Thursday, 22 May 2014

The Walking Dead, Volume 12: Life Among Them Review (Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard)

As the group head towards Washington D.C., the truth about Eugene the scientist comes out, and they meet another group of seemingly friendly survivors who’re living in a walled-off community just outside the capitol – a peaceful and safe oasis in the midst of all the chaos! But as Rick and co. finally find a semblance of their old lives in the stationary houses, hot showers, clean clothes, regular meals, and no zombies, is everything as cosy as it seems? And can they adapt to a comfortable existence after going through what they have?

First of all – Robert Kirkman, you goofed me good! I really thought the Eugene storyline was for real and it was a red herring. Good one, that made me laugh! That said, volume 12 is the first Walking Dead book I found very easy to put down once I started. It’s not a terrible book but so very little happens, I found it difficult to remain excited, and usually I fly through these volumes!

Kirkman takes the group into the safe walled community and they settle in. They clean up, they sleep, they get fed – that’s pretty much it. They’ve found their new home! Or have they…? Because what makes this volume work, despite the lack of anything much happening, is the way the reader has been conditioned to think some terrible tragedy is around the corner. Rick and co. have been through so much thus far, you keep expecting the community to turn out to be psychotic torturers beneath their pleasant veneer, or they’re harbouring zombie sex slaves or something awful like that.

So all the while you’re reading this, the reader is as paranoid as Rick and the others are, which is thanks to Kirkman expertly manipulating and subverting the expectations of the book quite brilliantly. It also shows – yet again! – how changed Rick and co. are, compared to the normal people of the settlement. They can’t adjust to the normality of their former lives because their mind-sets have been warped for so long – but it almost seems like they don’t want to change. The normal lives of these people seem… boring and flat in comparison to their lives on the road.

I also really liked that Kirkman showed the settlement’s survivors as having had their own adventures while we’ve been following Rick and co. You get the impression that they’ve gone through their share of grief and references to a “Davidson” character are uttered in the same way Rick and co. might talk about the Governor.

Rick and the others may have been the focus of this story but this other group highlights that their story has been repeated hundreds, if not thousands, maybe millions, of times around the country/the world. It’s another indication of the wider world of the Walking Dead that Kirkman’s slowly revealing.

The finale is another clever spin on perspective. While Douglas, the leader of the settlement, can appear a bit sleazy, hitting on Andrea, and there’s suspicion over the idyllic community when Rick notices a boy with a black eye, this new place is seemingly wonderful and filled with good people. In contrast, Rick and the others’ actions towards the end make them look like the villains and suddenly we as readers are reading a completely different story to the one we thought we were - and it’s quite brilliant! I appreciate that Kirkman’s developing as a writer and exploring all the angles to every situation, even creating new ways of telling essentially the same story over and over again.

I may not have been as enthralled with this volume as others in the series, but Volume 12 does showcase Kirkman’s artistry in storytelling much more so than others and I have to applaud that. And I am interested in what secrets this community must have and hope that things don’t remain too idyllic for the gang for too long – a respite is fine, but the essence of drama is conflict, so let’s have at it, chaps!

The Walking Dead Volume 12: Life Among Them

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