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The Walking Dead #6
Writer: Robert Kirkman
Artist: Tony Moore

Sometime back in 2000, a friend dragged me into a comic shop, kicking and screaming. Of course, I'd done the same to him two hours earlier at a video store, but the difference was that I now had half the DTS-encoded DVDs the shop offered and nobody's damn X-book binge was going to stop me from blowing out my home theater system. Lo, I had no choice in the matter, so I moped around the indie comics while he drooled over 18 different titles with Wolverine on the cover.

Then something caught my eye. It looked like the classic lightning-silhouette cover from The Dark Knight Returns, but, strangely, the silhouette was wearing a funny pope hat and appeared to be dragging another, far more emaciated silhouette behind him. This was the rear cover of Battle Pope #4; my first exposure to the mad, genius, pairing that is Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore.

Now, four years later, the boys have arrived.

The Walking Dead is easily one of the best new series in years. It's an injustice to simply call this a "zombie book," and even saying it's high social drama isn't appropriate. This is a story that grabs you deep inside, tension rippling through the panels; every turn of the page raising your pulse, every surprise taking your breath away. It chills you, it warms you, it rattles your very bones. THIS is a comic.

In this month's chapter, we feel the aftermath of the "things'" attack upon the camp outside of Atlanta. The survivors bury Amy, the only immediate casualty of the fight, and each say their piece, including Jim, all but silent since he escaped Atlanta (the only person known to have done so). Of course, Jim's own death isn't far off, having been bitten in the struggle, and, despite their best hopes, they know it's only a matter of time before he turns.

Meanwhile, Shane has finally realized he was wrong about spending the winter near Atlanta, but he isn't about to admit that to Rick. Even though it's obvious that the cold weather is too harsh, the likelihood of the army rescuing them is remote, and the chances of the "things" raiding their camp ever more likely, Shane has nothing else to hold onto and the last thing he wants to do is admit that Rick knew better than him.

Then, as a last request, Jim has the group leave him by the outskirts of the city. He knows it's only a matter of time before he turns, but he figures that, at least this way, when he comes back, maybe he can be with his family again. "Maybe they came back, too. Maybe we can be together again."

The issue then ends with such poignant scenes… but I'll leave that for the reader. And if you're not reading this book, there's something wrong with you.

The Walking Dead drew comparisons to 28 Days Later when it first came out, and, indeed, it owes much to the zombie film genre in general.

However, unlike 28 Days, The Walking Dead never gets confused as to whether it's a zombie story or an examination of humanity; it blends both concepts together so seamlessly that you never consider whether it's one or the other. Kirkman also has the good sense not to explain how any of this happened, but instead fades into the background, leaving us to absorb the story. And, man, how he fades into the background! There's no narration, thought bubbles, titles, story arc titles, "to be continued…" addendums or anything. He just sits back and lets the story tell itself with the kind of control rarely seen among comic writers. You'd almost think that style makes it perfectly suited for translation to the screen, but, again, it's the extremely subtle use of the tools of the medium that make it such a powerful comic.

I think it was Frank Miller who once said that time is the greatest enemy of graphic storytelling. Comic authors have always needed to find ways to force the reader to linger on certain panels and race through others. Brian Michael Bendis has proven himself a master of this, but his methods draw a lot of attention to themselves; using two page spreads and very precise arrangements of panels to control the flow of the story. What Kirkman and Moore do is all but invisible.

And that brings us to Tony Moore's work on the series. So many black and white books always seem like just that: black and white. It often seems they lack color just because the publisher couldn't put enough money into them. But Moore's work is stunning. Like Mike Wolfer's work on Warren Ellis' Strange Kisses/Killings books, he'll render scenes of such horror they would be hard to stomach in color. But the mood Moore creates is unique. Like great black and white photography, there's a precision that would be lost if colors intruded onto the stark scene. The vast white stretches of the snowfields and high contrast scenes around the campfire are able to shift moods in an instant without the near mandatory manipulation of color we usually see in comics today. His characters are so complete that it brings to mind the old conceit that "All the great performances were done in black and white".

Unfortunately, it was confirmed last month that Moore will be leaving the series and Charlie Adlard will take over. When posted, Kirkman quipped, "I believe it was Augie De Blieck over at CBR that said 'Tony's art 's almost too good for this series.' I guess he was right." Sad, but true…

Despite what the future may hold, The Walking Dead has become one of the greatest comics on the market (as might be reflected by the Eisner award nomination) and Kirkman and Moore have finally risen to the A-list (as reflected by the ungodly amount of job offers they're getting).

If you've been following this series, stay with it. If you haven't, raid your local comic shop for back issues. If they don't have any, scour eBay for them. If you can't find any there… well, I guess you're allowed to wait for the TPB.

But you damn well better start subscribing, fanboy.


Jason Schachat

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