Thursday, 26 April 2007

‘The Walking Dead (vol. 1) – Days Gone By’ – Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore

I’m a big fan of anything with zombies in it; movies, books, you name it. The bottom line though is that unless you’re trapped, and facing a horde of the things, the zombie is perhaps the least scary of all the monsters. It’s not fast on its feet; it’s easily killed and has no plans other than to eat what it can catch. What makes great zombie fiction then are not so much the zombies themselves but the reactions of ordinary people who have been placed in a quite extraordinary situation (think any of George Romero’s ‘Living Dead’ films for starters; ok maybe not ‘Land of the Dead’…). Robert Kirkman’s ‘Walking Dead’ series (issued monthly but also collected in graphic novel format) does this very well indeed.
Police Officer Frank Grimes wakes from a coma (gunshot induced) to find that the world has irrevocably changed while he was asleep. He is the only human left alive in the hospital for starters; everyone else has somehow become a flesh eating zombie. By the way; the reader never finds out how this happened and by adopting this approach Kirkman cleverly avoids falling into the trap of ‘zombie apocalypse cliché’, this tale is concerned more with how people react to the ongoing situation. Frank’s reaction is to go looking for his family and it’s not really a spoiler to say that he finds them (along with a group of refugees). The rest of the book focuses on the change in group dynamics following Frank’s arrival and builds up to a shocking conclusion.
I’m very much a ‘read a comic and then put it back on the shelf’ kind of guy (to the annoyance of newsagents everywhere!) but the consistent excellence of this series has prompted me to buy the first four graphic novels, reviews will follow. The plot is tightly run and it seems like nothing happens without a very good reason. I also liked the way Frank is drip-fed information during the course of his journey, seems like a good way of building things up for the reader while keeping a level of suspense throughout. The ending is signposted earlier on but I still never saw it coming; if you can’t find the next volume then the ending also works well in a ‘stand alone sense, questions are raised but there is also a sense of closure.
Tony Moore’s artwork is great and I am in awe of the way he has conveyed the visceral gore of zombies (and zombie attacks) without using any colour. The black and white panels also keep the reader’s attention (whereas the use of colour might have proved distracting) and are evocative in terms of the bleak realities that the characters face.
If you’re after something a little different than the latest superhero ‘crossover’ (or something more thoughtful than the standard ‘pulp horror’ comic) then you can’t go too far wrong with this series!

Nine out of Ten

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