Review – The Walking Dead #125 (image/skybound, 2014)

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As the cover (probably the best one of the whole arc, suitably dramatic and keeping with the tone of the plot in 125) spells out, we are now at Chapter 11 of 12. All Out War is finally reaching its conclusion, and although 125 gives some big hints at the endgame, there is still a lot of uncertainty about the outcome, and who is going to survive this major storyline.

What I do know is that issue 125 was probably the best of 11 issues so far devoted to the war between Negan & Rick. A sense of mortality hangs over the whole issue, a dread and quiet terror, as we see one character succumb to the effects of the ‘bio-weapons’ used by The Saviors over the last couple of issues, and as the major characters acknowledge that this war now has to end. It is the knowledge that not all of them will likely make it out alive that infuses the pages with a sadness that The Walking Dead can do so well.

While on the subject of mortality, if Negan is to go (and there is nothing definitive to suggest what his fate is) then at least Kirkman has given him another issue where he is suitably engaging – the star of the show in this issue. Although at times in the past few months he has been supremely irritating, issue 125 yet again shows that the villain of the piece is more rounded and has more personality than his early appearances in the comic ever hinted at. In fact, I think if he does go, I am going to quite miss him. Take for example, an exchange between Dwight and Negan at the start of the issue, which follows on from #124 where Negan’s wish to piss all over the dead body of Rick Grimes is called into question. In a neat 4 panel opening, the exchange between these 2 characters is some of the best dialogue in months. Negan shows his astuteness by acknowledging that Dwight has disdain for him and have a ‘history’ (some understatement). He then goes on to argue that it would be ‘weird’ if he didn’t have the urge to defile the corpse of his enemy after all the trouble and inconvenience he has caused. It almost convinced me. But the killer line, and the one that shows that most of the time Negan (and Kirkman) have their tongues firmly in their cheeks, is the one that ends the conversation, as Negan wishes he was there watching Rick’s painful death, and;

‘Little Carl….crying his exposed eye socket out…’

It’s all about the timing in comedy. And that was great timing.

There are a few other moments that seem peripheral but are most likely vital to the events in issue 126. One of those is Rick getting Michonne, Ezekiel, Paul Monroe and a few others into place away from the Hilltop, and the other is the arrival of Eugene with a vehicle full of ammunition. But issue 125 is all about one thing really. The confrontation between Rick and Negan. 

There have, of course, been several Rick/Negan scenes since the former’s introduction in issue 100. This one felt different from the start. It felt like there was almost a hush as Rick emerges, and everyone else fades into the periphery as these 2 protagonists square up. What happens next is a tense game of cat and mouse that also manages to pull this arc back into the ‘Larger World’ storyline that was established before the arrival of The Saviors.

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As Rick puts forward his vision of the future – a future that involves co-operation, a barter-type economy and essentially rebuilding civilization – Negan is prepared to listen. This is all happening on the surface. The feeling I got as I read through these panels was that this was a game of who-blinks-first. I was convinced that Negan – although seemingly having a realisation that Ricks way of thinking could be the correct way forward – was actually playing along and was about to swing at Rick with ‘Lucille’ at any moment. Especially when I got to that full page of Negan, eyes wide with surprise, only a single ‘Fuck’ passing his lips. That was when i figured I would turn the page and see Rick getting clobbered.

But no. What happens pretty soon after is not an end to All Out War, but the beginning of the end. As Negan picks up on the ideas that his enemy has been espousing, and starts to run with them, we get a final full page of Rick, (a possibly infected) knife in hand, having just cut Negan. He simply replies ‘Good’ to Negans previous affirmation that he is beginning to see things Ricks way.

What that final page cliffhanger provides is plenty of talking points until we hit the final chapter of this arc in 2 weeks time;

 

Is the Knife that Rick used infected? Is the picture of Negan on the cover of #126 one of him pleading to be killed before he turns? And who is going to be doing the honours and wielding Lucille? Maggie? Dwight? Carl?

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How will the Saviors react to Ricks attack on their Leader? Will he die along with his enemy on the field of battle?

Rick promised Negan way back in issue 100 that he would revenge Glenn’s death - ‘not today, not tomorrow…but i will kill you’. So has the desire for revenge blinded Rick to the danger that he is now in? Is the next issue the end for Rick Grimes? (I have to say it is unlikely but it’s a game I like to play along wtih, the game where Kirkman wants you to believe that Rick Grimes is about to DIE).

 

Notes

The exchange between Carl and Mikey (the boy who has just lost his Dad, Nicholas, to an infected knife wound) was powerful stuff, Carl giving a couple of lines of hard earned wisdom that really choked me up. I love it when Kirkman uses his words economically, they can carry so much more power.

