A fine issue, though a little lacking in new development.
Michonne leads a team far outside of the safe zone, Maggie leads the survivors in the reconstruction of the Hill Top, Negan leads Dante on a revelatory excursion into his personal history and Rick…uh…proves to be a pretty good dude.
Every so often in The Walking Dead, Kirkman finds a way to create a one-issue story structure that feels like a college assignment. I don’t mean that to sound negative – I actually think it’s an interesting way to keep a long running series (particularly one that has had the same creative team throughout) fresh and unique. In this issue, the exercise appears to be in duality, because each of the six or so storylines is an inverted version of another. The Michonne/Eugene journey corresponds with Maggie’ trek to the Hilltop. Dwight’s alienating conversation with Laura is juxtaposed with Rick’s touching moment with Mikey. Dante observing Negan from afar reveals a bit about the mental and emotional state of the character, sort of like Jesus admitting his feelings to Aaron. It’s not always 1:1 mind you, but it’s a cool little trick that I think really works for the narrative of the issue.
The juxtaposition is most pronounced in the journeys being led by Michonne and Maggie, respectively – right down to both groups meeting up with helpful stragglers along the way. Michonne’s crew certainly has the most interesting adventure ahead of them, as their efforts to meet with Eugene’s mysterious CB girlfriend will certainly provide the most action. In this issue “action” takes on a couple of different meanings, as not only does the party get attacked by walkers in the open (everyone survives) but we see what is (to my recollection) the comic series’ first lesbian relationship expressed physically. Do I think it makes Magna and Yumiko more interesting as characters? I dunno, maybe? They’re still redshirts who probably won’t both survive the journey by the time they return to Alexandria. Similarly, the revelation that Siddiq had some sort of relationship with Rosita while she was still with Eugene doesn’t do much for me. Is the implication that he was the one who got her pregnant? If so, it’s sort of an empty revelation as Eugene already came to terms with that a million years ago. Yeah he looks pissed at the reveal, but I just don’t see this going anywhere.
Meanwhile, the mounting hostilities between Rick and Dwight are in a strange holding pattern. I know Dwight is a very crafty, military minded individual so being able to stay low key enough to avoid tipping off Jesus (who had been tailing Dwight at Rick’s behest) doesn’t seem too odd. It, like Siddiq’s revelation and Dante’s spotting of Negan’s emotional breakdown at the grave of Lucille, feels like it’s sort of middling. Each of these revelations would potentially be groundbreaking or exciting if we as the audience weren’t already in on the “shock” element. Maybe something will come of these – Dwight may attack Rick, or Negan may sway Dante to understand his recent emergence as a reasonable, if still somewhat unhinged, ally – but for now, their respective reveals don’t hold the weight Kirkman may have imagined.
One interesting thing to come out of this issue, however, is the discovery that urban centers may no longer be the wall-to-wall zombie party they were at the onset of the disease. Our heroes move into an urban center on their journey only to find the whole thing devoid of life…er…the undead. It makes some sense that, with an exhausted food supply, animals will abandon their familiar hunting grounds for greener pastures. You have to assume zombies, whose only drive is to eat, would follow a similar pattern.
As usual, Adlard’s art is consistent – though there are a few questionable images in the book. Why were the walkers that Negan puts down naked? Admittedly, context would be in short supply during a zombie apocalypse, but it’s strange all the same. Then there’s the final page, which has both a questionable depiction of a remorseful Siddiq (complete with a newly missing tooth) and a similarly regrettable panel of an irate Eugene. It should be said, however, his rendition of a city (which I’m sure people will be able to identify from source image) is fantastic, and a real accomplishment in landscape artwork. I can look past a few iffy panels for work like this. It kind of feels like a shame that Charlie Adlard doesn’t get to render cityscapes more often, but I digress.
This is a good issue that could have easily gone awry. The story beats are all a little familiar and very much in the “middle” stage of development, making even the emotional beats of Rick, Negan and Eugene’s stories a little less resonant. It’ll be a fine addition to a longer trade, but until we get to the fireworks factory (read: the mysterious Ohio settlement), we’re stuck in the midground.