Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Walking Dead, issues #54 and #55

Our comic shop is like forty minutes away. We don't make it there every month. Occasionally, reviews may lag and then clump. Apologies.]

Well, last month's good will, high hopes, and dramatic promise were squandered on two tedious, talky issues. You might not agree that dialogue is a shamefully weak point of this series--you'd be wrong. It's a blight. It's an indulgent, junior-high-drama-class space waster.

The best, tightest zombie stories--in all media--have little talking and absolutely zero overexplanation. Everything is dry, ineffectual, incomplete. Understated. The exceptional

soliloquoys or exchanges then stand a chance of being truly startling or moving. (It's impossible here not to think of Ben's hallmark recollection in Night of the Living Dead.)

I understand Kirkman's predicament. A 22-page comic with limited dialogue seems like a liability. The team has to compensate for the quick reading time with stunning art (in this case, stunning in grayscale) and an engaging story (in this case, one that maintains dread). What Kirkman fails to understand is that his dialogue is a worse liability. The story's there, for sure, as long as it's not spelled out page after page (a tough trick when characters have little to do), and the art is strong enough. Really, the art needs to be nothing more than the passable, simple set dressing of a surprisingly adept community theater performance. Unfortunately Adlard's art is most times passable, sometimes great, and sometimes downright lousy. More and more recently I find myself just staring at one of his faces going, "...what... the... fuck?" This is likely a product of renewed schedule adherence and Adlard's recent decision to create the originals at the same scale as the final pages. Hell, when every face is the size of your thumb, I guess occasionally the eyes are going to be just a notch too high into the forehead. What can you do? (Keep in mind, I fall in with the faction that thinks that the original magic of the series was dependent on Tony Moore's artistic contribution. When he left, the writing suddenly seemed clunkier to us. Yet nearly fifty issues later, we're still reading. Hmm.) Ultimately, zombies as a genre achieve a better effect (with less effort) by almost any film than by monthly comics of this particular caliber. When you've got a slow, intense story with no stunning graphics to fall back on, a glut of jaw-wagging seems better than nothing.

And so we arrive back at Kirkman's dialogue. Issue #54 presented one of my worst pet peeves, something I generally consider to be the mark of an intellectual elitist. A character is established as being working-class, or uneducated, or urban, or what have you, yet their speech patterns, vocabulary, interests, and philosophical style are inconsistent with these established traits.

Writer: Now I'll just have Johnny Bluecollar wax poetic for a moment, comparing the situation to Plato's Allegory of the Cave.

Readers: OMG This is blowing my mind this character is so LAYERED!!!!!! He seems dumb but then he comes out with something so DEEP AND ARTICULATE AND EDUCATED!!!!!!!!!! I'M MORE INTERESTED IN THE CHARACTER NOW, HIS SURPRISING CONVENTIONAL INTELLIGENCE HAS EARNED MY RESPECT

Me: Are you kidding? The character's "intelligence" is completely framed within the writer's own parameters for intellectual values. Why can't Johnny speak in a way consistent with his education and still say something moving, something profound... but in his own terms, without resorting to cultural shorthand or squeezing himself into the writer's traditional perceptions of What Makes Intelligence and What Earns Respect? Can't we respect him without him using ten-dollar words or summoning up some cheap and improbable literary coinage?

Writer and Readers: NO

All that being said, Kirkman's offense in this issue is minor, merely a permutation of the oft-hammy style of dialogue that weighs down the first half of issue #54, wherein our heroes hash out plans on the ol' farm with the new military trio before being forced to run for it. Their need to escape the farm is contrived by an impossibly illogical decision by a character who is supposed to be proving he knows better.

What follows is an issue-and-a-half of always-popular seige-and-flight, and GAWD is it boring. After a couple good moments in #54 (and much more talking, of course), the zombie threat becomes peripheral at best. Issue #55 focuses on Rick's mental instability (a nightmare, then more with the damn phone). There's a harmless interlude in which one of the new crew surprises us by asking some questions about zombie behavior that has never happened before in the series until that very page.

They camp out for the night Maggie's already-one-note character arc ends with the same 24pt, fire-engine red exclamation point! that Kirkman has been falling back on the entire series for various characters (hint: she's fuckin' crazy!), the very crutch I explored in my last post.

Overall, a disappointing pair of issues. It's reasonable to conclude that such a lull in action and zombie presence can only point to Big Things on the horizon, which I remain psyched about.

1 comment:

B-Sol said...

I'm also a member of the pro-Tony Moore faction. I muddled on after he left for about 30 issues, but then had to give up. Some shamefully bad art, lazy splash pages to fill space, and a glacially paced storyline drove me away...