With Michonne, Paul, Ezekiel and a few other trusted hands outside of the Hilltop, ready to attack The Saviors, does this mean we are likely to see some of these characters not make it past issue 126? Or are they (and their potential ambush of The Saviors) the key to Rick staying alive next issue?

Is it just me, or wasn’t this issue supposed to have more pages than usual? Or is that next issue?

 

 

 

Cover for The Walking Dead 128 (image / Skybound, 2014)

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A few things to note;

1) Looks like Gaudiano is staying with the creative team – good news as his inks really bring out Adlard’s artwork.

2) Good to see we are sticking with the classic single image covers (also see issue 127)

3) Is it just me – but does the woman on the cover bear a strong resemblance to Lauren Cohan (aka Maggie Greene in The Walking Dead TV show??)

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4) So does that mean we are seeing characters from the TV show in the comicbook now (even though Lauren Cohan’s character is already in the comicbook???)

5) It is a great cover!

Review – The Walking Dead 123 (image / Skybound, 2014)

Spoilers from here on.

First off, let us get the nasty colour-scheme cover out the way – and why is Ezekiel in the middle pinned in by 2 perspectives of the pivotal scene of the issue? Ezekiel is around for a negligible amount of panels in issue 123. So why does he get star billing??

 

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Anyhow –  here we are, issue 123! ‘Chapter’ 9 of 12! Or, if you prefer (as I do) part 9 of 12! Almost there (I say it through gritted teeth). If I had to summarise this issue in one breathless line without punctuation, then it would go a little something like this…..issue 123 drags and drags with the usual talking and emoting until we get to the bit where Negan swears and then the fighting starts and that’s all a bit confusing until suddenly Negan has an opportunity to kill Rick but he hands that golden opportunity to Dwight who shoots Rick with a potentially zombie infected bolt. 

So what’s wrong with the issue? In my opinion it is insubstantial. Nothing really grabs the attention, not even the fighting (which to be honest I am sick of now – countless skirmishes and raids on the other sides fortresses / compounds / communities). Just get it over with now. The rest is talk. Talk about feelings. Talk about loss. Then Rick talks optimistically. There is a small few panels about Carl and Sophia meeting up again that doesn’t work out too well for Carl but that was pretty interesting for me as a reader. The rest isn’t as good. It just riffs on stuff that has been covered before (talking about feelings, talking about loss etc). And then there is some pages of Negan swearing / shouting / swearing and shouting over the top of a wall wanting to speak to Rick. Sound familiar? Damn right. That is because you have seen it several times over the last few issues.

The battle scenes are confusing. Most of the time Adlard frames fighting really well. Not this time. This layout felt confusing. I had no idea how Negan and Dwight managed to get behind Rick. It didn’t seem to make much sense – how could Rick be that dumb to not have people watching his back? But it is all for a reason. That reason is to provide the big talking point. Rick gets injured. Rick might die. Sound familiar? That is because you have seen it several times over the last 123 issues. And as usual, it is not clear cut. It is a tease. Not for Rick the clean cut death of Abraham Ford. Oh no, with Rick Grimes there is always the ‘but’, always the ‘maybe’. Maybe Dwight, who fired the fateful shot, didn’t infect his bolts (or some of them) with the dead. But maybe he did and his posturing of being a double-agent on Ricks side was nothing more than a bluff. Kirkman wants you to carry on reading so these things are engineered to make you want to buy and read issue 124. But maybe the outcome for Rick will not be known for 2 or 3 issues, as we have not yet reached the culmination of this drawn out All Out War.

I think I am about All Out of patience with it (this arc, this ‘War’). It is not working for me when I had really high hopes that this could carry on at a high tempo consistently throughout the arc, 12 issues is just too long. And the ‘is Rick dead?’ plot device has been literally done to death. It has lost its shock value because it’s a death by a thousand cuts, a long drawn out death stretched over 123 issues and can someone now put Rick Grimes out of his misery? And Carl, and most of the others (I would personally like some such as Michonne and ‘Jesus’ to be saved as they still have characters worth exploring). Maybe Kirkman has gotten tired of these characters too and maybe – just maybe – the fallout from All Out War is a whole new cast. That could be the positive to come out of this arc.

 

 

 

 

 

Misfits (Spears Games, 1970′s)

Misfits was a game that flits around the edges of my memories of visits to relatives, rainy playtimes at primary school when you couldn’t play outside, and a Biennial Christmas surprise (along with the Tufty Road Safety Game). There always seemed to be one of these boxes lying around somewhere in the vicinity;

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First produced by Spears Games in 1964, it is a card game where the purpose is to try and make a person from the 60 different cards depicting hats, faces, bodies and 2 separate legs. That last bit is important, because it doesn’t matter how much you mix and match the varied characters hats, heads and bodies, but to win the game you have to be in possession of the most completed characters AND must ensure that the legs match.

