Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Review - The Walking Dead Compendium Vol.1 TPB

This hefty book collects the Walking Dead issues 1 to 48, plus a short Walking Dead story from the Image Comics Holiday Special 2005, in one softcover edition. Or, to put that another way, it collects the first eight regular Walking Dead trade paperbacks as one very large trade paperback that could quite easily be used to smash a zombie’s brains (braaaaaaiiiiinnnssss) in.

The Walking Dead, in case you don’t already know, is a hugely popular comics series by writer Robert Kirkman and artists Tony Moore (who co-created the series with Kirkman and drew the first six issues), Charlie Adlard (who has drawn the series since issue seven), and Cliff Rathburn (who provides some rather effective grey tones). The series follows a bunch of flawed characters struggling to survive (often unsuccessfully) in a world overrun with zombies, and it is so popular that American TV channel AMC – the people who make Mad Men – have even turned it into a hit TV show (which I still haven’t seen).

I must admit that I was never a huge fan of the Walking Dead graphic novels before – until last week, I had only ever read the first six volumes and had never actually owned them – but I did quite like them and always kind of regretted not buying them and carrying on with the series after volume six. So, when I saw this book available at quite a reasonable price last year, I saw it as an opportunity to get reacquainted with the series, get caught up, and remind myself what it was I liked – and what it was I didn’t like – about it.

The first issue of the Walking Dead starts with small town cop Rick Grimes (our hero) getting shot in the chest during a shoot-out with an escaped convict. Several weeks later, he wakes up from a coma to find himself in a hospital bed, in a hospital that has been more or less abandoned. He gets dressed, wanders around and eventually finds a load of flesh-eating zombies locked in the hospital cafeteria. Outside the hospital, the situation is more or less the same, with the corpse-littered streets more or less deserted apart from some wandering zombies. Rick heads home, finds his home deserted, too, and then goes off in search of his wife Lori and his son Carl.

Rick soon finds Lori and Carl hiding out just outside Atlanta – which is full of zombies – with his cop buddy Shane and some other survivors. After a bit of trouble with Shane – who has been carrying a torch for Lori – and lots of trouble with zombies, the group move on to a small farm, where they meet up with another group of survivors. Things quickly go tits up – thanks to some zombies locked in the farm’s barn – and the group then move on to a mostly-abandoned prison, where most of them remain until issue forty-eight (i.e. until the end of this book). While living in the prison, they encounter trouble from some prisoners who were left behind and from another bunch of survivors living in a nearby town, quite a few members of the group are bitten by zombies, they generally struggle to survive, and they argue and talk a lot.

There are things I like about the Walking Dead and things I don’t like. I will start by listing a few things I don’t like about the series before I get to the things I do like:

1) When I first read it, the Walking Dead nearly lost me a few pages into the first issue. Rick is not just shot in the chest on the first page of the first issue, he actually has a hole blown in him and – thanks to Tony Moore’s cartoonish art – appears to lose quite a large chunk of his upper torso. Even so, on the very next page, he wakes up from a coma, gets up, gets dressed, heads off to fight zombies and never once complains of any chest pains. In reality, someone who had been shot in the chest would probably need months of physical therapy and pain medication (at the very least) and may never fully recover, but here Rick practically gets one of his lungs blasted out and then wakes up a few weeks later as fit as a fiddle. I know it’s a bit pedantic of me to complain about things like this in a book which also features lots of reanimated, flesh-eating corpses, but stuff like this – when characters in fiction suffer serious injury and then bounce back really quickly – just bothers me. And not only does Rick recover from his gunshot wound remarkably quickly – a gunshot wound that was serious enough to leave him in a coma for several weeks – but he also recovers from being in a coma really quickly, too. I mean, would someone who had been in a coma for a month or more really be able to get out of bed right away? Wouldn’t it take them a while to get used to walking again? Also, why hadn’t Rick been eaten? How long had he been in the hospital alone? Who was feeding him? I am just being pedantic, aren’t I?

