As Robert Kirkman points out in the introduction to this, the first collected book of his epic zombie comic series The Walking Dead, most zombie films pack a lot of action into their two hours. Yet the best films aren’t really about the zombies. Instead they’re about the survivors – how their characters change and develop as they come to terms with their situation and, hopefully, continue to survive it. What’s missing, Kirkman believes, is the longer story arc. The films have always left him wanting more from the characters he’s invested his time in.
So The Walking Dead is his gift to zombie fans – a comics version of the ongoing zombie series he’s always wanted. He pulls it off in spectacular style.
While this first collection of episodes could be described as formulaic, it’s beautifully rendered and the clichés give the book some of its power. The lead protagonist, a small town American police officer, misses the apocalypse by being stuck in a coma. When he awakes the hospital is empty. But outside the dead are walking the streets.
Returning to his family home on a borrowed bike, he finds his house ransacked. However, a survivor and his son have holed up in a house next door. He’s filled in on the situation, tools himself up with guns, ammo and a patrol car from the still secure police station, and sets off on a desperate attempt to find his family.
From this point it starts to divert from the norm. Sure, the main thrust of the action revolves around a small cluster of survivors, battling an endless horde of undead. But the core of the book is about the interplay between these characters. Kirkman isn’t precious about his supporting cast – they come and go – but there’s a tight economy to their use, with Kirkman’s storytelling craft and superior dialogue pushing to the front.
We know The Walking Dead is a serious commitment to collectors of graphic novels but, judging by this first volume, it seems a commitment well worth making.