Walk Softly and Carry a Big Gun
Tuesday, October 26, 2010 - 13:28
(Editor's Note: Our latest column to hit Cosmic Book News "Just What The 'Doc' Ordered" comes from Chris "DOC" Bushley who will be taking a look at the less "cosmic" characters in comic books, and sometimes some of the more obscure, with his "Just What The Doc Ordered" column!)
By Chris "Doc" Bushley
"Do any of us really know who we are? And even if we do now, did we know before all this started happening? Without this adversity, this hardship, how do we really know who we are, and what truly matters to us?" -- Rick Grimes, The Walking Dead #78
Unless you have been living under a rock for the past seven years (or buried under one!), you've most likely heard of The Walking Dead; at least that was my assumption until last Wednesday.
While in one of my favorite local shops, I overheard a man ask the owner if he could recommend a good zombie book that had the same feel as Vertigo's DMZ. Without a second thought the shop owner recommended The Walking Dead and referred to it as the best zombie book out there. That got me pondering, "Were there really comic fans out there who had not at least heard of The Walking Dead? Could it really be possible with all the hype the new show on AMC is getting?" This was a travesty, my friends! Before the world passes judgment on the TV show (premiering on AMC on Halloween at 10 p.m.), Image's "little book that could" deserves the chance to stand up and get some recognition of its own!
Not that it hasn't received recognition, quite the contrary! The Walking Dead has received the most accolades of any Image book ever, with the most recent being the 2010 Eisner Award for Best Continuing Series. It has also received two 2010 Harvey Awards, one for Best Continuing or Limited Series as well as the coveted award for Best Writer. Quite ironic for a company created by seven of the ‘90s’ hottest artists to have their sales brought back from the brink of mediocrity by a single writer -- Robert Kirkman! But I'm jumping ahead like I always do. Let's dial it back seven years and see where all this hype started from!
In 2003, Robert Kirkman, small-time indie writer of Brit and Battle Pope, was stepping into the big leagues with two completely different books for Image Comics. One was promoted as Image's fresh take on a teen superhero book, Invincible. While the other really didn't receive much promotion at all. Invincible had a very lucrative niche to snuggle itself into; teen-related superhero books were all the rage and was an easy sell. Meanwhile The Walking Dead found itself buried in a genre that was pumping out books that were less than mediocre -- no big breasted women running from the undead equals no sales! But then something started to change for The Walking Dead, where once people had written the book off as a pure "zombie" book, now a buzz began about how different it was from its predecessors. Slowly, like a "roamer" (Mr. Kirkman's word for zombie!), sales began to pick up. Through word of mouth and forums, a small but rabid collection of fans began to emerge and with each issue the "herd" got bigger and bigger. But why? This was just another zombie book, right? Wrong! This is a book that breaks through the shackles of the genre and gives you more than most monthly books have ever done before.
First and foremost, this book has zombies. "Really, Doc, I would have never thought!" But this book is so much more than just the genre it is placed in. The zombies are there to heighten the sense of fear, of desperation, this is a story infused with zombies not a story about zombies. At its core, this is a book about survival and what it takes to protect the things we still hold dear. Through the main character, Rick Grimes, we are thrown into this post-apocalyptic world the moment he is. Awakening in a hospital that he has spent the last six months in a comatose state, his whole world is thrown upside down and all he can focus on is surviving long enough to find his wife and son. Thus begins the journey of a man, a father, a husband, a cop -- but most of all a survivor, someone who will eventually find out that in a world that no longer has rules, how far are you willing to go to protect those you love?
Through the years, Kirkman's cast has ebbed and waned but the two that have remained constant are Rick and his son Carl. Through these two characters, we see just how much a person can change both physically and emotionally while growing in a world that breeds fear. (I don't want to give plot lines away because I don't want to thwart the suspense of the upcoming show; plus I wish all of you would pick up a trade or two so you can enjoy it yourselves!) Though it is the "roamers" that brings our cast of characters together, it is the horrific things that man can do to his fellow man that is the true fear of this book. That is where The Walking Dead shines as a story and why Kirkman has been awarded so handsomely for his work over the years. His story is one of loss and desperation, but also of how situations can completely change a person’s moral outlook. Look at the people you work with, your family, your friends -- how would they act in a desperate situation where surviving is your only goal? Would the "leaders" of your everyday life truly be the ones to help those in desperation or would the most unexpected person emerge as the savior of the day? Are you strong enough mentally and emotionally to let go of the way things were to make it to the next day? These are the questions that Kirkman asks of his characters each issue and the answers are not always the way you would think they should be nor ought to be. The evolution of characters is what keeps the readers coming back for more and ironically enough each issue gains new readers.
Kirkman runs the emotional gamut throughout the series and touches on a multitude of subjects that leaves the reader both pondering their own decisions in those situations and equally in awe of the choices that are made in the book. Teen suicide, murder, rape, beheadings, mutilations, spousal abuse, friendship, romance, family values, births and love are all touched upon in this series. I know it seems like a lot but aren't we all complex? Well, so are Kirkman's characters! The complexities of the cast and their internal and external actions are what drive this series. Human beings that try to do their best in a horrible situation that sometimes requires their worst to do so is what makes this such a great book.
A man who was chosen to lead a group of survivors has lost everything: his group, his wife and baby, his hand and partially his sanity. All he has left is a drive to survive and a son who has lost his childhood before his very eyes. All they can do is push on, head lowered against the on coming storm; but what happens when the storm becomes too harsh? Has Rick become too weak in his son’s eyes to carry on, or can he find the strength to help his new group survive the threats ahead? Mr. Kirkman will surely have some amazing answers and we will all find out in the upcoming "No Way Out" storyline starting in issue #80!
Whether you are already a fan of the comic or just intrigued about the hype from AMC, make sure you all tune in for the biggest comic-related TV event since Blade … no, I mean Witchblade -- oh God, I cannot believe I just said that! Anyway, turn off the lights and pull out your kids’ bag of treats, sit back and enjoy one of the best comics out there right in your own living room – “The Walking Dead,” Halloween, AMC, 10 p.m. ET/9 p.m. CT.