The Good: Good character development, Decent plot progression
The Bad: Terrible artwork that inhibits comprehension of events!
The Basics: In The Walking Dead Book Four, the survivors in the prison bond and survive for two months before an assault from Woodbury changes everything.
The very best advice I have for anyone watching The Walking Dead on television or DVD now is to read the graphic novels. Especially for female fans of the show, the very best advice is to know what is coming and decide in advance if it is the type of story you might want to watch. Having read the very brutal series of events that transpired when three of the survivors ended up in the nearby community of Woodbury (which is where the current season of the television version of The Walking Dead is!), I know I was glad to know what could be coming on the show in order to warn members of my family who are very sensitive to things such as torture, torment, and brutality, of how they need to be on guard.
The Walking Dead Book Four picks up after Rick, less one of his hands, and the other survivors make it back from Woodbury, with a new medic. This is, far and away, the very best The Walking Dead graphic novel I have yet read, largely because it takes the time to build to the inevitable while developing the characters present and being engaging as it builds on the plot front. Unfortunately, the artwork being rendered in black and white actually manages to obscure some of the events that it is trying to portray, which is a serious detriment for a graphic novel.
Following the incident in Woodbury, the residents of the prison prepare for an attack. As they wait, Lori has her baby – a girl she names Judith – and Carl and Maggie get married. On the night Lori gives birth to Judith, a team uses the RV to find the national guard station, getting ammo, gas, and supplies at a nearby Wal-Mart. The destruction of the National Guard depot draws the attention of a team from Woodbury, which the survivors kill in self-defense. While they are out, Dale is attacked by a roamer in the parking lot while scavenging for gasoline and is bit. His leg is amputated and he survives without turning. Despite seeming to get better, Carol uses the captured roamer to kill herself, leaving Sophia orphaned and traumatized. While Dale becomes worried that Andrea and Tyreese might be sleeping together, Andrea reassures him when she presents him with a prosthetic leg she designed for him.
Just as the survivors become complacent in the jail, the forces from Woodbury attack en masse. Despite being caught off guard, the residents of the prison effectively hold off the Governor and his untrained forces. Rick is shot in the conflict, but he survives. Michonne and Tyreese run off after the Governor’s forces to try to use surprise to take out some of their forces. Dale, Andrea, Glenn, and Maggie take Sophia and the twins out in the RV before the Governor’s forces can attack again. But, when the Governor’s forces capture Tyreese and return, the results are utterly disastrous.
The characters in The Walking Dead Book Four develop a siege mentality and it is easy to see how the readership might have fallen off from the comic book during this section of the storyline given how so little happens in the first half of the book. The characters are waiting, preparing, living with reasoned fear for an attack that has not come and does not come when they are anticipating it most. As a result, the book is more cerebral from the outset. This is not a volume about fighting off zombies, this is a time lapse story of the two months that give the survivors from Atlanta a chance to breathe before the pounding comes that they anticipated.
On the character front, Lori works hard to repair her marriage with Rick, by broaching the topic of Shane with him and she gets a surprising reaction from him. Other characters come and go and while Carol’s exit from the story is painfully abrupt, it paints well the face of mental illness or the suicidal mindset, making for a realism that is gruesome, but true.
There is also something deeply satisfying about how The Walking Dead Book Four defies the conventions of storytelling as well. Michonne was tortured and raped by the Governor, but she is not granted the obvious moment of revenge upon him (though he arrives in this volume thoroughly mutilated from their last encounter) that would be most cathartic for the reader. Instead, writer Robert Kirkman smartly inserts random elements to prevent the obvious catharsis and make for a surprising sequence, despite what seems like an obvious plot progression.
Unfortunately, the artwork is enough to inhibit the full enjoyment of the book. Things like Glenn getting shot, stripping off his body armor and exposing his chest means exceptionally little when the artwork does not make it clear that he has been severely bruised and probably cracked some of his ribs. There are several points where, if the artwork was better, the book would have more of an impact.
Even so, the writing is tight enough to present a story that is strong enough to enthusiastically recommend. As a story of survival, The Walking Dead Book Four is well-developed and engaging, even if the character designs do not make the story as clear as it should be.
For other The Walking Dead books, check out my reviews of:
Days Gone Bye
For other book reviews, be sure to check out my Book Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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