CATCHING UP TO THE WALKING DEAD
I've made no secret of the fact that the birth of my daughter deeply impacted my comics reading routine, both due to time and money. As she turns two (!) this week, I'm still playing catch up. Take, for example, "The Walking Dead."
I was shocked when I realized recently that I had fallen behind on my reading of "The Walking Dead" by exactly four trade paperbacks. I haven't read an issue of the series since my daughter was born, in other words. And you know what I've found? Being a father makes reading "The Walking Dead" a much more gut-wrenching experience. It's almost uncomfortable at times. "Children in Danger" stories are usually cheap dramatic bits in prime time network hospital and police dramas. In "The Walking Dead," they're punches to the gut. You can't help but think how you'd react if that was your child inserted in that storyline, and then you have to learn to push that aside for your own sanity's sake.
But putting aside that specific occasional discomfort, "The Walking Dead" has lost none of its ability to entertain and thrill since its first issue. Even with the major cast shake-up in and around the 50th issue, "The Walking Dead" feels right. It's Rick and his son versus the world, a true father and son tale now, seen from the angle of a man whose confidence has been shaken. Even better, we get more examples of how the zombie plague has affected everyday people. We see Robert Kirkman peer into the psychology a little more, complete with visual cues, such as Rick's phone. Some call that phone a telecommunications device; others now call it a literary device.
Then, just when things might get a little ponderous or too heady, Kirkman switches gears and the zombies attack. It's a great shift for him, as we discover a way to look at the Zombies from a different perspective, and maybe a little bit about how we've always thought of them might be wrong. It makes the zombies creepy again, all while giving us an epic chase scene.
Amidst all that, we learn once again how the zombie plague takes its toll on humanity and how it hurts people, particularly in the tenth volume when Rick and Abraham have their little heart to read outside the car. Kirkman doesn't flinch from despicable violence, nor does he ignore their consequences. It's a real strength of the series, in fact, that the actions in it do have consequences, and that they do accumulate over time.
I still have two more trades to read to get caught up, by which time the Kirkman Comics Factory will probably be cranking out another one. But I can see the plot threads that he's setting up, and the tension is very nearly palpable. It's a lot of fun to guess where things might go next, and it's even more fun when Kirkman runs the other way on us.
Then, I can play a similar game of catchup with "Invincible." Comics: The Fun Never Ends.
One last thing: Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn do a hell of a job on "The Walking Dead," but too often get left out of the commentary on the series. Adlard has been the rock that's centered the series since very early on. I can't imagine this book without him anymore. While Tony Moore may have been the one to initially co-create and design the series, it's tough to look at those early issues now and not compare them to what Adlard's done. Adlard isn't too fancy and doesn't resort to many gimmicks or storytelling tricks. He's a straight-ahead comics artist, getting out of the way of the story, while keeping things consistent. He has a large and diverse cast of "normal people," and keeping them from looking too much alike panel after panel is a daunting task to many artists.
The other interesting thing to keep a lookout for is Adlard's sense of detail, texture and mood. He is his own inker, and I have to think that helps this all out. He's able to draw texture when a scene calls for it, and leave it out when stark simplicity is what will help drive the story. He has a great eye for the placement of blacks, giving each page a solid weight in black ink and using those spaces to pop the characters off the page, or to just isolate them. And his two page splashes are wonderful. They're not awe-inspiring works of art crammed full of detail with a strong perspective and explosive action. They serve the story, whether it's the plot of it, or the mood. The strong silhouette on the two horses approaching the reader across two pages is technically well done. The spread of Rick's son holding him as he ails is memorable. The spread of zombies walking around town is eerie and sets the stage for what's to come.
It's smart stuff, and work that's so good that it doesn't draw attention to itself. I'm a big fan.
Cliff Rathburn adds a dimension and a mood to the series that goes beyond his simple credit of "gray tones." I like gray washes and wish we saw more of them, even in color comics. Look how well Tim Sale used them in his Marvel "color" projects. (Hey, it's been a while since I've seen anyone mention "Captain America: White" on the internet. You're slacking, folks!) In a black and white comic like this, Rathburn's work helps clarify and add dimension to the artwork. I'm pretty sure Adlard has come to expect it, and even anticipate it when he draws. It's particularly effective in drawing grim zombies, but works remarkably well even in simple talking heads scenes. I don't think there's a monthly Marvel or DC book that use them right now. I think it would be a great way to distinguish one of their offerings. Maybe someone should give it a shot.
While we're at it, can we try sideways comics again? I know we're really just entering into the world of 90s nostalgia now, but can we move up 2000s nostalgia for the sake of Marvelscope's return?
Since I'm going name by name on the inside front cover this week, I'd be remiss not to mention letterer Rus Wooton. He's kept the style and look of Kirkman's original lettering on the series, and made it work all along. Kirkman's lettering was always very John Workman-esque. Wooton cleaned it up just a bit and made it flow even better and he hasn't missed an issue in ever.
This is the first time I've read the series in collected form. It's a different experience than the month to month serialization, but it holds up well as a different reading experience. It becomes less of a serial, complete with cliffhanger every month, to more of an extended story with ups and downs. You can pick out the issue endings if you want to, but I know I got so sucked into the story that I flew right past a couple of them without even thinking. That's a good sign.
