Book Reviewed: The Walking Dead: Book One, by Robert Kirkman. Illustrated by Tony Moore, Charlie Adlard, and Cliff Rathburn
A couple years ago, it was rumored that the cable channel AMC was developing a TV show based on Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead graphic novel series. I'd never read the books and had only a passing knowledge of them, but I was excited for one simple reason: Zombies! You all know how much I loooove zombie stories. This TV show was going to put together two of my favorite things: the living dead and long-range television narratives. I was excited.
Well, my nerdery is finally coming to fruition because The Walking Dead premieres on AMC on Halloween night. I am literally counting down the days, I'm so flippin' excited! In order to pass the time until then, I decided to tackle the original graphic novel series. My library has the complete collection, so I put a hold on a copy of every volume. I didn't expect to be sending them all back so soon. Unfortunately, it wasn't because I read them all so quickly. It's because I decided not to continue after the first book (which is a compilation of the first twelve issues, or the first two volumes, depending on how you're digesting these).
I really liked what I got in Book One of the series, particularly in Chapter Two, which added a lot of world-building to the original story. The series follows a group of survivors in the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse. The main character is Rick Grimes, a cop who is put into a coma after being shot on duty. He wakes up to a destroyed world where corpses wander the streets and his family is missing. The book doesn't waste much time in reconnecting him with his wife and son, but even these seemingly simple family relationships become complex over time. Rick becomes a kind of de facto leader of a handful of survivors toughing it out in the American South. As the series progresses, many more characters become added to the mix. And a lot die off. Kirkman is certainly not afraid to kill his characters, which I admire quite a bit in a series like this. Anytime I see a representation of a zombie apocalypse and nearly everyone is alive, I get angry. More people are going to die than live, dude. You can't save all the good guys.
All in all, I was fairly happy with the story and setting of this first book. So why am I not continuing with it? Well, there's a lot of outside factors involved, time in particular (as in, I don't have enough). I also don't want to absorb too much of the story before seeing the TV show, since I'm so ridiculously stoked about it. I'm totally a books-are-better-than-visual-media person, but I'm willing to be a jerk about his one. I'm actually more excited about the TV show than the books. Sorry.
I had some problems with Kirkman's characterizations, too. It's too early in the series to say so, but I found the characters kind of flat in this first book. They didn't have much in the way of depth going on, particularly the women, who come off as obnoxious and predictable (and so far, kind of in the way of the badassness of the males, which is a total bummer. I want tough as hell females kicking zombie ass, please). I have a couple characters I kind of like, but no one that I'm fond of as either a hero or a villain, which is a disappointment to me. It doesn't make the stakes very high when you don't have someone to root for in this type of story. It's a possibility that Kirkman mainly intends for these characters to be archetypes, which I think is probably what he's aiming for here. I still don't like them much, though.
Unfortunately, I made the mistake of flipping through the next 10 volumes of this series already, and let me tell you, things appear to get really dark. It looks like we're going to see a lot of people lose their humanity and watch even more characters get brutally killed. Which is all fine and good, but not something I'm looking forward to right now. My personal life is stressful at this moment (don't worry; I promise I won't make you hear about it), and I'm looking for books that don't completely bum me out. They can be bittersweet (a la the Hunger Games books) or scary (I have some Stephen King books on the to-read list right now), but I don't want to be too depressed during this time of year. I think these books will work better in the summer, when the days are longer and I have more fun socializing and whatnot. For now, I'm going to put the rest of The Walking Dead on the backburner and concentrate on some other stuff. Or at least until the TV show's season is over and I'm craving more.