Comics Published 8 October 2003

The Walking Dead #1
Image Comics — Robert Kirkman (w); Tony Moore (a)

I have no idea how I didn’t catch this book when it was solicited.

I love Stephen King’s The Stand. It’s probably the best thing he’s ever written (which isn’t saying a lot, I guess, since a good-sized portion of his work is shit), even though Salem’s Lot and The Shining run close seconds.

I also dug the hell out of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend (the source material for the film The Omega Man, which many of you may recognize as having been parodied on The Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror as “The HoMega Man”), though I really wished it had been longer, since I was just getting into it when the story ended.

Now, both of those stories are tales of, essentially, one man standing against a world gone crazy. Both of them center on plagues that wipe out the vast majority of the American population (and presumably the rest of the world’s, though that’s never mentioned). I Am Legend, of course, has an added bonus in that legions of the living dead are the book’s antagonists (always a popular choice, because, like Nazis, you can’t feel sorry for them).

There’s something inherently cool about these kinds of stories, where an average Joe is forced to cowboy up and face the grim reality that his world has been reduced to its meanest common denominator. I mean, that’s basically what Y: The Last Man is all about, though it’s less violent and more light-hearted, and we all know how much I went on and on about Y when it was first released. (I’m still loving the book, by the way, I just ran out of ways to say it.)

So how did I miss The Walking Dead? Your guess is as good as mine, but I corrected the mistake when I reclaimed my place behind the counter at the comic shop and put in an advance reorder for a copy for myself and a decent-sized stack for the shelf.

So here’s the summary. It’s fairly short and sweet.

Officer Rick Grimes, victim of a gunshot blast to the chest that left him in a coma, awakes in a hospital bed, his brain befuddled by that momentary addling of your wits that arises from opening your eyes in a strange room. When his call box raises no response from the nursing staff, Grimes drags his inactivity-stiffened body out of bed and staggers down the hall, finding the hospital undeniably deserted. Dressing himself and taking his personal effects, he is horrified (to say the least) to find that the cafeteria staff has been replaced by the walking dead. Stumbling backwards in the face of their assault, Grimes drags an attacking zombie with him as he tumbles down a stairwell, taking a cue from the John McClane (Bruce Willis’ character from Die Hard) School of Ass-Kicking and snapping the creature’s neck as they careen downwards. Fleeing the hospital and into the empty city streets, Grimes manages to secure transportation (a bicycle) to his former home, only to find it deserted as well. Beginning a house-by-house search of the surrounding properties, Rick comes across a pair of kindred spirits, a man and his young son, holed up in Rick’s neighbor’s house and attempting to lay low enough to avoid the zombie mobs until help hopefully arrives from the government. The man, Morgan Jones, gives Grimes the Cliff’s Notes version of the events his stint in the coma left him unaware of, the gist of which is that television and radio are no longer broadcasting, but when they were, no one in positions of authority had ascertained by the dead had begun to walk, but that they were working rapidly for a solution. Encouraged by the news that the federal authorities had at least attempted to fortify major metropolitan areas against the flesh-eating undead, Grimes decides to make the five-hour drive to Atlanta to look for his wife and son. Before doing so, however, he takes Jones and son with him to his precinct house, arming himself and the other survivors with shotguns, ammunition and commandeering the last two police cruisers. Leaving them with his blessing to stay in the house as long as they can, Grimes sets out on the long, lonely road to Atlanta, where he hopes a reunion with his family awaits him.

Based on my summary, I can see where one would get the impression that very little actually happens in the first issue. And, in a way, I could see that truth to that opinion. As far as action is concerned, there’s precious little to be found in this first issue. But what it lacks in zombie-killing fun, it more than makes up for in atmosphere. You can almost feel the confusion and panic as Grimes staggers from room to room in the hospital, his darting glances met by the soulless stares of the shuffling dead. It’s nothing short of creepy as hell (real articulate endorsement there, eh?).

Now, to be fair, Tony Moore deserves half the credit for the issue being so good. I’m not sure where I’ve seen his work before, but it really reminds me quite a bit of Steve Dillon or Carlos Ezquerra (both of whom are fantastic artists, so the comparison is definitely a compliment), a style that’s basically realistic, but has a tendency to depict faces with a slight exaggeration, a sort of stretching downward of all the facial features. And just like Dillon and Ezquerra, Moore illustrates graphic violence like no one’s business (which is a pretty handy feature to have in an artist drawing a zombie book, y’know).

All in all, I flat out cannot wait for the second issue of Walking Dead. Screw Dark Horse’s new horror line, Image could very well build their own line around this book by itself (and appears to be, if Frankenstein’s Mobster and Sword of Dracula are any indication, both of which will be reviewed in the next column). I can’t remember the last time I picked up a new series that was as promising as this one.

Wait. Yes, I can. It was Y: The Last Man.


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