects of the zombie plague, shifting his cast from place to place as the story unfolds over months and years. Even a disposable character might be kept around for twenty issues or more, allowing for more in-depth character development and giving their untimely demise that much more of an impact.

Of course, this isn't simply a retread of classic zombie movies. Kirkman writes his story and characters so well that everything feels completely original. Rick Grimes is a perfectly believable Everyman, fiercely protective of his family yet terrified by the horrors surrounding him. And when a makeshift camp of survivors discusses their previous lives around the campfire, it's as engaging as when they're fighting off hordes of flesh-eating monsters. Kirkman also makes his own contributions to the genre, such as the zombies' use of smell to recognize their victims, as well as keeping the limits of their intelligence a mystery for both his characters and readers alike. Answers will be revealed over time, but it's refreshing to know that the end credits won't be rolling anytime soon.

The story is told in black and white, a great choice reminiscent of George Romero's classic Night of the Living Dead. Meanwhile, Tony Moore's artwork is fantastic: a blend of kinetic, slightly exaggerated, almost manga-inspired line work and a highly detailed, textured realism, drenched in shades of grey. There's a remarkable balance between subtlety and eye-catching moments -- the characters' facial expressions and the stark, barren landscapes serve to enhance the overall story, while the chaotic action scenes practically leap off the page. Even the zombies themselves are given surprising range between each panel, from their varying and graphic stages of decomposition to the snag of one grotesque individual's lip on a chain link fence. Moore's crisp, clean style is a surprising choice for a story of this nature, but it fits the book perfectly.

The Walking Dead has all the elements of a cult classic, capturing readers' imaginations with well-developed characters and graphic zombie mayhem. It's an examination of a world where toilet paper is a luxury, where everyday people are brought together by circumstance and necessity, and where unthinkable horror stalks not only the shadows, but also the depths of our souls. Kirkman knows what makes a good zombie story work, and any fan of the genre should be thrilled that he's decided to share his story with us.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: Breaks new ground
 4.0-4.9: First-rate
 3.0-3.9: Solid
 2.0-2.9: Mediocre
 1.1-1.9: Bad
 0.0-1.0: The worst

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