With Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.
Of course, occasionally I may even explore comics outside of Marvel if they come highly recommended or simply peak my interest. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!
Artists: Tony Moore, Charlie Adlard
Issues: The Walking Dead #1-48
So I’m finally reading The Walking Dead. It’s been a long time coming, obviously. I did read the very first six-issue Volume, “Days Gone Bye,” several years ago. But I’ve been so wrapped in my Marvel comics and others that I hadn’t found the time.
Well in light of recent events, it’s time to tackle the whole damn thing. Or at least the first three 48-issue compendiums.
Trying to really analyze 48 issues in one post is impossible. It’s also impossible for me to separate the comic from the show, which is now seven years deep. My thoughts will be entirely pulled as someone who’s enjoyed the show, but wary of diving into such a gruesome, violent comic.
The Compendiums, like the collected trade paperbacks are organized like one giant story. Only the Volume act breaks serve as chapters. This means no cover art at all, and makes reading the massive tome in short bursts a lot more difficult as you try to figure out where the single issue breaks are (hint: look for the full page spreads).
Despite my annoyance of the organization, the continuous story is well-served by this method. It pretty much forces you to start at the beginning. For a comic that has over 150 issues, that is a damn daunting task.
Compendium One includes the first eight Volumes, or 48 issues of the comic. This lasts through the Governor’s big assault on the Prison, or about halfway through Season 4 in the show.
Volume 1 somewhat mirrors the first Season of the show, with Rick waking up in the hospital and learning that the world is now a zombie apocalypse. Oh, one big thing about the comic that I wasn’t aware of – they actually know what zombies are – unlike the show where they can’t even use the damn word!
I find that endlessly frustrating that in just about every zombie fiction, zombies as shared cultural knowledge just doesn’t exist, allowing for everyone to learn about zombies, infections, bites, etc. It’s incredibly annoying and one of the few things that World War Z did right in bucking that trend (although they also had super fast zombies, which was lame).
Anyway that first arc is a great introduction into this world through Rick’s bleary eyes, and he quickly meets up his family and his starter group of survivors, including wife Lori, Shane, Dale, Andrea, and Glenn (Daryl and his brother being original show characters).
Shane is the primary antagonist in this first Volume, being none too happy that Rick has returned to reclaim his wife. Yeah, Lori’s still a pretty crappy character here too, mostly existing for the men in her life (Shane, Rick, and Carl).
That dramatic scene at the end of Season 2 when Carl shoots Shane to save his Dad? It happens way earlier at the end of Volume 1. Unlike the show, Carl shoots the still living Shane – though later Rick does return to the burial to find him reanimated, and put him out of his misery. There’s also no dramatic trip to the CDC in the comic.
Volume 2 begins in a much different place than the show, with our group traveling to a gated community. There they meet Tyreese, his teenage daughter and her boyfriend. This is way earlier than the show, and in the show he has a sister, Sasha. I’m glad they made that change as so far Sasha’s been a pretty cool character, unlike the murder-suicide-planning teens.
The Wiltshire Estates soon goes to hell during a nicely dramatic reveal that the group missed the ALL DEAD sign just outside. They’re soon overrun, and Allen’s wife is killed. One of the constant narrative arcs for every volume is the mental struggles that our survivors deal with. Many are unable to cope, choosing suicide or to withdraw from everyone.
They’re on the road again and out of food. While hunting, Carl is accidentally shot by Otis, pretty much exactly as it happens in Season 2 Episode 1. Rick follows Otis to Hershel’s farm where the old veterinarian can attempt to save his son.
The show makes this event way more exciting, as it’s compounded by the walker herd on the highway and Sophia’s disappearance. The comic doesn’t have any of that and the group simply moves into Hershel’s farm, with some typical drama as the old group meets the new.
Hershel has an annoyingly big family of throwaway characters – half a dozen sons and daughters – half of whom die soon in an issue or two. Almost immediately we learn about the zombies kept in the barn, unlike the slow tease of the show.
When a walker wanders onto the farm they open the barn doors to add it to the group – and the walkers spill out. Way less dramatic then the group arguing and throwing open the doors against Hershel’s will! Not to mention the dramatic reveal of Walker-Sophia, still one of the best moments of the entire show.
Things go way worse in the comic, as many of Hershel’s family is torn apart by the horde. Hershel’s character is probably the most accurately portrayed in the show; deeply religious, bull-headed, and protective, though show-Hershel eventually becomes much kinder and gentler, a testament to Scott Wilson’s portrayal.
After the events at the barn, Hershel forces Rick’s group to leave the farm, and they soon find the prison. Volume 3 is all about clearing out the prison, meeting the four prisoners there, and dealing with some sinister drama within the group – including the aforementioned murder-suicide that shakes Tyreese, and one of the prisoners being a super creepy serial killer.
With the inmate problem dealt with (only one of the four end up joining the group in the end) the action slows down as our group spends the remainder of the next four Volumes at the prison.
Michonne shows up in Volume Four, literally just wandering up to the prison one day. Despite her powerful physicality she fucks things up for the group mentally by sleeping with Tyreese, causing Carol to break up with him. Carol eventually becomes so distraught that she commits grisly suicide via walker.
