As much as has happened in “The Walking Dead” in recent issues, there’s been a feeling that everything is still building. It's not that things have stalled out, but that the big surprise “gotcha” moment still lies ahead. With the one hundredth issue around the corner, the feeling might have been that Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard were saving something big up for then.
They very well might be, but "The Walking Dead" #98 delivers a surprise arrow to the head in fairly quick order, raising the pulse of the comic’s pace and reminding the reader never to be lulled into any sense of security. Kirkman is still willing to make drastic changes in the book, including killing off popular members of his ensemble cast without any warning. This isn’t one of those noble deaths that writers like to give their characters. This feels more “real” in is unexpectedness.
And then the book makes you squirm.
“The Walking Dead” #98 is a great issue of the series, starting off with a character-centric discussion before kicking into gear and moving the book into the direction we all knew was coming and probably feared. Rick and the gang take up arms and rev up their defenses, while an unexpected action hero takes the situation by his teeth and -- well, ouch.
Beyond all the action bits, though, it pushes Rick to a new breaking point. He has a fresh batch of urgent decisions to make now, and those will no doubt determine the fates for many in the upcoming months. To paraphrase the kids these days: Stuff's getting real.
Adlard's work maintains its high level of quality, as it has for over 90 continuous issues now. He draws regular people without them looking stiff or posed. He draws action without over-exaggeration to a comical degree and keeps the reader's eye where it needs to go without resorting to confusing close-ups. At first blush, his art might look "plain" to some, but reading it over the long haul like this shows how perfect it is for a series like "The Walking Dead." The use of splash pages and larger panels punctuate the big moments in a smart way, while the wide panel series lend the story a cinematic quality that is appropriate given the popularity of the series in other media.
"The Walking Dead" #100 is only two issues away, but its creators aren't coasting on their way there. The snowball, instead, is building up as it rolls down the hill. This issue is another successful installment in getting the series to that marker without wasting a page or stalling. It's a step along the way and not the end point, but it's still gripping reading for series fans.