2) In the second or third issue of the series, Rick gets to Atlanta, finds the city overrun with zombies, but then meets up with a small group of survivors which just happens to contain his wife, his son, and his best friend. It’s not the fact that they all survived that bothers me so much as the fact that Rick managed to meet up with them at all. I mean, it’s not like they were all camped out at Rick’s house – they were living out in the woods outside Atlanta. Rick is led to the group by a young survivor called Glenn, who he meets in Atlanta – it’s not like he just bumped into his family in the woods – but even so, what are the odds of Rick’s family surviving and Rick bumping into them weeks after they left town in the middle of a zombie apocalypse? Pretty slim, I reckon.

3) The series then progressed without me getting too annoyed about any implausible bits for quite a while. Then, around chapter six (Vol.6 in the regular softcover editions), something happened that annoyed me so much I nearly threw the book across the room. 'The Governor', the evil boss of a nearby town of rival survivors, has Rick, Glenn, and a tough female character called Michonne held captive and wants to know the location of the prison they are all living in. Eventually, Rick escapes and sets Glenn and Michonne free, too. Before heading back to the prison, though, Michonne pays the Governor a little visit, and what follows is one of the most brutal single issues of any comic I have ever read. Honestly, the Governor deserved everything he got, and probably more, as he had been raping and torturing Michonne for days. However, the reason he really deserved what he got was because he was a total fucking idiot, as it turned out a few issues later that he had let Rick and co. escape so that they would lead him to the prison. If the Governor wanted to find the location of the prison so badly, why didn’t he just torture the information out of Glenn, who he just left crying in his cell the whole time he had him captive, instead of setting a woman who wanted him dead (and knew how to use a samurai sword) free? The dick head!

4) All of the above points were really just complaints about particular story developments that I found a bit implausible. The thing that really annoys me about the Walking Dead, though, is that the dialogue is rather melodramatic and often full of needless exposition. I mean, the characters just talk and talk and talk, and at least half of what most of them say is really quite unnecessary. A character will be building a fence (or something) and then will explain to someone else that they are building a fence to keep zombies out because zombies attack people and that they have had quite a lot of trouble with zombies and then they will explain where they got the wood and how to build a fence, etc. You would think that Kirkman was being paid by the word, or that he doesn’t trust Adlard to just show us what is going on, or that he just doesn’t credit us readers with enough intelligence to figure out that so and so is building a fence to keep out zombies because it’s a zombie comic and zombies attack people. I just made all that stuff about the fence up, but honestly, flick open this book to pretty much any page and you will see rather a lot of unnecessary dialogue that any editor worth his or her salt would have cut down a bit and rather a lot of melodramatic dialogue that even the producers of most soap operas would reject as too corny.

Having said all that, though, I was utterly gripped by this book and read the whole thing rather quickly, considering just how many comics it collects. I literally did not want to put it down once I started reading, and as I said, I had already read three-quarters of the material in it before. Partly, that’s down to the classic situation, rather than the quality of the writing. I mean, this is a comic about the survivors of a zombie incident – hardly an original scenario – and zombies are cool. It would almost be difficult to go wrong with a setup like this, particularly when illustrated by talented artists like Tony Moore (who is very good but was perhaps a bit too cartoony for the series) and Charlie Adlard (whose shadowy art is perfect for the book). However, Kirkman deserves a lot of credit for creating a cast of characters that you really find yourselves routing for. I don’t like Rick very much – actually, I think he comes across as a bit of a self-righteous prick – but I like most of the other characters and really cared about what happened to them, particularly Michonne, Tyreese, Glenn, Carol, Dale, and my favourite character, Andrea. A lot of writers probably could have written a more exciting zombie comic than this, and a lot of writers probably could have written better dialogue, but not a lot of writers could have come up with a large cast of characters that you genuinely care about, even if they do talk too much.

Despite my complaints, I enjoyed reading this a lot. The book ended on a turning point for the series, with several major characters dying and the prison being rendered more or less uninhabitable during the final showdown with The Governor. It was probably about time the story moved on anyway, as things were starting to get a bit repetitive in the prison, and I really want to know what happens next. Luckily, I already own the next five volumes in the regular trade paperback series, so I will soon find out.

