by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore, & Charlie Adlard, 2009
If you’re a latecomer to The Walking Dead on AMC and, like me, you’re thinking, “Wait! I have to read the book first!” fear not, because aside from the name, some of the characters, and the fact that they’re both about zombies, there’s little similarity. Typically I would take issue with this – I’m one of those the-book-is-always-better types – but since the comics are an evolving series, I’m okay with the show deviating from the source material. As such, there are no spoilers for either the show or the comics below, since they go their separate ways pretty early on.
In case you’ve been living under a rock, the premise of the series is your basic zombie apocalypse: Sheriff Rick Grimes awakens from a coma to find that almost everyone around him is dead or turned into a flesh-eating monster. Grimes manages to escape from the hospital and return to his home, only to find that his wife and son are gone. An encounter with a man and a boy (Morgan and Duane) who have taken up residence in one of the neighboring houses reveals that many people have left for Atlanta in the hopes of finding military aide. Unable to convince the man to join him, Rick sets off on his own, searching desperately for any sign of the family that left him behind.
The Walking Dead is one of those great pieces of speculative fiction that uses fantastical scenarios to force us to think about our own world. When all of our society’s rules have failed, how do we behave? What kind of person are you at your core? How do you determine right from wrong? These are the questions facing Rick and the people he meets up with along the way, as each have carved out their own new way of living. What seems like chaos and tyranny to some appears to merely be the price for guaranteed safety to others. Whether or not they can regain their previous lives is not the question here, but what kind of people they will become after losing everything that made sense in their world.
This first compendium comprises 48 issues of the black and white comic, so it would take a bit of time to summarize it all. I will say that, much like in the TV show, you shouldn’t get too attached to any character – death is imminent for all. The plot moves fairly quickly, so even though you’re holding a beast of a book, it never feels like you’re slogged down by the story. What the comic does a great job of expressing is how desperate these times are for everyone. People lose loved ones on the regular. People make choices in the name of good, only to be met with terrible consequences. People step up to lead and find how heavy the weight of leadership is in such uncertain times. And people find some way to love again, despite all the fear and destruction and seemingly inevitable fate. We don’t stop rooting for these characters because we, too, hope that we would find some way to carry on if the world we knew were suddenly gone.