“I hope to show you reflections of your friends, your neighbors, your families, and yourselves, and what their reactions are to the extreme situations on this book.”
– Robert Kirkman
Over the past seven years, writer Robert Kirkman (Battle Pope, Invincible) has found quite a literary and theatrical phenomenon with his series, The Walking Dead. The story follows a band of unlikely heroes in their daily trials and tribulations, given their extraordinary circumstances in a world devastated by a zombie apocalypse. Initiated as a graphic novel series in 2003, the books were met with rave reviews from critics and fans alike, most notably with its receipt of the Eisner Award in 2010 for Best Continuing Series. In 2010, AMC released The Walking Dead as a television series, which garnered such a positive response that the network ordered an extended, 13-episode second season.
For fans of the original comic book, AMC’s show breathed new life into their beloved series and also offered the chance to invite new fans to the WD fold. In a rare turn of events (especially for comic book fans – who can be quite discriminating), there has been little to no backlash at the differences between the original series and the TV show. In fact, the television show has launched the zombified story into cult status, helped by the AMC brand and its recent history of successful shows (Mad Men, Breaking Bad).
Armed with the knowledge of the aforementioned, I entered the WD world with trepidation and, perhaps, in an unconventional manner. [When a movie, TV show, or book (comic or otherwise) receives rave reviews, I often find myself delaying my encounter with the material. Truthfully, I have very high expectations for art of all mediums, so I must allow myself time for the hype to die down before experiencing the work; otherwise, I will most likely tear it to shreds. The lower my expectations, the more enjoyable the event!] In instances where both literary and theatrical versions of the same work exist, I greatly prefer to read the literary version first. With The Walking Dead, I did the exact opposite, and I am so glad that I did.
I watched my first episode of the television series at a time when three-fourths of the first season had already aired. My reaction to the first episode was one of surprised enjoyment, as I felt strongly that the actors (or at least most of them) portrayed endearing characters for which you wanted root. I enjoyed following Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) after his awakening into a post-apocalyptic world in search of his family, but I was more thoroughly impressed with and/or affected by the performances from the supporting characters. While Lincoln was steadfast yet understated in his performance as the story’s protagonist, I felt that he functioned more aptly in setting the stage for the passing characters. The story of Morgan and his son Duane was, without a doubt, the most heartbreaking, given that their wife and mother (respectively) had been bitten by a zombie and joined the hundreds of zombies that loomed outside of their door on a daily basis. The thought of having a walking reminder of a deceased love one was quite painful and vivid to watch, especially when forced with the decision of whether to end the suffering of this person.
Despite my enjoyment of the actors’ performances, there were several points of interest by which I was non-plussed. I will admit that I was quite unimpressed with the sequence that chronicled Grimes awakening in a devastated hospital room. Given that the film 28 Days Later was released in 2002, I felt that the Grimes scene too closely imitated that of Cillian Murphy’s character, Jim. In addition, I was none-too-thrilled by the scene that introduced us to Grimes’ wife Lori, who, after a matter of approximately one month, has already fallen into the arms of our protagonist’s best friend. (I don’t care if you think that your husband is dead or not, your pants must have been halfway off already to be ready and raring to go that soon after the fact.)
After watching my first episode of the series, I watched the remaining episodes with a mix of anticipation and heightened expectations. What followed was a mix of strong and weak episodes, riddled with anti-climactic plot lines, completely unnecessary characters, and the occasional exceptional performance. My highest points included Episode 3 (by far, the most intense episode thus far) and appearances by Michael Rooker and Norman Reedus as the Dixon brothers (a story line that the writers would do well to continue throughout the next season), while my lowest points included the love triangle between Grimes, his wife, and his best friend, the ridiculously-unnecessary story line that followed the Mexican gang-turned-senior-citizen-caretakers (yep – just as silly as it sounds), and the eventual season ending that found the group just as hopeless as when it started, but minus a few members. I tried to remind myself that the series was meant to be a continuing saga of normal people placed in extraordinary situations; however, it felt very – meh.
Having finished the first season of the TV show, I thought it only right to allow the original comic book series a chance. For the first time ever, I was shocked to discover that the first trade paperback consisted of even less material than that television show. The irony of the situation arose when I found myself preferring the TV show to the graphic novel, which is never the case. The pace of the comic book moved far too quickly in my opinion, whereas the slow and methodical pace of the television show mirrored the pace of its title characters. In addition, the quick pace of the graphic novel kept Grimes at a distance from the audience; we weren’t given the chance to be endeared to the character as we were in the TV show. He woke up in the hospital, he hopped (quite easily) out of bed after lapsing in a coma for weeks, and went on his merry way. Overall, the character seemed lackluster – going through the motions without expressing very much emotion given the extreme situation in which he found himself. Perhaps, it was the art by Tony Moore and not Kirkman’s writing that left me wanting more. Also, my favorite characters from the TV show, Morgan and Duane, were mere footnotes that left to emotional impact on Grimes or me. If the point of Kirkman’s story was for the audience to revel in the day-to-day activities of fascinating characters beyond the point where traditional zombie films end, the first trade paperback did not reach past that end point for me. In fact, were I to have read the graphic novel first, I cannot say that I would have been intrigued enough to continue with the series or to permit the TV show a chance.
I am not sure whether I will continue reading The Walking Dead trade paperbacks at this point. Perhaps, when the TV show airs again next year, I will give the next season a chance, which may or may not invigorate my motivation to allow the comic book a second read. For now, I will continue to be a bit disappointed by the hype of the series and will continue my practice of allowing significant time to pass before diving into a new work of art.