Obviously show-Carol is a way more interesting, hardened character (and still alive). Comic-Carol never breaks free of the happy housewife routine, and she’s super dependent on being in a relationship. Allen also gets bit on the leg and while they try the amputate solution, he dies anyway.
Later Dale will get bit on the leg and this time the amputation works. He even eventually gets a peg leg. It’s a shame that the actor portraying Dale wanted off the show after Darabont left after the first Season, as Comic-Dale is a pretty great ornery old man who forms a relationship with Andrea. He’s also still alive by the end of issue #48.
Volume 5 introduces Woodbury and the Governor, and the first taste of some really fucked up awful stuff happening to our protagonists. A helicopter crash leads Glenn, Rick, and Michonne to investigate, but they’re captured and brought to Woodbury.
Unlike the gentle facade that show-Governor put on, comic-Governor is immediately cruel and ruthless. He cuts off Rick’s hand, and Michonne retaliates by biting off his ear. He then proceeds to torture and rape her for what I guess is at least a day or two, while Glenn is forced to listen in a nearby room.
In a word, awful. I get that Humanity Is Still the Real Evil in the World is an obvious theme for the zombie apocalypse. But it does feel extreme and frankly silly to go this violently awful this fast.
I think the show played it much better, with Michonne grappling with the Governor and taking out his eye with a jagged piece of glass, and Maggie being stripped naked and Glenn forced to fight a walker. The strong threats are still there, but implicit rather than explicit.
Where the show really dropped the ball was its treatment of Andrea. Comic-Andrea is a bit one-dimensional; she’s cold and closed-off, but also cares for Dale and is an insanely awesome sniper who pretty much single-handily protects the group during the Governor’s first attack on the prison. She’s one of the few characters in the comic that I’d consider heroic (the other possibly being Tyreese).
Show-Andrea meanwhile got horribly bogged down with Shane, then with Michonne, then with the Governor. She constantly makes terrible decisions and by Season Three when she chooses the Governor, we all hated her.
I guess it was an attempt to make the Governor more human, which was an odd direction since he’s a snarling monster who leads a bunch of rednecks in the comics. Comic-Andrea also survived past the prison, sporting a wicked Joker-esque face scar. You deserved better, Andrea.
In Volume 6 Rick and company escape Woodbury with some help, though the town doctor dies in the process. They gain a nurse, Alice, and their savior, Martinez. Michonne stays behind so she can exact her own torture on the Governor, and it’s equally violent, disgusting, and awful. I get it, harsh world and all, but holy hell.
Rick is right not to trust Martinez. He splits when he gets the chance, and Rick hunts him down and kills him before he can tell the others where they are. That’s the show-Rick we know and love! Honestly other than that comic-Rick is way more of a pansy. He’s constantly whining, self-doubting, and generally unlikable through most situations. Hell he spends most of the climax of Volume 8 simply running away.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Things calm back down in Volume 7 with a bunch of smaller events.
Judith is finally born, and unlike the show Lori survives the birth thanks to Alice’s help. Glenn and Maggie get married. A group scavenges for supplies and gets in a fight with some Woodbury people, making it out alive thanks again to Andrea. Dale gets bitten and leg amputated, but survives. Carol commits walker-suicide. And the Governor shows up with a tank and an army.
It was teased that Michonne had in fact killed the Governor after she tortured him. Volume 8 beings with an issue-long flashback into how he recovered, and decided to wait until they could launch a surprise attack. I loved this approach, both in giving us the cliffhanger before and the reveal here.
The prison group is indeed unprepared by this assault, though Andrea makes it to the watchtower and starts plinking dudes left and right. There’s a ton of walkers in the area the Governor doesn’t want to take down the fences, leaving them with a straight-up siege that puts them at a disadvantage, despite their superior numbers. They’re forced to retreat.
Afterwards our team splits up. Over half the group decides it’s time to get the hell out. Lead by Dale and Andrea they take the RV, load it up and leave while Rick is still healing from a gunshot wound. Michonne suggests to Tyreese that they go after the Woodbury people with a surprise counter-attack – a plan that sounds stupendously awful.
Comic-Michonne is very hot-headed, aggressive, and generally seems to make bad decisions. Not nearly as likable as show-Michonne. I hope she gets better later on, as she’s one of the few to survive the massacre to come.
Rick heals from his wound to find half the group gone. They barely get a chance to plan their new defenses (grenades, basically) when the governor turns around and comes right back – this time with a captured Tyreese.
In the show it takes a long time for the Governor to return to the prison, including that weird couple episodes where we goes off and meets a new group of people, and somehow convinces them to go to war. The pacing around the Prison-Woodbury war was just awful in the show and went on for half a season too long.
In the comic it’s way more exciting, building up to a very action-packed eighth Volume. The Governor dramatically puts a beaten Tyreese on his knees before executing him with Michonne’s sword. In the show he does this with Hershel, instead.
