Friday, March 4, 2011
The Walking Dead - Robert Kirkman
The Walking Dead is all about the imminent zombie apocalypse — trust me it's coming, and sooner than you might think. Unfortunately, the zombie theme has been done so many times, it's in the running with vampire stories for winner of "genre that has been beaten to death", so I was a little hesitant going into the first page. The story starts out with the main character, Rick Grimes, waking up alone in a hospital bed. Not exactly a groundbreaking start in the zombie genre, and Kirkman keeps a healthy dose of tired cliches coming. There is a reason these cliches have become tired, and it's because they work so well! Just like Pepsi would never change their recipe (Crystal Pepsi? Doh!) the zombie cliches are part of the fun! What makes The Walking Dead special is that it mixes an expert story and strong character development into the cliche formula. The dialogues between characters are what really draw the reader in. Kirkman explores the delicate mental psyche of the people dealing with the complete destruction of everything they knew as reality. Despite the obvious appeal of guns, axes and gruesome zombie dismemberment, there is a real focus on what an event like this does to the people involved. Exhaustion, mental deterioration, animal instincts, and the fight for survival are all parts of the formula. The characters grow, change, deteriorate, and fight to stay alive, and they take us along for each part of the gory ride.
On the surface, you can look at The Walking Dead and say "been there done that". There are a ton of cookie cutter zombie moments that have been used a million times in a million other zombie works. At the same time, The Walking Dead breaks new ground on the zombie genre by taking it to a deeper level and exploring the human side of the apocalypse. Each living person, as well as each zombie is a character of the story. With every zombie that dies (and there are thousands) Kirkman takes you through the excitement of the action, as well as the pain of seeing a human life lost. The humanity of each zombie is felt, and you share in the pain and internal conflict that each human character is forced to deal with. In the end, despite all the familiarity, The Walking Dead breaks ground like a decrepit hand rising out of the grave to bring something new and exciting to the once beaten to death zombie genre.