Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Walking Dead Volume 20: All Out War, Part One (2014)

I read this trade a month or two ago, but put off writing a review because of general life fatigue and because it just wasn't an important thing for me to do. With the announcement of the bi-weekly arc "All Out War," the series gave me a jumping-off point, so we're in lame duck mode here. The series has always been a bit of a western, but has taken on a few war feature tropes, though processed through a Road Warrior filter that renders it cheesy and half-assed. This volume starts with a gentle wading in chapter, establishing where our heroes and their relationships sit at the eve of war. Then comes the first big gambit against our villain, Negan, which is half clever/half obvious. It's nice to see the good guys take an early advantage and undercut the seeming infallibility of Negan, but we all know that won't last, because, y'know, Rick's the leader. The war continues on other fronts with the idea of building up Rick's rep, but this is done through highlighting the incompetence and cowardice of leaders who are not Rick, so that we know he's at least the best of what's around. The worm turns, bad things happen to nothing characters, and our heroes return to underdog status by the chapter break.

While we're waiting for the wrap-up, how about that fourth season? The mid-season breaks are always strong, but that show sure meanders on the back half, huh? Thankfully, the writers were wise enough to tear their focus away from Rick and Carl to show us how other survivors dealt with the fall of the prison. That led to "The Grove," one of the series' best episodes, which was both faithful to a comic book storyline and built upon it magnificently through the twisting relationship of Carol and Tyreese. Others fared worse, like I'm now hoping the sickening codependency of Glenn and Maggie ends with their grizzly deaths. The jarring cosplay of Abraham, Rosita and Eugene sure was distracting. The shipping of Daryl and Beth was sweet though, and I still like wholly original supporting players Tara, Sasha and Bob Stookey. Finally, good to see Jeff Kober getting work, and the more organized Terminus was a solid deviation from the comics, though the show has suffered from excess fidelity of late. The closer it gets to the comics post-prison, the deeper it enters the territory that has me ready to stop reading.

And we're back for "ALL OUT WAR!" Meh. I do like Stefano Gaudiano's inks in this environment, adding a crispness and clarity that suits the more action-adventure tone of this arc, though it occasionally becomes so sharp and flashy as to reveal its Image roots. If I'm thinking about Cyberforce and Pitt during your "realistic zombie apocalypse," something may have gone awry. Charlie Adlard is still great at grounding the action though, even as the horror is lost amidst the flash-bang and soap opera. As has been the case for some time, the problem with the book is Robert Kirkman-- too enamored with empty spectacle to spice up plodding plotting; having lost faith in his zombies and divided his attention to oversee (and I hear micromanage) his empire. The new characters don't stick in the mind, while the old are wearisome and tainted. I can't imagine a way for this to end well, in the sense that there's anything to make me change my mind about leaving. To quote the show, it's too far gone to ever come back...

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