Friday, August 6, 2010

Trade Waiting: The Walking Dead Vol 12: Life Among Them

It’s time to devour another Walking Dead trade and I couldn’t be happier about it. This series is a perennial favourite but the last arc, The Hunters, was particularly sweet so I was keen to see if Kirkman and Adlard could keep up the pace with the 12th trade (not to be confused with the Omnibus that you can still win at our Three Years Later Contest). Hit the jump to see what I think.

The Walking Dead Vol 12 - Life Among Them
Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard
Gray Tones by Cliff Rathburn

Within a few pages, Robert Kirkman reminds me why I love this series so much. It feels like nowhere else does Kirkman write such exceptional characters, scenes, and dialogue. Previously, young Carl Grimes did something that was pretty damn unsavoury; the sort of taboo act that Kirkman loves to introduce into this series. Here we get a conversation between Carl and his father, Rick, about what had occurred. I love that this is a heartfelt scene of pure character building and an insight into the shifting psyches of all the characters trapped in this terrible tale. Kirkman is a man completely on top of his game right off the bat in this trade.

I always pitied Rick because he had to be the leader of the group. Everyone always looked to him and decisions came through him, actions were taken by him, and all the pressure and stress of survival rested within him. Now I see that being his son is possibly harder. Carl sees that his path is to follow in his father’s footsteps and lead the group. Carl knows he has to make very hard decisions for the greater good. Carl acts with a steady hand because he feels he must. It’s pretty messed up but it makes complete sense and Kirkman makes me believe this within just a few pages. It’s economical and it’s brilliant and just one reason why you need to be reading this comic.

The real opener of this arc, though, is when Aaron appears. He’s a stranger and he just wants to lend a hand. He says he has a community nearby, nearly 40 people, and they’re looking for recruits, some more members who can pull their own weight. It’s a sweet offer but it’s interesting to see how Rick and the rest deal with it all. They are so mistrustful purely because of their prior experiences. It’s actually quite reasonable to see it through their eyes; how do you trust anyone? In the end, they’re all hungry and tired and so they decide to follow Aaron into his promised land.

Having a new character thrust into the equation always fascinates me because it means that person has survived for this long as well. I want to know where they came from, how they survived, what they’ve been through, but you don’t get all that right away. You have to wait so the moments of speculation must tide you over. Aaron is a very calm character and I want to know instantly what his situation has been. It's like shades of Ben Linus were cast over this character and there is then tension to be found even in the innocuous.

Once inside this new community, the story takes a turn as roles seem to be constantly reversed. These people managed to secure a massive wall around their town and protect themselves from the zombies outside. They live life like it is normal, kids play in the streets, dinner parties unite the neighbours. It all seems far too perfect and Rick doesn’t like it. He keeps his guard up and there are a few great moments and conversations between Rick and Abraham that made me smile. It seems that Rick works best when he’s got an ass-kicking right hand man, be it Tyreese, or Michonne, and now Abraham. They pair together well and especially with Rick’s wife gone it seems he needs someone to watch his back. As the two gruff men converse, it’s like weary generals preparing the battlefield. They each have the other’s back and they know just how bad the human race can be. Kirkman writes these two just perfectly as they keep their eyes open through the entire ordeal of being welcomed into such a nice and safe neighbourhood.

The leader of the community, a former congressman, Douglas welcomes them but shows some quirky sides that could be interpreted as sinister. He tells Rick a very terrifying story and it proves a point but makes him look just a little bit crazy in the process. He also takes a very strong liking to Andrea even though he’s much older, and is married. He also seems easily set off by the name ‘Davidson’ who was apparently a founder of the community who made them all do something very bad. We don’t know what that thing is but after having listened to a lot of SModcast I know what I think it might be…

This trade interests me because it’s not a complete story like the previous one was, this is the first act of another slow burn and it’s kind of nice to know this tale might be a little denser. The Walking Dead is the perfect title to experiment with story length. I wish Kirkman would try more one character focused one-shots but having a standalone arc in the last trade was fine considering the first overall tale really took 48 issues to tell and now this one seems like it will go for a while longer as it sets up a whole new status quo, at least for now.

The best thing, though, is the character work presented here. We’ve been following Rick for years now and we love him completely and put our faith in him at all times but in this story he’s acting like a bit of a dick most of the time and could even be perceived as the villain if you look at his actions through the eyes of the community who have only just met him. He’s doing some very sneaky things and in the end of this trade he’s setting up to do something downright dastardly. Sure, he’s been burnt before and if he’d acted this way with the Governor perhaps things could have been avoided, perhaps. Now it just seems that Rick Grimes has trust issues and they might get him into trouble if they don’t save the lives of everyone in his group.

I’m not sure what type of people live in this community but so far they seem pretty good. Too good? Who knows but it seems that Rick doesn’t want to risk having to find out if they are the wrong sort of people to lock yourself with inside a walled city. He’s preparing his own agenda and I get the feeling he might come out looking like a very bad person in the end, but there’s still that Davidson cloud hanging over the community. What really happened?

The fact that Rick could be so very wrong is a very present cloud and I like that everything is so gray. We don’t know anyone’s true motivations and we can’t always trust Rick’s decisions to be completely honourable, we’ve been shown that before when he killed to save his people and when he’s been completely wrong and just lost his mind, which wasn’t that long ago. He might still be tripping out on the grief bus and collecting everybody at each stop whether they know they’re going for a ride or not.

It would take a lot for me to stop reading The Walking Dead in trade but this collection is still just as great as the others as it shows that comics can really push a story along but also have amazing character work and great art. Nearly every scene serves a purpose and also manages to show us how the characters are changing and thinking. Kirkman makes everything work twice for you, so I just can’t understand how he doesn’t manage to replicate this sort of quality in most of his other books. Perhaps he needs to step away from the costumes and supers and try another tale of just people, I think he’d do quite well. His Pilot Season work left me relatively in the middle and while Invincible and Astounding Wolf-Man have both been enjoyable, from what I’ve read, I wouldn’t call them real literature whereas The Walking Dead, a recent recipient of an Eisner for Best Continuing Series, is clearly some of the best comics getting around.

Verdict – Must Read. Obviously you need to have read a fair degree of the series up to this point to really get who everyone is but I also think if you were going to jump in on a trade this one would be a better one to sample. Just as the first trade introduced us to many characters here you could get the idea of who most of them are, you just wouldn’t have specific back stories. This six issue smack is the first part of a new arc and it sets everything up really well and turns the tables again by making us question who the real bad guys are in this situation. TWD keeps on winning for me and I’m glad to have 12 trades down and not have been disappointed by a single one of them. Golden.

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Wez said...

The character transitions in this trade worked well I thought. Almost making everything normal again for them.
I thought Carls few lines of dialogue really hit home the most though right after the trick-or-treat in the middle of the day. His character is developing really well.
Aaron as Ben Linus is a very good comparison but a part of me was a bit freaked out when Rick went all physco on him.
Do you reckon Davidson will return? Or was Davidson actually the Governor.

This place that they have gotten to is exactly what they all wanted but it still seems too good to be true.

brandon said...

@wez - I realize you are reading in trades but in an issue shortly after Vol 12 the reader sees Davidson's tombstone. So I would guess he isn't alive and therefore not coming back. But anything is possible.

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