Reviewed by : Seeger
Reviewer’s Grade : C-
When my set of all four volumes (thus far) of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead first arrived from amazon.com I was positively giddy… I’d heard nothing but good things (from reviews that evidently were written by his mother) and was thinking I was coming into a world of Romero-level zombie thought in this exciting new series.
BUT, instead, what I found was a cliché-ridden work of zombie survivor fiction that’s been told too many times, and always in the same way. Kirkman does not help his cause in the introduction to Volume 1 when he writes:
“To me, the best zombie movies aren’t the splatter fests of gore and violence with goofy character and tongue in cheek antics. Good zombie movies show us how messed up we are, they make us question our station in society… and our society’s station in the world. They show us gore and violence and all that cool stuff too… but there’s always an undercurrent of social commentary and thoughtfulness.”
Even casual fans of zombie films and literature see such societal critiques at work, but for Kirkman to explicitly make such a blatant statement in the introduction to his first volume bodes ill for the whole run and is a sign of what’s to come. Kirkman suffers from over-writing and an often painful lack of subtlety, a trait shared by artists Tony Moore (Vol 1.) and Charlie Adlard (Vols. 2-4).
The story traces police officer Rick Grimes who awakens from a coma in an empty hospital some days (28 perhaps?) after the zombie necropalypse has hit earth. We follow Grimes as he heads home, discovering his old neighborhood mostly abandoned and slowly discovering the new world order. Through contrived conversations with another survivor and a horse we learn about his wife and child (which we also found out about several panels earlier in the artwork), who he leaves town to try and find.
Kirkman shows disrespect to his readers by having to spell out every notion in words. He seems to not trust his artists, who in turn seem not to trust him (using the most extreme ‘surprised’, ‘angry’, ‘sad’ looks in any frame they want to express emotion). Some of his frames are so full of words there’s almost no room for characters to walk around in them. When his characters fight, their dialogue feels like an 8-year-old at play: “I’m going to blow your head off” says one survivor to another at one point, presumably before she is about to blow someone’s head off.
With all its negatives, though, the most frustrating thing about The Walking Dead is its amazing potential. The artwork, when it’s not painfully obvious, is quality black and white, which adds to the bleakness of the world the characters inhabit. The covers, all done by Tony Moore are beautiful, if a bit repetitive and the splash pages, few and far between are used very effectively. Walking Dead is at its best when Grimes is wandering alone and there are two or three wordless pages in a row, capturing the voiceless zombie threat more perfectly than any conversation can, but Kirkman again finds a way to spoil many of these with a speech bubble filled only with “…”.
Kirkman is asking very interesting questions about humans living in extreme circumstances, I just wish he could sometimes avoid asking them right out loud.
 Kirkman, Robert. The Walking Dead: Vol. 1: Days Gone Bye. Introduction. Berkeley: Image Comics, 2005.