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!
Artist: Charlie Adlard
Issues: The Walking Dead #97-144
I did it. I finally caught up to The Walking Dead show. And quite a bit beyond with this third massive compendium of comics.
The Walking Dead: Compendium Three covers a major transition in the style and story-telling of the comic. The war with Negan is the culmination of several volumes worth of stories, providing a very satisfying conclusion.
But the series doesn’t end there. Instead we get a big two-year time jump for society to rebuild and deal with the more mundane problems that entails. Near the end of the compendium an exciting new threat emerges that threatens everything they’ve built. Overall it feels like a much different comic than the previous 96 issues.
Compendium Three starts off with Volume 17 “Something to Fear,” which kicks off the coming war with Negan and the Saviors. While traveling back from the Hilltop, Rick and company meet up with a biker gang claiming to be from a group called the Saviors.
We first heard about them from the Hilltop, and like the show, Rick’s group believe themselves to be the ultimate baddasses of the zombie apocalypse. They end up killing the group, but later when Abraham and Eugene are walking back from a supply run, Abraham is shot in the head by Dwight with a crossbow bolt. Then Dwight and some Saviors strides up to Alexandria’s gates and demands to be let in to discuss the new terms.
The show loses a lot of this dramatic inciting indecent by killing off Denise instead, Alexandria’s doctor and a minor character we were tricked into just starting to care about (the show loves doing that).
In the comic, Denise dies a bit later from a bite wound following a major attack by the Saviors. The Eugene biting Dwight’s dick moment still happens, but in the comics it’s right in front of the gates at Alexandria.
Dwight’s group is fought off mostly by Andrea sniping them from a nearby tower, and Dwight flees. After a funeral for Abraham, Glenn and Maggie decide they’d much rather live in the Hilltop. A sizable party of some of our main characters gather up in a van for the fateful trip that leads to their first encounter with Negan.
Up until then The Walking Dead had one half-way decent villain – The Governor. Even he was mostly one-dimensional and snuffed out relatively quickly.
Negan is another animal altogether. He’s boisterous, brash, and oddly charismatic. You can easily see how he runs a group through sheer force of will and male bravado. He’s also a bit unhinged and has no problem using horrible violence just to make a point.
In this case, he aims to even the score with Rick from all the men he’s lost. So he does the famous “eeny miney moe” scene, randomly choosing Glenn and killing the crap out of him with a barbed baseball bat he’s named Lucille. It’s an insanely violent moment for one of our most cherished characters – Glenn had the longest tenure outside Rick and Carl.
I’m impressed that the show went to painstaking lengths to recreate the level of violence that’s depicted in the comic. But splitting up the actual moment across a season finale and a new season premiere is ludicrous. I won’t rehash all the hot takes that were written when it happened, but I’m definitely not a fan of the way it broke up the tension and action of the moment.
While this was happening, the Saviors launch another attack on Alexandria, destroying much of their gate and entrance. Once again the Alexandrians were able to fight them off, and this time actually capture Dwight. There’s a tense moment between Rick, Andrea, and Michonne about what to do with him.
Ultimately Rick decides to release him, seemingly making a major choice to no longer kill people. It’s a character-defining moment that helps bring Rick out of his Dark Ages Ricktatorship and into becoming a leader of a real society.
On the surface Rick capitulates to the Saviors and agrees to give them half of their supplies. But – and this is a major difference from the show, he secretly begins to form a plan to overthrow them. The very last page of the Volume reveals that Rick has other plans, and we get excited despite their current predicament.
This is in stark contrast to how the show handled the first half of season seven, with our group getting their shit kicked in and seemingly taking it again and again as Negan walks all over them. We see Rick as a broken and defeated man, even after all he’s been through. It’s awful and frustrating as a viewer.
While The Walking Dead show terribly butchered the first half of its seventh season, the comic clipped along at an exciting pace. Nearly every issue leading up to and including the “All Out War” with the Saviors is fun, exciting, and harrowing. Dare I say it’s the peak of the series, which is impressive when you’ve crested into triple digit issues.
In Volume 18 “What Comes After,” Negan visits Alexandria to take their supplies. It’s an important pride-swallowing moment for Rick, who continues to plot – never a broken shell of a man as depicted in the show.
Carl stows away with the Saviors, opening fire when they arrive. He kills several Saviors but is captured. Instead of killing or torturing him, however, Negan takes a liking to him and shows him around. It’s a perfect way for us to dive into who Negan is and how the Saviors operate, and some nice character development for young teen Carl.
Later Jesus takes Rick to visit the Kingdom and meet Ezekiel. Ezekiel is a goofy character (with a pet tiger!) but soon becomes an important ally (and a drama-filled love interest for Michonne). More importantly, Dwight has had a change of heart and wants to overthrow Negan, giving everyone the edge they need to go to war.
