Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Just in time for Halloween: The Walking Dead Vols 9 & 10

As I was reading the last few volumes of The Walking Dead I had moments where I kind of just felt I had enough and that I got the point of the whole thing. People are pretty shitty and horribly violent to one another in the face of unprecedented fear and that violence begets more violence (and that it is an easy slippery slope to find yourself on once you commit one horrible act).

I found the whole ordeal with the Governor a bit tiring as my taste for the ol’ ultraviolence has tempered as I leave my teens further and further behind. Less of that pent up angst once you own a house I’m guessing. The siege of the prison was appropriately thrilling and the deaths were legitimately shocking to me and when it was all said and done I must say that I was seriously hooked on the whole series again. It managed to pull the rug out from under me by essentially hitting the reboot button.

I read volumes nine and ten in conjunction and in many ways it feels like the series has found its feet again. That wasn’t meant to be a pun on the whole road trip thing that the characters are on, but it works, so self-congratulatory pat on the back for that unintentional pun. Anyway, I enjoyed the slower pace and seeing Rick and Carl meet up with some fellow survivors both new and old. Having the heroes get a purpose again helps feel like the series has a bit of direction again as I always felt that the prison setup was just going to last until Kirkman could figure out how to evict the survivors.

Volume nine focuses more on Carl and what his role as a kid who witnesses tragedy and horror entails. It’s a weird place for a still young child to be, at the age just before really hitting puberty but still capable of being responsible while not quite at the stage of wanting independence. He’s not deluded but he still holds a love for his parents and a fascination with the world he’s still discovering. In some very direct ways he’s dealing with the death of his mother and sister in a more mature way than his father who still requires something physical to hold onto.

Volume ten has the survivors both new and old on the road to Washington. The tension and suspense is ramped up because of the prison siege and there are some great new ideas about zombie herds and how some of these people survived. I find myself being sucked into the double guessing and the suspicion of the new characters – is he really a scientist or just a survivalist trying to be important? Will he be gunned down randomly?

There is the familiar setup of the two alpha males at odds and the long suffering support character ready to abandon hope as well as the elements of tension thrown in like the unsound friend or depressed lover. Having a quest for the hero is always a more appealing story structure for me rather than seeing the details of how the hero lives at home. Sure it’s interesting to wonder what happened after the grand adventure but even the greatest of heroes tend to use that time to try and figure out how to get back on the road, so having Rick, Carl and the other survivors out there amidst the walking undead is something I like in this series – it feels to me to have more purpose, in thought and action.

And yet it’s strange because while the plot feels to be back on track and going somewhere the narrative action remains quite intimate. There is a lot of time spent between father and son, and a new group of survivors slowly sniffing each other out. You feel the tension of all these people having witnessed horrible events, and Kirkman sets up this feeling really well when the groups meet. There doesn’t need to be a longer explanation right away but when it comes, it’s sort of an extra spice to a solidly built meal.

Don’t read this if you’re looking for a happy little read – it’s incredibly depressing but because it’s actually presented really well, not in a “jeez, I guess they’re all getting horribly tortured and killed again” way. Now, lets see the challenges they need to overcome along the way. I’m back on for the ride.

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