The Walking Dead #100

The Walking Dead is a subtext-free comic. Writer Robert Kirkman's characters say exactly what they're thinking and feeling to anyone who asks at almost any time. On the rare occasions when they don't, they grunt things like, "It's okay, I'm fine," indicating the opposite just as clearly as if they'd stated it outright. The comic's cast of dozens features maybe six or seven memorable enough to recall by name at any given time, two or three of whom tend to have already been killed off. Its "find a safe zone/establish a life there/have that life threatened" narrative pattern may take longer and longer to work itself out with every repetition, like a spiral widening from the center out, but get there it does. It spawned a terrible television show.

Yet despite these problems, The Walking Dead remains one of the most compelling monthly genre comics on the stands, a read-it-first affair every time it comes out. Artist Charlie Adlard is a huge part of that, with his evocatively loose and wiry line, his palette of gray, and his ability to craft characters who look both tired and dangerous, like overstimulated dogs. It's a look that's hard to tire of. Beyond that, though, Kirkman's long-game slow-burn plotting may indeed have a recognizable pattern, but there's simply no telling when that pattern will get around to making itself recognizable, by which I mean when he'll start killing characters in sudden, unexpected, brutal, status-quo-upending fashion. When you pick up an issue of TWD, there's no telling who'll be left when you put it down. Your odds of any given issue featuring that kind of shock to the system may be low, but they exist (especially for the milestone issue numbers), which is more than you can say for all but probably under half a dozen monthly comics total. Despite, or because of, the increasing wait between payoffs, Kirkman finds a way to make them worth it, frequently far enough beyond worth it and into gobsmacking awe that he went there that it doesn't seem like a wait at all.

Issue #100 is a case in point. Directed against one of those six or seven characters by a glib talky asshole who comes across like a Brian Michael Bendis parody, its central outburst of violence easily the most deeply horrifying I've seen in a mainstream comic (no sneer quotes necessary for "mainstream" with The Walking Dead, this thing is legit popular with civilians) since, I suppose, the last time The Walking Dead went this far. In fact, you'd probably have to reach for Josh Simmons or Gilbert Hernandez to find a more thoroughly dehumanizing assault than the one we see here, and coming from me that's high praise indeed. Assaults should be dehumanizing.

It's hugely graphic and gory, but more importantly it's predicated on anguish and agony, on a character begging for their life and slowly losing it anyway, in view of other characters, including children, made to watch as punishment. A "bad guy" is committing the violence, but its horribleness is quite of a piece with the series' presentation of human-on-human violence overall. The Walking Dead may not go quite as far as its TV incarnation's sister show Breaking Bad in depicting its protagonist's growing propensity for violence as loathsome, but lead character Rick Grimes is clearly intended as a cautionary tale of the way violence reduces the humanity of its perpetrators, even in cases where the violence is deemed necessary for survival. In some ways the series' most shocking move in recent issues was when Rick announced that the group of zombie-apocalypse survivors he leads should trade with other nearby communities not in goods or services, but in their ability to wield violence effectively. Killing is his business and business is good. The events of the hundredth issue simply put Rick in contact with a better businessman.

Zombie fiction, or really any popular genre or subgenre fiction, in which violence is depicted as uniformly withering to human potential is something to be celebrated, I think. They don't come much more withering than this.


6 Responses to The Walking Dead #100

  1. Ken Raining says:

    I dunno, I just think Robert Kirkman might be sick in the head.

  2. Matt says:

    I agree there are some grating aspects to Kirkman’s writing – exposition and character definition specifically. The killing off of main characters provides an unusual strength of story transformation. Kirkman once said his interest to see what happens next in Zombie narratives was catalyst for TWD. ‘The helicopter’ will never take off into the blue sky carrying the main characters away behind the deus ex machina of the credits (as in the Romero cannon) but will return in some diminished form to the same brutal high-stakes they found themselves in when the story began.
    But this culling could be assessed as part of an episodic structure, as you point out. Therefore the deaths, particularly ones coupled with apocalyptic habitat destruction may be seen as taking the place of story endings. The remaining characters form thin ligatures between the different books, so to speak, of different but similar Zombie stories. Interludes between macro-sociological story lines, such as Rick speaking to his dead wife on a disconnected telephone while travelling alone with his son, provide scenes of aggrieved tranquility but not necessarily in depth character revelation. The less populous storylines do not seem to unveil characters and this may be tied to your observation that ‘Kirkman’s characters say exactly what they’re thinking and feeling to anyone who asks’. Society is shown at the level of a Jerry Springer talk show, yet, just like Jerry TWD is very entertaining. Long live The Walking Dead!

  3. Chuck Gower says:

    As a monthly mainstream comic, the Walking Dead has something that Marvel and DC do not: Characters who can die.
    And by die, I mean without being retconned or brought back through some silly altering of story or whatever.
    There’s a pathos there that’s been missing from most mainstream comics since Silver and Bronze Age Amazing Spider-man or Jim Starlin’s Captain Marvel.
    There’s real danger in the Walking Dead.
    And that’s appealing.

  4. bad johnny got out says:

    Sentiments like these must be why Geoff Johns feels an obligation to ruin everything he touches. Whenever he finds a character no one cares about, he does something edgy and repulsive to it, probably because he honestly thinks it’s a creative act.

    Mainstream comics have been rotten for decades, and this is where that’s lead us. This is nowhere.

  5. Paul David says:

    @bad johnny…here, here and well said!

  6. mateor says:

    Oy vey…

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