In Volume 19 “March to War,” our three communities (Alexandria, Hilltop, Kingdom) begin to band together and formulate a plan. The action slows down a bit to allow for various new and old characters to interact. Andrea is still Rick’s right-hand woman, lover, and surrogate mother to Carl. Michonne is still a badass but socially awkward with everyone. Jesus and Ezekiel both become more major characters, and Carl really comes into his own.
Negan shows up to collect tribute again. This time a relatively minor character, Spencer, tries to do the slimy thing and overthrow Rick politically by appealing to Negan. It goes terribly wrong and Negan stabs him, which also served as the mid-season finale in the show.
This incident is what really triggers a full attack by Rick. He and Negan argue, then when Negan leaves Rick and a few characters race after them to attack (with Andrea sniping in the tower).
The impromptu assault goes badly for our team. While they appear to get the surprise attack off, Negan brought a lot of backup and soon they’re disarmed. Andrea is beaten within an inch of her life when one of the Saviors makes it to the tower with a knife – though she kills him in the end. Carl shoots at Negan, hitting Lucille.
In the end, they’re lined up just as they were before, on their knees, right in front of Alexandria.
This time however, Rick and Jesus’ team-building paid off. Jesus and Ezekiel arrive with backup (including a damn tiger) and manage to run the Saviors off. It’s an incredible moment full of action and tension. In the end, everyone looks to Rick to lead them to victory over the coming war.
The next two volumes cover the war with Negan, “All Out War.” It’s an incredibly satisfying narrative arc with loss, redemption, and explosions.
Rick decides they need to strike first, as the Saviors won’t be expecting it. They decide to fight a bit dirty, using a tactic he learned from when the Governor assaulted the prison – tear down the gates and let the zombies in.
For the last several volumes the zombies have mostly been relegated to the background as the threat of the Saviors becomes much more important. It’s interesting to see them actively weaponized in the first big strike of the war, as Rick leads a force right up to Negan’s HQ.
The flaw in the plan is that it relies on one person to sacrifice themselves by smashing in the gate with a vehicle. Rick was planning to do it himself. But Holly, the instigator of the love triangle between Abraham and Rosita, forcibly does it herself. She’s remained a minor character and without Abraham, doesn’t really have any further purpose in the narrative.
So it makes sense, but the moment loses its punch. Negan’s forces are beaten back inside but they still manage to overcome the horde and capture Holly. There’s a creepy scene where one of her captors attempts to rape her, only for Negan to show up and brutally kill the man. Negan may revel in violence but abhors sexual violence of any kind (and didn’t want anyone to hurt Carl either). Interesting villain, Negan.
Rick doesn’t waste time and begins assaulting Negan’s outposts, which was oddly used as the inciting incident for the show first dealing with the Saviors. Ezekiel leads a group but is beaten back when zombies enter the picture, and his tiger Shiva sacrifices herself so he can escape.
Aaron’s boyfriend Eric is killed in Rick’s assault, though they end up winning the day. As a side note, I enjoy seeing gay representation but too often it ends in tragedy for one or both parties. Thankfully Aaron continues being a solid character, though still a fairly minor one.
Negan mounts a swift counterattack by chucking grenades into Alexandria, creating a war-time bombing scenario that rattles our group. Negan thinks that Holly is Rick’s girlfriend, and tries to use her as leverage to force a surrender. Instead he pulls the old “hostage is really a zombie” trick, and zombie-Holly bites Denise, while Heath loses his leg to another grenade explosion.
It’s another insanely action-packed war-zone. Negan’s forces eventually pull back, leaving Rick and company to lick their wounds. Eugene is captured while out making bullets, but with Dwight’s help (and Negan’s doctor) they mount an escape. It’s a lot more exciting and involved than Jesus’ lame rescue of Daryl in the show. Though to be fair, Eugene’s capture just happened in the mid-season finale.
With Alexandria pretty much a smoking ruin, everyone moves to the Hilltop. Maggie has since punched out Gregory and his sniveling incompetence and assumed command, proving an excellent leader and a very satisfying character arc for her post-Glenn days. In fact she’s a way better character now than when she was Glenn’s whiny wife.
The Saviors assault the Hilltop in yet another huge action sequence. Once again the Saviors have the edge as Negan’s forces coat their weapons in zombie rot, giving them an extra 1d6 poison damage – er, infecting anyone hit by bats or bolts. Negan’s plan is for Dwight to shoot Rick in the fight, letting him die from the fever and destroying their group.