Cost: This has a recommended retail price of £45.00 / $59.99. I got my copy from Forbidden Planet International for £27.00 (plus £1.00 for postage), which was the cheapest price available when I bought it last summer (I have only just read it because I then convinced my wife to get it for me for Christmas). Last month, Amazon had it for only £26.00 (or thereabouts) but it’s since gone up to £32.84 and FPI is once again the cheapest place for this, with a current price of £30.15 (plus £1.00 P&P). Not a bad price at all for a book that collects 48+ comics.


  1. I like the fact that you criticise these books as well as praising them. I get annoyed when reviews are overwhelmingly positive! Loads of my friends watched the new Green Hornet movie, which I loathed, but they were all like 'oh it was okay...' No it wasn't!
    I do agree with your criticisms. I think Kirkman has started to believe his own hype a bit too much and it's got in the way of his storytelling.
    The bit about Glenn/Michonne is true, and at one point, the Governor even suggests that Glenn has already 'squealed' - and then he hatches the plan to let Glenn escape and follow him (which never happens?). It's all very confusing.
    My least favourite bit was when Rick did the big speech and pointed out to us that the characters are the walking dead - duh.
    My other slight problem with WD is that the focus is always on Rick, whereas Andrea, Glenn and Michonne are just as interesting (if not more).
    And I have to say, WD has really gone downhill since this compendium.

  2. I'll have you know I've never been overwhelmingly positive about anything! Unfortunately, that means that I tend to feel a bit uncomfortable reviewing small press comics, because I never want to say anything negative about them and upset someone, but I figure anything published by one of the big companies is fair game. I mean, Robert Kirkman is hardly likely to give up writing comics just because I say his dialogue is bad, is he?

    I didn't like that 'we are the walking dead' bit either. And yeah, the Governor was clever enough to pretend that Glenn had been tortured and was leading them back to the prison but not clever enough to actually go ahead and do that. Instead, he got his dick cut off and his eye scooped out with a shitty spoon to find out the location, which was a much better plan.

    It will be a shame if the series does go downhill after this, as I have all the books up to date now. If Kirkman ever does start to believe his own hype and start to think he is a great writer - and not just an okay writer - he should probably just take a look at the sales of all his other comics and ask himself why the Walking Dead and Marvel Zombies outsold everything else he has ever written by quite some margin. It's because people like zombies, that's why, and not because people like Robert Kirkman!

  3. Great review Rob, which I pretty much agree with. I can see that Kirkman has written the speech bits to slow the reading experience down but, like you say, the dialogue is often not nearly as good as it should be and a little insulting to the reader. We know he's capable of better because other times the characterisation is really strong and subtly done.

    My friend leant me the first 6 TPBs and I found the whole thing very stressful to read. The Governor was an absolute a-hole. A great villain.

  4. The problem I had with this book was the needless exposition. I read the first few volumes, but I just got sick of Kirkman's "tell don't show" attitude to story. If the TV show is better written, I will give it a go. I did like the art though.

  5. Did my last comment get caught in the Great Spam Filter?

  6. Hi Gavin

    I didn't even know there was a spam filter on comments until now but my spam box appears to be empty. You may have to post again (unless you were going to disagree with my review!).

  7. Sometimes after you've written your comment, you're asked to do a 'word verification' thing - but often this doesn't pop up immediately, so it's possible to miss it :-o

  8. Thanks for checking, Rob! Whenever I have had replies which have been 'span-trapped' I've still been e-mailed the comments. (And nearly responded to them when no-one else would have known what i was talking to!) Plus I saw them appear at the site so I don't think I missed the word verification. Just some weird blip...

    Anyway, I didn't say I'd added anything interesting!

    From memory, I suspect Kirkman imagines that it's good to write talk. Dialogue equals characterisation, so the more dialogue there is the more characterisation follows.

    I only read the first volume but I wasn't sure it really needed zombies in it. A classic like 'Night of the Living Dead' needs zombies, they're integral to what it's about. Here you could as easily swap some other kind of foe for zombies, or even wild animals or something...

  9. The zombies do actually feel like a bit of an afterthought in this book a lot of the time. Most of the time the characters are just arguing amongst themselves. I have just finished reading Vol.11 and there is hardly any zombie action in it at all! Instead, the gang deal with a serial killer kid and some cannibals. And talk a lot, of course. I am starting to think that all that talking is there to make up for Kirkman's lack of decent story ideas.