Walking Dead #16 Review

Title: N/A

Reviewer: Andy Logan

Writer & Letterer: Robert Kirkman
Penciler & Inker: Charlie Adlard
Gray Tones: Cliff Rathburn
Cover: Tony Moore
Publisher: Erik Larsen / Image Comics

There are, as far as my tiny little mind is concerned, two basic ways to drive a story forward – character driven, and plot driven.

Plot driven stories – when written well – have a clearly defined path from the start to the finish – and often, the denoument is what the entire story is actually about. For example – a volcano is about to erupt; when it does, all Hell will break lose, and the population of the story have to evade molten lava flows, deadly searing scolding winds and cloying, suffocating ash and debris. At the end, the lucky few manage to escape and live (often barely!) to fight another day. The point is, the whole basis of the story was about a volcanic eruption, and the consequences of it. The people within the story fit in around this plot, and deal with it’s direction and flow on the writer’s whim.

Character driven stories are all about the relationships between the protaganists, with their interactions to each other moving the story forward at a natural pace. Character A dislikes Character B, who loves Character C. The problem is that A loves C too, so at some point, B and A are going to clash over C – a clash that will be inevitably made worse and more intense by A’s natural state of mind toward B. The way the characters move, act, talk and generally live defines what goes before and after.

Oh, sure, you still have a plot – you need one of those lil’ tinkers – but what moves the plot forwards is how the people within the story are defined by both their own actions and those of the people around them.

Horror stories, be they comics, films, books or even computer games, are often, by their very nature, almost wholly plot driven. A maniacal, seemingly indestructible serial killer stalks a group of disparate young things…an alien creature with an appetite for death and destruction preys on humankind…a vengance seeking spirit…well, you get the general idea.

It’s not often that a story from the horror medium can buck this trend, and allow the characters to propel things forward, but when it does happen – The Exorcist, (the original) Dawn of the Dead – few other types of story can be as atmospheric and unsettling.

Which brings me nicely to The Walking Dead. In previous reviews of this title, I’ve always been gushing in my praise, and those of you who may be hoping that my attitude will have changed are going to be disappointed.

TWD remains one of the very best titles available today. The story is at turns moving, shocking, intimate and visceral; a rollercoaster of emotions and events that can leave you gasping for breath in shock and adrenalin on one page before touching your heart and soul the very next.

The people in this comic are so real, so well imagined and written, that to lose any of them from the story illicites from me a response of sorrow and regret the likes of which I have never experienced at any other time in my comic reading life.

At this point in The Walking Dead, the battered and bruised survivors have taken refuge in a prison; something which on many levels make perfect senses – you can’t get much more secure than a penitentiary, after all. However, at the end of the previous issue, two decapitated bodies were found, and it became apparent that a murderer of a decidedly human kind was in their midst. The repercussions and fallout of this shocking revelation creates even more tension, angst and anger, cranking the intensity level up yet another couple of notches.

The reveal at the end of this issue suggests very clearly who the murderer is, but I have a sneaking feeling that this is just a swerve…though I could be wrong. It’s just that resolving such a major plot thread just one issue after it started is at odds with the previous “slow-burn” nature of the book…or maybe that’s the idea. Kirkman is mixing things up, giving us no time to catch our breath – the longer lasting and germinating story strands sitting side-by-side with the crash bang wallop of sharp plot twists and turns.

As usual, Rick and Tyrese are ying and yang – light and shadow, fire and ice. Rick’s growing anguish at his inability to keep safe those people who he feels personally responsible for is in direct counterpart to Tyrese’s growing detachment from his own emotions. Indeed, such is Tyrese’s loss of emotional centre, that his lack of judgement in the previous issue left us with a truly nail-biting cliffhanger, and it’s only in this issue that we discover his fate.

At the same time, for the other survivors, things are little better. Not one regular character in this book is anything less than a fully realised and rounded personality, some of them likeable, others less so – just like real life. Some characters take a bleak, doom laden outlook, accepting that their previous life is over, and that the best they can hope for is a painless and quick death; while others desperately try to find and then cling to hope and tenderness wherever they can find it, causing a particularly embarrassing moment for Lori.

Make no mistake, while this title may feature more zombie’s than you shake a decomposing stick at, and yes, it is very horrific at times, its so much more than a “horror” comic. It is, alongside Y: The Last Man, one of THE very best studies of the human condition and position on the market today. If you like your comics character driven, intense, shocking, moving and so compelling that each new issue can’t arrive fast enough, you have to try this title – you will NOT be dissapointed. I guaran-damn-tee it.

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