So, yeah, I'm still 15 or more issues out, but I'll be catching up very fast. And with the exciting news that the series is now digital day-and-date, I may decide never to be left back again. Buying "The Walking Dead" monthly online would be a great way to support the cause.
TRADE REQUESTS OF 2001
As I slowly thin out my longboxes of single issues a bit in favor of hardcover and paperback collections, I wonder if I'm not just trading one devil for another. Aren't bookcases lining limited wall space more space-intensive than longboxes pushed into stacks in a closet?
But the collected edition makes more economic sense for many readers, and opens up the bookstore market to comics as a whole, so it's all good.
This is a topic we've discussed for a long time in Pipeline. I found something recently that I thought would be fun to revisit. Back on October 12, 2001, I answered a question from a Pipeline reader who wanted to know what trade paperbacks I'd like to see. Prepare to see how times change.
I started by recommending three John Byrne titles: "Superman," "She-Hulk," and "Namor." So far, the "Superman" issues are the only ones to be collected. I've done Pipeline Retros on "Namor" and "She-Hulk" so far. I wasn't reading "Superman" or any comics at the time Byrne revamped the Man of Steel, so I can't really Retro those issues, but I do have the first couple of trade paperbacks in that series. It might be interesting to reread those now, particularly in light of the changes Superman has gone through since: Death, Electric, Pedometer Junkie.
I wanted to see more trades of the classic Fabian Nicieza/Mark Bagley "New Warriors" series. Marvel has put together two of those now, as I recall, but there's a long way to go just in the Bagley era of that series, let alone the follow-up Darick Robertson era. Both runs are worth reads.
We still don't have Todd McFarlane's "Infinity Inc.," which is a real shame. Given the popularity of the JSA these days, you'd think a book like "Infinity, Inc." might have some interest. If nothing else, it would give DC a rare opportunity to profit from McFarlane's work. They promoted his name when they reprinted the "Invasion" trade last year after all. Time for a sequel!
Slightly off-topic, I'm very excited for December's "The Art of Todd McFarlane" hardcover book, which was announced last week. It promises to show art from all phases of McFarlane's career. Will we see "G.I. Joe" pages? "Hulk?" "Spider-Man?" "Infinity Inc.?" I'm a little fuzzy on the copyright issues, but don't you need to get permission from the original publishers before doing an art book like this that includes their art? And didn't McFarlane refuse to allow his Spider-Man cover to be reprinted in a HERO charity art book because he didn't want to have his name attached to a Marvel property? He's doing it now because, what, it's his own book? Will Marvel let him?
There are Fair Use rules, but a self-published art book would seem to be pushing the outer limit for those laws. If McFarlane could get someone to write a journalistic essay about his art style in those Spider-Man days, then perhaps Fair Use might be applied.
Or maybe the whole book will be cancelled before December. We'll see. I'll keep my fingers crossed that there are contracts in place and everything's on the up and up.
Back to the trades:
Lots of fondly-remembered runs of series that I asked for nine years ago have now seen print: Alan Davis' "Excalibur" run, Keith Giffen-era "Justice League," "The Complete Tellos?" Check, check and check.
John Ostrander's 1980s "Suicide Squad?" Any day now...
Mark Gruenwald and Ron Lim's "Captain America" is still un-reprinted. Maybe the "Captain America" movie can push that along? Given all the "Thor" books Marvel is pushing out the door these days, there might be a slim glimmer of hope for the Lim-era issues.
"The Complete Peter David 'Hulk'?" Maybe not complete, but an awful lot of "Visionaries" trades have pulled together much of the run so far, through the Dale Keown years.
Sam Kieth's "Maxx" finally made it out in recent years.
Still no "Young Heroes In Love," "Savant Garde" or "Boris the Bear," though. I'm not holding my breath waiting for those today, either. I think YHIL has the best chance, since it's the kind of property that could easily be picked up by Hollywood for an Adult Swim show or something.
"The Atlantis Chronicles" will never be collected, will they? Does anyone care anymore? Has that one left the collected internet memory? It was a strong wish 10 or 15 years ago, but I haven't heard its name whispered in ages.
Let me add in one more miniseries that I'm somewhat surprised Marvel hasn't reprinted recently: Barb Kesel and Leonard Kirk's "Ultra Girl." After she appeared in Dan Slott's "The Initiative," I thought she'd prove popular enough to warrant a reprint. Oh, well.
In the end, this is a small subsection of highly requested trades. There are some no brainers on the list, but most have been published by now. Since I wrote that column, there's been a whole generation of comics "written for the trade," and the predominant business models work a collection into themselves. They're not bonuses or rarities or only for the exceptional. They're everywhere now, and it's still a little surprising to see some titles not make it, ones with legal issues notwithstanding.
Maybe we'll have better luck with some of the unpublished trades in a few years, just about the time the Direct Market collapses and we're all reading on laptops or tablet computers.
And in a few years, I'll be throwing up massive amounts of trades on eBay to clear the shelves for new books. Oh, wait, I'm doing that already...
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