Based on information from the excellent boardgamegeek site, I now know that the game is based on a traditional English game. I also now know that the evocative and amusing drawings of the various characters were provided by some truly great British comic artists, such as Leo Baxendale (creator of The Bash Street kids and Minnie the Minx) and David Law, who drew early Dennis the Menace, created Gnasher as his pet, and then went on to produce Beryl the Peril (basically a female version of Dennis).

The characters are bizarre, amusing and most would not be even dared considered today. So let us take a look at some of the faces;

Baby!

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Scotsman!

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Pirate!

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Spaceman! (He was always my favourite!)

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(all head cards come courtesy of http://www.pointlessmuseum.com/museum/misfitsindex.php)

And here are some of the combinations you can make with the full quota of characters (others include businessman, a minstrel, circus ringmaster, a clown, an old man, policeman, monkey and hawaiian lady);

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The reason I got reminded of this wonderful little game (and thus produced this post) was this advert from 1979;

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which I stumbled upon at the wonderful, wonderful flickr site here;

http://www.flickr.com/photos/combomphotos/sets/72157623369355141/detail/

 

 

 

 

Review – The Walking Dead #122 (image/skybound, 2014)

This review contains SPOILERS. Events in issue 122 are described in this post.

 

Only 4 issues to go until the end of ‘All Out War’. Never having fought in a war myself, I can only speculate, but reading this series of comics over the last few weeks is what I imagine it’s like when both sides are waiting to see who blinks first. A war of attrition, in other words. It’s been exhausting, waiting for things to really kick off. We are not there yet, but maybe in this issue the plot points are moved into position for the final battle. With 4 issues to go, and the rather drawn-out (languid would be a wrong word to use, but it almost feels that way) pace so far, I can only assume that what Negan has in mind with his ‘space-aged zombie bacteria’ weapons is the beginning of the endgame.

But let us take a step back from Negan, because being around him for more than a page is pretty exhausting in its own right, and besides, the big lug with the potty-mouth is only one of a cast of…tens in this issue, as it skitters from (deep breath…) Eugene & Dwight (plus an eavesdropper, Carson the Savior), to Maggie & Brianna, Rick & Andrea, Heath & Dr. Carson (not Carson the Savior but Dr. Carson), Rosita and Olivia, Ezekiel & Michonne  and Jesus & ‘Alex’. Oh, and Rick and Earl Sutton, who is going to fashion ‘the Leader’ some sort of replacement hand in return for Rick making him a pack-up for lunch everyday. Maybe something with a Swiss Army-style arrangement of kitchen utensils affixed to the stump?

As illustrated above, there is a lot of character interaction packed in in issue 122. How much of it moved the story on in its ‘All Out War’ context is debatable. So we know that Heath has a bigger stump to trump Rick now (of which more later) and that Dr.Cloyd did a damn good job of saving Heath’s life (but not his leg) before succumbing to her injuries. We also now know that Paul Monroe aka Jesus may be in a relationship, and that he is Gay or Bisexual. And that Rosita’s conversation with Olivia did absolutely nothing to advance the story, other than remind us of 2 things; (1) – that Eugene is in the hands of Negan (which was established at the start), and (2) – that despite being in the comic series for over 5 years and 4 years respectively, I have no idea who Rosita or Olivia are, and have little connection with them. 

Field Marshall Rick, now with everyone back at Hilltop (as Maggie has brought the Ezekiels survivors back into the fold) has a plan to have non-combatants and some fighters moved out to a ‘staging ground’. This would serve as an evacuation point if and when the shit hits the fan at Hilltop. But he needs at least a day to get that sorted. Cut to Negan and his biological weapons overlooking the Hilltop….’We attack at Sundown’….

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

In summary, the Negan biological weapons shenanigans are great. The final pages where Rick has clearly run out of time is also good stuff, really setting up the battle ahead. The rest — is all a bit…pfft. This arc needs to start showing the needless slaughter and devastation (and ACTION!!!) of combat and war to earn its hype. As it stands, we are two thirds of the way through this, and something special needs to happen in the last third to justify a 12 issue arc to tell a 6 issue story.

 

Notes

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Why did they place Heath on the cover in full on straddling mode when he lost one of those legs a couple of issues back?

Still on the subject of covers, it is good to see that the current ‘cinematic’ (or even ‘pen and pixel’) inspired covers for this arc will be replaced by the more traditional cover format from issue 127 onwards. Here is the first one of that new batch, and it is a beauty from Charlie Adlard and a reminder why The Walking Dead has some of the last 10 years best comic cover art;

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