Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Walking Dead Volume 8: Made To Suffer (2008)

My first rule concerning "The Walking Dead" is there are no spoilers. I refuse to read most reviews and solicitation copy because of this. I even hesitate to view covers. In my own reviews, aside from stuff that's already all over the web, I try to avoid going further than hinting. That holds especially true here.

You see, I love zombie movies, but find their appeal rarely translates to comics. Typically, the emphasis is on shock and gore, where my interests lie in the reaction of humanity to the most transgressive extinction level event imaginable. Only Robert Kirkman's zombie opus really captures what I love about "survival horror," and to a large degree, comics in generally. I adore a good twist in a narrative that is true to its subject, but still sends your head spinning. There is no current writer that comes to mind who does this as well as Kirkman, or with such startling consistency, and therefore few writers that bring me such joy. My reviews tend toward the negative, as I've read most everything this industry has to offer before, but Kirkman reminds me why I continue to be passionate about this art form. For about five years, "The Walking Dead" has been one of the best comics published, and at its current rate, will become one of the best ever published. The creative team on the book only improves with time, and there's no end in sight.

That said, I can't imagine reading this series in individual issues. The book's pacing is all over the map, with whole collections devoted to melodrama of the like seen in British soap operas. Others, like "Made To Suffer," are so packed with life-altering events as to be completely inaccessible for the uninitiated. A major threat from a previous extended story arc returns to offer reams of exposition, yet little of the surrounding events were revealed. This leads to a series of encounters with the massive cast of characters, few of whom are reintroduced. For longtime readers, that makes it all killer, no filler. For the new reader, the volume's subtitle may be all too appropriate.

About that hinting: One of the two characters I previously felt could carry the series met their end in this edition, and while I mourn the passing, the sea change seems best for the series' vitality. It allows some folks I've grown to appreciate the chance for a greater spotlight, and many other characters that had perhaps outlived my interest had a bit more left to offer. At least one should have probably lived to fight another day, but offered a bit of closure to what proved a bleak but open-ended conclusion.

While Kirkman continued to awe, I reserve the greatest kudos of this installment for Charlie Adlard, the most improved member of the team. For years, Adlard was my go-to artist when concluding that anyone could draw a comic with the right connections. I dreaded his replacement of original series artist Tony Moore, and was often confused by which character was which at first. A few years down the line, I can't imagine a better choice to continue the title. Now, each of his characters is entirely distinct and true to life. At times, you can "smell" them, his depiction is so believable. Where Moore seemed to relish the grisly EC macabre details, Adlard grounds the shambling grotesques in a reality that enhances their impact, rather than muddying the tone of the story with comical ghouls. One thing that struck me as a bit odd was that a great many panels reminded me of the Bart Sears/Ray Kryssing art team of the 90's, specifically their work on "Eclipso." One character in particular seemed tailored to that style. Maybe I just have a screwy frame of reference, but I liked this new direction.

Cutting to the chase, "The Walking Dead" remains one of the best comics in comics, is improving with age, and is bought without question here at ...nurgh... It receives my highest recommendation, but for God's sake, don't start with "Made To Suffer." No pudding before your supper...

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