With Alpha’s death, it’s all out war between Rick’s alliance of territories and the Whisperers. Can the survivors outlast this ghoulish army comprised of both the living and the dead? With Dwight’s militia overwhelmed, can Michonne and Jesus help turn the tide? Negan seems to have turned a corner, but can he be trusted to be reunited with Lucille?
The Walking Dead Vol.27 “The Whisperer War” (Image Comics)
If there’s one thing you can say about The Walking Dead it’s that it’s consistent. Since 2003, Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard have produced around 160 issues together and the book has remained largely the same throughout. Oh there have certainly been changes to the plot, the cast and threat level faced by our heroes, but the tone, pacing and artwork have all more or less remained the same since people stopped listening to Sean Paul. As such, the only thing you miss as a lapsed reader is a bit of context from time to time.
If you’ve been away for a while, let’s catch you up with what you need to know coming into Volume 27. Two years after the defeat of Negan and his forces, Rick has established a peaceful agrarian society across several communities including Alexandria, the Hilltop, The Kingdom, The Saviors and more. Yet their dreams of expansion have forced a conflict with a nomadic group of skin-wearing weirdos that actually live amongst the walkers, the Whisperers. Wearing the pelts of the dead isn’t their only savage quality, as they have an entirely too lenient sexual assault policy. Now, after Negan escaped from captivity in the previous arc he found his way to this murderous tribe and attempted to join. After rescuing a female Whisperer from being raped, he is brought before the group’s leader, Alpha to explain himself. Negan, realizing the Whisperers are entirely too insane to deal with, murders Alpha and absconds with her head.
Obviously there’s a lot more to it than that, but this is a review not a recap and MAN would it take a while to explain all of the pertinent backstory. This arc follows the inevitable conflict between the two factions, and while there is a ton of action, it’s really only the tip of the iceberg. What’s labeled a war in the title is really more of a major battle, and while there’s not an insignificant amount of lives lost, the only named character to die is Father Gabriel, which – even for those of us who have kept up with the storyline – is a touch underwhelming. He does get it pretty nasty though.
Charlie Adlard’s art remains unchanged, and while I preferred the initial work from Tony Moore, I’ve long since made peace with the switch and view Adlard as an integral part of the series. That being said, this book did showcase the one area where Adlard’s skills leave a bit to be desired – fire. Don’t get me wrong, it’s perfectly serviceable, but take a look at the sequence late in the book where (spoiler alert) the Hilltop is set ablaze. The characters are their usual crisp and clear selves, the action and gore is all wonderfully rendered in Adlard’s trademark style and then the flaming arrows set the main house afire and it’s just an amorphous zig zag of white in an otherwise dark field. I don’t usually feel this way about the Walking Dead, but this feels like the sort of thing the could be addressed by a colorist.
The writing is pretty typical Kirkman, which is to say good if a little familiar. We get no fewer than three of the same “s--t’s f----d up but that’s life” speeches that have become so commonplace over the years. The trope of a ‘nobody’ character coming to the forefront and deciding to fight (the aforementioned Father Gabriel) is represented, as is the start of a fan-friendly relationship (in this case between Aaron and Jesus) that is almost certain to end in disaster.
That being said, this is a big story for the development of Negan as a character we can all root for. Beginning the good will tour that started in the previous arc, this storyline sees the man who killed Glenn Rhee continue to establish himself as someone actually working for the good of the community – albeit in his own underhanded and somewhat evil way. Not only did this man, who lets not forget was Rick’s prisoner for the past several years, take it upon himself to literally cut off the head of the enemy and return to his former enemy’s camp, he continued to jump through hoops to regain the trust of his former subordinate Dwight. I don’t think he truly earned his way back into the scarred man’s good graces, but the fact that Dwight returned Lucille is a big step. Funny enough, it is that reunion with his favorite instrument of murder that provides the most telling character development for the character. Negan’s elation and excitement to once again be swinging that bat around is infectious – and when (Another spoiler alert) the bat actually breaks during his battle with Beta, his sense of loss is palpable. He even uses its loss as a means of working past his grief over the death of his wife.
“The Whisperer War” is a decent second act of a much grander story. It has all the mayhem and violence you’ve come to expect from The Walking Dead, a bit of character development for a character that is arguably the 4th lead of the series, and ends on a crazy cliffhanger that will definitely spark interest in the next arc. Series regulars may find the book a little familiar, but that’s not entirely bad. The looming denouement in the next arc will be something to see, but it wouldn’t be as satisfying without the steady build of this book.