That plan has one flaw – Dwight is secretly working against Negan. In the previous fight he even killed a few of the Saviors while still maintaining his cover. He pretends to coat his crossbow bolts and when he shoots Rick Grimes in the battle Negan thinks they’ve already won.
Rick leads the Saviors all the way to the large house in the middle of the Hilltop, and has a backup force surround and attack the Saviors. Lots of red shirts die and the Hilltop is torn up, but Negan survives and they pull back yet again.
This time the Saviors camp outside the Hilltop, with Negan thinking that Rick is dying. Rick’s group figures out what’s going on with the zombie-infected wounds. Rick then strides out to have a one-one-one talk with a surprised Negan, and it’s glorious. Both characters lay it out on the table, with Rick explaining how they can make society work and proposing a truce. Negan even seems to agree in the end.
It’s a hell yeah moment that’s punctuated by a gruesome melee battle between the two men. Negan breaks Rick’s leg in the fight while he slowly bleeds out, and both leaders are left panting and barely conscious in the end, while Rick’s group rushes out and attacks.
Instead of helping or attacking, Dwight seizes the moment to take control of the Saviors, leaving Negan to Rick’s group and telling them to pull back. Rick is adamant that they patch up Negan so he can become a prisoner, instead of killing him. This is the final turning point in Rick’s personality, one that he tried to adopt before but couldn’t. It’s the first big step toward building a civilization.
The war ends. The three communities plus the Saviors join forces to work together. This is the point at which I think The Walking Dead show should end, because the next Volume “A New Beginning,” starts with a big two-year time jump.
Post-Negan comic is a much different beast. The war had lasted so long, with so much action and drama that things get relatively quiet for an entire Volume.
Rick is older and bearded, Alexandria and the Hilltop have been rebuilt, and older teenage Carl is off to apprentice with Hilltop’s Blacksmith. Negan sits in prison, holding interesting conversations with Rick. The groups have a system for patrolling their lands and pushing back or diverting walkers. Some more cool Jesus-like characters are introduced, like Siddiq and Dante.
It’s fun to see actual post-post-apocalyptic society starting to rebuild and come together. It feels like a natural evolution for the comic to take after all that has happened. But it’s also much, much different than anything they’ve done before.
The final two volumes of Compendium Three introduce a new threat – the Whisperers. They’re teased out as walkers who whisper and wield knives, but eventually they find out it’s a group of people that wear walker skins to blend in. They live like nomad super-hippies, preferring to camp in the wild and shunning every aspect of society – a perfect antithesis to what Rick and Maggie and the others are striving so hard to build.
Things get personal when the two sides come into conflict, and Jesus captures one of them. It ends up being a young teenage girl who falls in love with Carl. She admits that her group rapes her repeatedly, and that it’s just part of the more animalistic anti-society they follow.
Eventually they’re forced to return Lydia to her group as a prisoner exchange, but Carl secretly leaves to follow her. In these later post-Negan volumes Carl really comes into his own, getting more screen time than even Rick. It works surprisingly well.
Rick finds out about Carl and takes a group to go after him, while Ezekiel and some others go after them. It’s a tense situation, as the leader, Alpha (and Lydia’s mother) shows that they have hundreds if not thousands of captured walkers at their disposal, as well as having a large force themselves.
Things seem to go peacefully despite Rick’s obvious horror at what the Whisperers are. Alpha seems to relent and let Lydia go with them to give her a life she’s more suited for, but warns that they have to stay out of their territory.
Apparently the same clemency was not given to Ezekiels’s group. In the final pages of the Compendium it’s revealed that the Whisperers killed several characters, including Ezekiel, Olivia, and a pregnant Rosita, mounting their heads on spikes at the edge of their territory. Oh snap!
Had the Compendium ended after the war with Negan, I would have found it a satisfying conclusion to an incredible arc and what could pass as a happy ending for the 120+ issue comic. But it included another three volumes that took the comic in a new, yet interesting direction.
Negan and the Saviors really upped the game in terms of antagonists for our group, and now with their city-state society up and running, nothing less than another large large group of people would pose a threat. The Whisperers are an exciting new threat, and I’m very interested to see how these forces clash.
Normally I end these Final Thoughts with a comparison between the comic and the show, but so far (halfway through season seven) the show only accounts for about halfway through Volume 18, which is relatively early in this Compendium.
Suffice to say that at this point the comic is just better in every way than the show. You can read more about my thoughts on the show in this piece I wrote for Polygon.
I do look forward to reading more of the comic. But considering I’ve read 144 issues in a few months, I think I’ll take a break from The Walking Dead for awhile – maybe even wait for the inevitable next giant Compendium to jump back in. In the mean time, here’s to hoping the show can turn things around.