Sunday, January 16, 2011

Walking Dead Compendium One

Last month I mentioned I was reading The Walking Dead Compendium One. It took awhile, but I've finished it. And, man, it's even better reading than I remember from the first time around.

I picked up this tome at the cut rate price of $25, originally listed at $60. It was almost a no brainer at that point because I'd already read the first 40 or so issues in trade form, but I didn't own those trades. They were a loaner from Jim, which I'd sped right through, then started buying the singles. The Compendium collects the first 48 issues, plus a holiday special done in 2005, which was new to me. Basically, I have all the issues I didn't have before with only a little overlap into the singles I do own.

As much as I enjoy reading the singles, it's much easier to get into the flow of the epic Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard are telling in this large format. Not to leave out Tony Moore, the original penciller, or Cliff Rathburn who does the grey tones once Adlard takes over, but to my mind this baby is mostly Kirkman and Adlard. In fact, even though Moore was the original artist, I much prefer Adlard. There's just something too cartoonish about Moore's style that didn't work for me in the first chapter. (The Compendium is divided into 8 chapters, which averages out to 6 issues per chapter.) Although there's the occasional comic moment in the tale, funny is not what comes to mind when I think of The Walking Dead. Adlard's darker, more forbidding tone is definitely more in keeping with the tenor of the tale.

But back to the story. Wow. Just great. I love the immediate identification with Rick in the opening chapter. Shane's loss of perspective about rescue, combined with his obsession with Lori, are given a litte short shrift, especially in comparison to how Shane's being kept around on the new TV show, but it's no less well done in the comic.

The trials that lead from Kentucky to Atlanta to the prison near Woodbury are so well nuanced. Every possible outpost along the way to the prison fails utterly as sanctuary, invariably at the cost of someone's life. Jim, Donna, and even Allen when they're clearing out the prison. I'd forgotten about such characters as Otis and Patricia, or even Tyreese's daughter and her boyfriend. Although minor when compared to the affectionately remembered Tyreese and Lori, they played significant parts at different points in the story. Hershel's large clan of kids was almost lost in my memory, even though they played an important role in the development of the relationship between Rick and Hershel, and more so with the surviving siblings, Billy and Maggie.

Kirkman and Adlard use that varied cast of characters to delve into the expected issues of survival in a perilous situation, much as many tales of surviving nature have done over the years, albeit with the twist of perilous nature being represented by walking, carnivorous dead people. They go well beyond that into issues of race and racism, mysoginy, and torture. They address how to cope with punishing crime in a time with no law. Is religious faith warranted under such trying circumstances? Is faith reinforced? Is mental illness the most rational way of dealing with the situation? How many odd ways of committing suicide can people devise?

As it turns out, the biggest issue in such a time is trust. It's almost a hyperized version of talking heads news on TV or radio. While those media push the paranoia and distrust for ratings and dollars, the issue of who to trust in The Walking Dead is real and a matter of survival. Trust the Governor? Lose a hand, fall victim to rape and torture, and have your community destroyed. Trust a nebbishy looking prisoner? Find two decapitated little girls and have your cheek sliced open.

What's amazing to me, and a sign of the quality of the work, is that I found myself anticipating what was to come, even though I already knew what was coming. I was no less vested in my attachment to various characters for already knowing their fate. I knew the Governor was coming to invade the prison but I still dreaded his approach. I knew Tyreese, Lori and Judith were not going to survive but still found it dumbfounding when it came.

And here's a question that probably won't ever be answered, what with the story having moved to another part of the country: Are there zombie Lori and Judith out there? While Tyreese was decapitated, Lori and Judith were shot through the midsection. Unless they were eaten by the zombies invading the prison, which we didn't see like we did with the Governor, Lori could be shuffling about looking for someone to eat. Don't know how that would work with Judith, being an infant only a few weeks old. I guess she'd be an immobile zombie.

I only have two reservations about the Compendium. First, I miss the letters columns that are in the singles. A lot of the many issues Kirkman and Adlard raise are discussed at length, and often heatedly. While the story loses nothing for not having the letters, the discussions in those letters was also highly enjoyable and worth the while to reprint. Much like the letters in The Question, these discussions enhanced the enjoyment of the story without turning it into a pedantic, English class discussion. Of course, it would have taken me another month to read the Compendium if the letters were included, but I'd still like to have them. What's a Kirkman book without the immortal contributions of Andrew J Shaw in the letters?

Second is an issue of the quality of the printing. Although 99% plus of the book comes out well, there are a few pages where there was an over abundance of ink, making the page much darker than it should have been. I may have gotten one that had that problem, but I'd recommend that anyone picking this up check through it to see how the printing quality is before buying. As these two pages show, it's not a major amount of overage on the ink, but it is noticable and can make the reading a little more difficult.
As the series approaches its 100th issue, there's been no loss in quality from where the Compendium ends. In fact, Kirkman and Adlard were very right in their perception of how the story had to go to keep it moving. Many of the characters we'd come to know had to be winnowed away, particularly in the environs they occupied and under the circumstance of the Woodbury invasion. I could probably enjoy the book with only Rick, Carl and Michonne, but I'd say it's a safe bet I'd still enjoy it even if Kirkman and Adlard kill off those three, too.

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