Friday, May 31, 2013

X MEDIA WEDNESDAYS THE WALKING DEAD COMICS



Okay, Ill admit this ones kind of a cheat.  My X-Media reviews were intended to be alternate media based on video games, not the media that video games are based on.  But I have very recently begun to play Telltales Walking Dead game, and with all of the accolades and GOTY awards being hurled at the series, I feel that its important to reflect on the source material to see where the game is coming from.


Confession?   Im not much of a fan of AMCs The Walking Dead television series.  I still watch every episode think its an insult to this comic.  Ive been reading The Walking Dead books for six years now, and have loved them with all of my heart, and the show just came along and pissed all over them in my opinion.  I understand that the show had to break some of the storylines and go off into its own directions, in order to differentiate itself.  If they stuck to the comics too much, there would be no tension, because everyone would already know what was going to happen.  But they still ruined, killed off, or left out the majority of the beloved characters, and dropped significant plotlines in order to race to the Woodbury confrontation. 

However, in order to avoid spoilers for those that DO like the show,  I will only address the comic up through the general area that the show left off, around the battle for the prison.   Which of course, the show botched horribly and anticlimactically.

The first thing that you need to know is that The Walking Dead comic is not a comic about zombies.  It is a character drama about survival that happens to be set against the backdrop of a zombie apocalypse.  This is the reason that I fell in love with it.  You learn to genuinely love these characters.  They have stories, they have history, they have emotional depth.  No one is perfect in this world, but they learn to get along and work together in order to survive.  The zombies are a constant threat, but thats all they are; a threat.  A problem to be deal with, not the star of the show. 

The stellar writing and interaction between characters that are normal people stuck in a traumatic situation carries over well to the video game.  The game may only slightly brush paths with characters from the comics, but it still carries the tone and caliber of dialogue that writer Robert Kirkman set forth.

Survival is the key to these books, not drama.  At least, for the first few years, that is.  These characters have to find a place to live that will not only give them protection from the undead, but also afford them self-sustainability.  Theyre not nomads wandering from safehouse to safehouse, theyre searching for a home.   This is why the prison was such a massive part of the books; they were there for a very long time before they even discover the town of Woodbury.  It was about gathering supplies, setting down roots, getting used to their new environments, before inevitably having to uproot because something went wrong. 

And the books manage to balance tragedy and salvation masterfully.   Yes, terrible things happen to these people.  The books are brutal, violent, and gory.  But after losing loved ones, horrible injuries, and terrifying chases, this makes the good parts feel that much sweeter.  Scenes where Rick and company chill out and start tilling soil at the prison to plant crops dont come across as boring, theyre a great relief.  You love these characters, youve followed their journeys, so youre happy to see them get a break that it fills you with joy. 

Charlie Adlard, who has done the artwork on the books since issue #7, has an interesting art style.  Its unique enough to set The Walking Dead apart from other comics, but balances stylized with realistic fairly well.  His zombies are top notch, and his gore is often stomach-turning even in black and white.  My only complaint is that hes terrible with different faces.  Unless someone has a distinctive hairstyle or hat, there are literally times where Ill read a scene and have no clue who is talking to who unless names are deliberately involved.  This gets even harder later, when a few characters decide to shave their heads together. 

Unfortunately, as you progress in the series, Kirkman seems to get antsy.  Things change tonally that make it seem like he was afraid of losing his audience, like a little character drama surrounded by zombies wasnt "enough". 

The first major misstep in my opinion was Michonne.  I was baffled to hear her referred to as a "fan favorite".  Her character, this badass dark warrior chick who leads two armless, jawless zombies around on chains, and fights with a katana one-handed like a flippy anime ninja while spitting gravelly, moody dialogue (or silently brooding) is just ridiculous.  She does not fit in the world Kirkman has presented, and she ripped me back down to reality.  I went from "Im reading a hard-hitting graphic novel with an incredible story of survival and perseverance of believable characters in an extraordinary situation", to "Oh.  Im just reading a comic book."  Honestly I might have actually liked Michonne as a character in another book.  One where such a character fits in.  Sadly here, she sticks out like a sore thumb.

And then theres the Woodbury storyline.  The point where a realistic believable character drama turns into a cheap knock off of Mad Max.  I wouldve been okay with the general concept...a town made up of survivors that are fighting with our characters for safety and resources.  Thats fine!   But its just so incredibly one dimensional.  The Governor is an over-the-top wacky megalomaniac psychopath with no character depth.  Hes ridiculous.  If Michonne is a character from an anime, The Governor is a character from a hyperviolent version of Looney Tunes.  And its not just him!  The entire town is this band of degenerate redneck whackjobs.   I was not sorry to see this storyline end, at all.  Without spoiling anything, the books DO get better after this point, I promise.

If I give the show any credit, its that they managed to tone down both Michonne and the Governor.  The characters have depth now, and are believable within that world.  And at least now the townsfolk of Woodbury are decent people trying to survive, theyre just lied to and misled by The Governor.  His descent into madness is just that; a descent.  Hes given reasons to reach that madness.  In the books, hes just a crazed loon that makes Kim Jong Il look like Winston Churchill.

Still, as I said, while the show may be stuck in Woodbury, the comics have long since progressed and advanced several storylines since then.  While I wont drop any spoilers for the future, I will say that Rick and Carl have a lot of hardships to come.  But the comics still remain excellent, and definitely worth your time to read.

As I play the Telltale game, I marvel at how closely they stick to the spirit of the books.  Im actually amazed that Kirkman isnt one of the contributing writers, because the dialogue genuinely feels like his work.  The characters would fit in seamlessly with the comic, and the natural flow of events and choices that they are faced with hits every bit as hard as Kirkmans.  This game is reminding me why I loved the comics so much.

  

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