The Walking Dead Compendium, released last year, collects the first 48 issues of this ongoing, gripping and moody comic book series, dealing with a doomsday scenario involving zombies.
Not the fast-running, overly aggressive kind as seen in recent pop culture, but the old-fashioned, lumbering, dumb kind, that will still rip you apart, given half the chance. They roam around in hungry herds, attracted to noise and movement but solitary ones may also pop up out of nowhere for a fatal surprise.
The Walking Dead has a large and mutable cast of characters-who-still-have-a-pulse, with frequent additions as old friends and foes fall by the wayside. The ‘lead’ is Rick, a policeman. In the first issue of the series, he wakes from a coma, in a hospital-bed, after having been shot in the line of duty. The siege on humanity is already well underway at this point, the cause unknown. Rick heads out to find his wife and son, hooks up with other survivors and turns into a leader of sorts, trying to keep everyone alive and out of despair.
The dynamic between the survivors is what makes this book tick. It’s not so much brain-eating that takes center stage but the effects on the human psyche of a global disaster, with no clear hope that the situation will ever get better. Some people go crazy, others commit suicide, or let their base instincts take over and prey on the weak, while a few soldier on and try to live their life with some semblance of normality. Disagreements about the best way to survive lead to aggression and in-fighting.
As you might suspect, this isn’t a very cheery book, though there are some bright spots now and then to alleviate the grimness and there is always enough tension to keep you glued to the page, wondering what happens next. No one is safe in this comic and even long-time favorites may be given the axe – or more likely the ‘chomp’. Author Robert Kirkman has stated that even Rick may die at some point, the book going on without its (former) main character.
Kirkman started out this series with the pitch: a zombie movie that never ends. He was left wondering, “What happened next?”, several times when the credits rolled on undead classics and decided to come up with his own answer. Now nearing issue 70 of the series, there is still no explanation for the downfall of civilization as we know it and no end in sight. It’s a testament to the strength of Kirkman’s storytelling that you don’t feel annoyed by this lack of an explanation. Providing a reason might take away from the feeling The Walking Dead gives you of being overwhelmed and out-of-the-loop, and the reason would likely be somewhat silly in any case.
The artwork suits Kirkman’s story well, being somewhat coarse and gritty: Charlie Adlard has been the artist from issue 7 onwards. Tony Moore did the much cleaner, detailed traditional artwork for the first 6 issues but had to bail due to time constraints.
The Walking Dead is currently in production as a television series by Frank Darabont, director of The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. It will only loosely be following the comic book series in terms of ongoing plot though, much in the same way the Dexter TV series only somewhat resembles the Dexter books. So there is no excuse to miss out on the Compendium: dive into it as a primer to the characters and to just wallow in some good and moody storytelling. And rejoice, the credits won’t be rolling on this story anytime soon.