Thursday, August 5, 2010

Robert Kirkman’s Calling Card – The Walking Dead

He’s been in the industry for the better part of a decade now, he’s the grand high cheese at Image comics, impressive because he’s the only big wig on board who wasn’t one of the founders, and he’s still pumping out a fair degree of material with his Pilot Season one-shots, his creator owned ongoing and he’s had plenty of Marvel work in his past, but what one work can define the man, Robert Kirkman? Hint, it’s not his video advocating creator owned work, though it was close, though it is something you could win if you enter our Three Years Later Contest. Hit the jump to see what and why.

I’ll get this out of the way right here and right now. I did not pick Invincible as the calling card for Kirkman and I stand by that decision. It’s a good title, don’t get me wrong, probably even had moments of greatness but I don’t think it’ll be his lasting impression on the medium nor is it his finest work. I don’t mind if other people think it is, I don’t think he’s redefined the world with it, whereas in the actual choice I do believe he’s offering something you can’t really get anywhere else. If you want this you have to buy:

Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead

I would undoubtedly say that Kirkman’s seminal work is going to longstandingly be The Walking Dead. To come into a genre that had already been ground into the dust by so many people across so many mediums, Kirkman manages to do the unthinkable, he makes a zombie story that feels fresh. His revolutionary take on it is actually quite simple, and is usually what makes a horror story successful, he focuses on the characters. Kirkman uses the zombie apocalypse as a gruesome backdrop for what is essentially a very well crafted drama about people. The series has been running over 70 issues, and is into its 12th trade and it shows no signs of slowing. It also, which I feel is often too rare, seems to be hitting a new stride as critical review of the Hunters story arc was strong and it garnered an Eisner win this year.

Rick Grimes is our main character to follow but at its heart this title wants to be known as an ensemble piece, which is interesting because Kirkman keeps killing off the players as quickly as he can introduce them. He shows us, often quite brutally, just how harsh and deadly a world full of zombies really would be. Sadly, he also shows us that the survivors can be quite as dangerous. People are just as likely to die because someone else is an asshole as they are to have the flesh eating undead chew through their jugular.

This title is one of the greatest ongoing runs in comic history and yet I almost feel bad giving this as Kirkman’s calling card. The first trade is good, no doubt, the first issue suffers from some flaws though it certainly ends on a bang, but it’s not complete. The first trade might lure you in, a bit, but I want to blow your socks off and considering the long game is kind of what Kirkman does best I’m going to up the ante and make his calling card something for the ages.

I’m actually going to suggest you give someone the Walking Dead compendium that collects the first 48 issues of the series (and you still have a few days to win if you enter our Three Years Later Contest). It’s a big commitment but I almost guarantee that if they get 6 issues in they’ll have no worries getting through the next 42. The story is phenomenal in so many areas and this compendium wraps up everything in a neat little package and ends the story so it’s set to move into its next phase but you get everything here. You can meet all the characters and get a whole stack of story and it’ll look great on the shelf.

In 48 issues of the Walking Dead you can see how much Kirkman cares about his characters, how he builds and develops their characters, and yet how he is not beholden to them and if the story calls for it they’ll get some teeth in the neck of a sword taking off their head. There are moments of levity, about as many as you could hope for in a zombie overridden world, but Kirkman still manages to make you smile, usually right before he makes you squirm. In the Walking Dead he has crafted his ultimate love letter to the zombie genre, but in doing so he’s also created one of its best entries and actually made what is simply just a great drama, zombies or not. Horror enthusiasts are not the only ones who can appreciate this comic, it’s just good story and great character work. If you are still not sure hit up the Beginner's Guide I posted a few days ago, and stay tuned for my review of the latest trade coming up soon.


I know I’ve usually just picked trades but I really believe to get the essential Kirkman experience you need to be able to see how he strings things out for so long, years when you read the floppies. It might look dense and intimidating but it’s no different to handing someone The Stand if they want to see the mastery of Stephen King. You’re setting them up for a few week’s work but they’ll be thanking you in the end.

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Bill said...

I guess I think about calling card differently... I was thinking the idea was not only that it was good, but that it would be representative of their body of work. So I would've assumed Invincible, since it's closer in tone to his other work (Ant-Man, Brit, Capes Inc, Brit, Tech Jacket, etc).

But if it's just "best" work, then yeah... Walking Dead it is.

Ryan K Lindsay said...

See, I think Kirkman's best stuff isn't his massive fights but it's his character work, his drama. His interplay on Ant-Man was my favourite stuff, and it's his little stuff on Invincible I always liked, not the massive battles. I see what you mean but still feel Walking Dead is the one to really show the bets side of Kirkman.

Does that make sense?

Ryan said...

I really loved his Destroyer MAX mini he did right before he left Marvel. Action and some great character work.

Anonymous said...

Funny, I just started rereading the trades (Walking Dead) last week. When a new vol. comes out i usually go over the previous one, just to get back into the tone and mindset of the series before going ahead with the new stuff, but reading it all (up to current volume) beginning to end, it really is an incredible work..lots of emotion, and sections which may feel like really slow paced, nothing happening issues, really work well to pull you in and use those emotions when the faster paced and more heavy action episodes occur. Volumes 6, 7 and 8 in particular, when read together give such a range in tone and take you to some really great highs, but also make you realize that with the great highs, you gotta get the really low lows. Volume 8 would be good if read alone, but means soo much more after reading what came before. If you didnt really care about the characters, it wouldn't work. I love all his other stuff (haven't read Battle Pope yet)but this is really the work he'll be associated with when looked back upon.

Chris Davidge

brandon said...

I know for me this is his calling card. Mostly because I don't really like any of his other works. Wolf-Man, Invincible and Ant-Man just never reached an above average level of interest for me. Yet, Walking Dead is by far the title I look the most forward to month after month and it has been that way for years.

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