Tuesday, 3 June 2014

The Walking Dead, Volume 17: Something to Fear Review (Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard)


In the wake of the zombie apocalypse, one thought above all else has never left my head: “what happened to all of the Fonzie impersonators?”. Now I know: they all joined together under the leadership of Negan, the latest big bad in The Walking Dead.

On their return trip from Hilltop, Rick and co. (a name which makes them sound like a window washing company) encounter the first of Negan’s bikers, a fateful tussle that calls down the full wrath of evil Fonzie himself. Rick’s hubris toward Negan leads to the death of two major characters and a new challenge for the group – but how do they fight overwhelming forces and leather jackets?

Negan and the others are a pretty one-dimensional group of people: they are bad, bad dudes who only bully/beat/murder people into getting what they want, and even threaten gang rape of children – one of them even has part of his face disfigured like a low rent Two-Face! And Negan himself? His opening speech used the word “fuck” so liberally, you’d think it was verbal punctuation (and of course only the baddest of the bad say fuck all the time)! So yeah, they are most definitely the villains and not at all rounded characters.

But what they lack in characterisation, they make up for in what they’ve done to the series direction because suddenly the story’s come roaring back to life! The best part of the series so far was when the Governor and Woodbury threatened Rick and co. in the prison, so to have another foe like him, but smarter, with more numbers and better trained men, is an exciting direction to take the series – far better than the stagnation of the last couple books.

Robert Kirkman underlines Negan’s significance by having him kill off two major characters, one of whom has been with the title since the start and whose death was quite shocking, in a way that the deaths of other characters have never been. As gruesome as that scene played out, it was absolutely riveting and showed how utterly compelling a figure Negan is. That said, the other character’s death was unexpected but hilarious, so back to the usual standard for Kirkman! 

Speaking of poor characterisation, Kirkman suddenly starts writing Rick completely different, as a terrible tactician and leader – all contrary to how he’s been portrayed so far. Rick makes arguably the worst decision he’s ever made as leader after Negan’s second small group, led by Two-Face, attack: he decides to take some of the most useful people in the group on the road, away from the defensible colony, and head to Hilltop for…

… what? Reinforcements? Except it’s already been established that those people are soft and have no weapons! How useful would they be to the colony? None. Splitting the group compromised the strong position they were in and led to all the trouble in the second half of the book. That single decision was plain baffling, made no sense and felt totally out of character – Rick wouldn’t be that stupid! It was contrived solely so that Rick and Negan could meet, establish their enmity and nothing else.

This is just a minor aside but I found out in this volume that Heath is a dude! Heath was one of the new characters introduced since Rick and co. rocked up to the colony and I thought Heath was short for Heather (not sure why) and that she was a frumpy black woman. She kinda does look it – baggy clothes, kinda chubby, dreads, glasses – and there’s no audible voice in the comic to distinguish between male/female. I know Heath was in a relationship with the female doctor but I just assumed they were gay. Then we see Heath without a shirt in this book and… ohhh. Heath’s a dude! They’re just an interracial couple rather than a gay interracial couple. Wow, Charlie Adlard really drew that character ambiguously – at least to me! 

So there we go – thankfully the spice is back in The Walking Dead in the form of Negan and his army of Fonzies. And how about this for an amazing setup for the next book: Jesus vs The Fonz – why has no-one ever done this as a comic before?

Ayyy!

The Walking Dead Volume 17: Something to Fear

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