REVIEW: The Walking Dead #95

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Or – “Another Title That Is Maddening To Read One Month At A Time…”

Long ago, I found myself giving up my monthly hold list slot for Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, because I couldn’t stand the wait for the next issue.  It is rare for me to be the proverbial trade-waiter, but as my Walking Dead collection will attest, it still happens occasionally.  With the recent WD season finale, I’ve found myself wanting to check in on Rick and the cast of post-apocalyptic whatever-state-it-is.

I think the cover image is probably a a strong indicator as to how well things are goin’…

THE WALKING DEAD #95
Writer: Robert Kirkman
Artist: Charlie Adlard
Gray Tones/Cover Colorist: Cliff Rathburn
Letterer: Rus Wooton
Editor: Sina Grace
Publisher: Image Comics (Skybound)

Previously, in Walking Dead: Rick Grimes was in a coma when the zombie apocalypse came.  After awakening, he miraculously found his wife and son alive and safe, and became the nucleus of a large group of survivors trying to find their way after the end of the world.  There have been a few pitfalls along the way, but eventually he and his band have fallen in with survivors of the city of Alexandria, a community that has survived due to well-placed walls and the occasional zombie-killin’ bilingual blood fest.  A visit from a man who proposes to open trade with his city puts Rick on the defensive, but he agrees to at least travel to the other settlement and parley, accompanied by right hand Michonne, crack shot Andrea, point man Glenn…  and his pre-pubescent stowaway son Carl.

CIRCLE OF FRIENDS, OR NEST OF VIPERS?

Robert Kirkman has made no secret of the fact that ‘The Walking Dead’ is, in his words, “a zombie movie that never ends,” leading to long-form storytelling that compares to (but tends to be a bit more violent than) that of American soap operas.  This issue opens with Rick and Jesus (the envoy from the other settlement) discussing what will happen when Rick’s group enters his city.  There’s some very interesting character work at play here, and Charlie Adlard manages to make the tensions clear in the faces of the characters, especially Rick.  Still, even the grizzled band of survivors finds awe in the large-scale farming community, even featuring it’s own water tower, though I’m not up enough of plumbing to know whether or not there’s any way it would work without power.  Do water towers require much in the way of maintenance and stuff?  I’m ashamed to say I don’t know.  But I can tell you for sure that there’s an undertone about “The Hilltop” that worries me, and the founder seems just a bit too secure in his safety and position in the community.  Given the last time we saw a similar character, he was ripped apart on panel, I don’t plan to get too attached to our new pal Gregory…

BUT WHO IS THE REAL MONSTER?

Sloowly, we continue our tour of The Hilltop, with proud founder Gregory explaining how and why the settlement exists, as well as the origins of the central building, located on a hilltop for clearly line of sight in all directions.  The hardest part about reviewing the Walking Dead is the chapter format, as things within individual issues often break at strange (or just plain cruel) junctures, like the two back-to-back issues that broke in the middle of a haymaker punch, started on the ending page of one issue and hitting home on the first page of the next.  My worst fears about Gregory, combined with repeated references to someone called “Negan”, begin to well up again as a commotion arises near the entrance to The Hilltop.  The second half of the issue quickly devolves into violence, albeit for not the usual reasons, and Rick ends up facing down a madman with a knife.  Adlard does a fantastic job with the art during the scuffle, and a wonderfully cinematic series of panels showing a slowly spreading blood-stain on the ground really hits home for me.  I really don’t want to completely wreck the impact of the last page, but it’s a clear delineation of Rick’s place in the new world, a quieter echo of his “This ain’t a democracy” moment in an earlier issue…

THE VERDICT: A MADDENINGLY SLOW BURN…

The best part of reading The Walking Dead is the seamless integration of words and pictures, such as a subtle moment featuring the issue’s only zombie.  Rick sees it first, says a single word to Michonne, who quickly and efficiently separates the creature’s head from it’s neck.  Compared to the poleaxed reactions of the Hilltop gang to Rick, we find two diametrically opposed survival strategies, and there are echoes of Rick’s first interactions with the Governor here, though not exactly in the way that you might expect.  The worst part about reading The Walking Dead is that we have to wait 30 days to see how the rather provocative ending plays out, leaving me confused and uneasy about the relationship between Alexandria and Hilltop.  In short, The Walking Dead #95 is a strong bit of story with some real (you should excuse the expression) bite to it, but it also clearly reminds me why my preferred method of reading the book is six or eight issues at a time, earning 3.5 out of 5 stars overall.  It’s strange that a post-apocalyptic zombie tale is one of the most true-to-life books on the stands, but the strength of that realistic pacing is also this issue’s greatest weakness…

Rating: ★★★½☆