The grenades freak out the Woodbury folk and more die in the assault. The Governor’s had enough and uses the tank to tear down the fences of the prison, spilling in walkers from all over. Just when things appear very dark (several of our prison gang get killed), The RV shows up and Andrea starts shooting dudes left and right – because she’s a fucking badass.
The Governor makes it inside with a small group. By now Hershel’s watched his last son die and simply kneels down ready for death, which the Governor grants. The Governor orders one of his cronies to shoot at a fleeing Rick, Carl, and Lori. She does, obliterating both Lori and baby Judith in a single shot.
The woman, Lilly, freaks out at killing a baby and turns on the governor, shooting him in the face and kicking his body at a herd of walkers. The rest of the Woodbury folks race inside the prison but their bullets run out, and the walkers just keep coming (apparently they do survive and their story is later told in a spin-off book).
Compendium One ends with Rick telling Carl not to look back at the prison, at dead Lori and Judith, and all the friends they just lost in the attack. The prison is no longer safe, and they’re back on the road again. Hell of an ending.
I enjoyed the comic much more than I thought I would, though it’s also fun to constantly compare to how the show handled various plot points and characters. So fun that I rigged up a direct comparison below!
The comic straddles the line between a realistic serialized drama within a zombie apocalypse, and a goofy comic book story with exaggerated characters and dramatic events.
The black and white art style fits the bleak world perfectly, though it does make certain characters hard to distinguish. Volume 1’s art by Tony Moore is also way more cartoony than Charlie Adlard, who takes over duties for the entire run afterwards. Having a consistent art style is a huge plus to keeping the ongoing narrative cohesive and riveting.
Overall I enjoyed my experience with the first 48 issues, and look forward to feeling terrible all over again with the next Compedium!
Better in the Comic
Andrea – Andrea is the closest thing to a traditional comic book superhero in the comics. She’s powerful, assertive, brave, and an utter badass in a fight. They royally fucked up with show-Andrea, with the only good decision being her ignominious death at the end of Season 3. Instead her traits were seemingly passed onto Sasha, Michonne, and Daryl.
Dale – Dale is the bedrock of the group, a calm, pragmatic voice. Something got lost in translation in the show, as he came off much more whiney and unlikable. Dale isn’t a particularly interesting character, but he’s nice to have around.
Tyreese – I had no idea Tyreese was supposed to be this cool. In the comic he’s an ex-NFL player. He’s an adonis with his own baggage to deal with, including the murder-suicide of his daughter. One of the coolest scenes in the comic is when he takes on an entire room of walkers by himself armed with a hammer, as a means of catharsis. He’s introduced way earlier in the comic and leaves a much better impression than the show, despite dying slightly earlier.
Prison Attack – The final assault on the prison is an explosive climax that ends several Volumes worth of build-up. It’s action-packed, exciting, and deadly for many of our characters. The show lengthened the assault over an awkward half season, including a dumb Governor-centric series of episodes.
Pacing – One of the biggest complaints about The Walking Dead show is pacing. Often the writers linger way too long at any one area as we deal with pointless little sub-plots – Hershel’s Farm in Season 2 being an obvious example. The comic is way better at pacing its massive ongoing storyline.
Lori’s Death – While Carl having to mercy kill his own mother in the show is some badass character development, having her and her newborn baby murdered right before Rick and Carl while fleeing the prison really puts the period on the whole damn escapade. An incredible moment of brutality and loss.
Better in the Show
Rick Grimes – So turns out that comic-Rick isn’t the brutal superhero leader he is in the show. He’s constantly bickering with others and full of self-doubt. Even as late as the prison he admits that he would kill everyone else just to keep Carl safe (which is probably true of the show too but, dude). Losing his hand fucks him up even further; he’s physically and mentally weakened and more than ever relies on helpful allies. Also, Andrew Lincoln is pretty awesome.
Carl – Having a kid in the comics versus the show is weird for one obvious reason – kids grow up! Carl is now a damn teen, so the show has to address that in ways the comic hasn’t (yet, anyway). Fortunately I think they’ve done a great job with his character development. He’s just angsty enough to be a teen without being annoying.
Carol – Comic-Carol is almost a throwaway character; an example of someone that never could adjust to the new world. Show-Carol is the opposite, someone that may have adjusted too much. Melissa McBride does an incredible job with someone that’s really become one of the most compelling characters on the show.
Michonne – In the opposite sense of Tyreese, I found that I didn’t like Michonne nearly as much as I do on the show. Comic-Michonne is a nifty wildcard, but also exceedingly dangerous to those around her. Her recklessness pretty much directly gets Tyreese captured and later killed. Hopefully she can become a more two-dimensional character in the future, but for now I’ll take Danai Gurira.
New Characters – By which I mostly mean Daryl, but Sasha’s been pretty great too. The show is surprisingly cavalier when it comes to completely inventing new characters that fit the show’s themes perfectly well. Can you imagine the show without Daryl? Well try the comic because he’s not there at all! Probably could’ve done without Beth, though.
Walker-Sophia – One of the single greatest moment’s in the show’s run happened in the mid-Season finale for Season 2, when Sophia came out of the barn as a Walker. A shocking moment for many reasons, and partly because Sophia still lives in the comic!