The Good: Good character development, Decent rising action, Character reflections.
The Bad: Mediocre artwork, Virtually plotless
The Basics: The Walking Dead: Life Among Them is a graphic novel where almost nothing happens in the universe of The Walking Dead, but it is one of the most satisfying books of the series for those looking for realism and interesting characters.
As my wife and I rewatch The Walking Dead Season Three (reviewed here!) in advance of this Sunday’s fourth season premiere (marathon time!), I’ve been getting my fix of The Walking Dead in book form as well. After finally getting in and reading The Walking Dead, Volume 11: Fear The Hunters (reviewed here!), I was eager to read The Walking Dead, Volume 12: Life Among Them. For those still sticking with the series at this point, The Walking Dead: Life Among Them might well be the quickest read of the series yet.
Ironically, The Walking Dead: Life Among Them has the greatest amount of physical movement in the series to date . . . but almost nothing happens. It is in this book that Rick Grimes and the eleven companions he has at this point make it from the South to the Washington, D.C. area (Alexandria, Virginia, ultimately), and the journey happens surprisingly quickly. But The Walking Dead: Life Among Them is not a book of epic events; it is a far more introspective volume and instead of being about the journey, the series takes a hard look at the characters. By this point, Rick Grimes and his companions who have spent fourteen months surviving after a plague hits humanity and raises the dead, have been pretty much rocked by all of their experiences and most of the point of Life Among Them seems to be to illustrate that these survivors are no longer fit for what we would consider civilized society.
Following Carl’s admission that he killed Ben, Rick finally tries talking with his son about the monstrous act. Rick actually appears reasonably reassured when Carl admits that killing Ben was difficult and he has spent weeks sneaking away to cry. Accepting that Ben, who had exhibited psychopathic tendencies, actually needed to die before he killed anyone else, Rick and Carl do their best to put the incident behind them. After scavenging fairly unsuccessfully for food, the survivors are abruptly approached by Aaron, an apparently good-natured man who offers the survivors the impossible; a place in a community up the road where civilization has been restored. Aaron, when he regains consciousness after being knocked out by Rick, tells the survivors of the community established on the other side of Washington, D.C. (which no longer is the destination the survivors were convinced it was by Eugene).
Grudgingly accepting Aaron’s invitation, mostly due to the promise of food, the group heads north with Aaron and his other scout. En route, they rescue some of Aaron’s friends who get into a jam in Washington, D.C. while they scavenge for supplies. Arriving at the community, Rick and his people discover it is all they were promised. Under the direction of former-Congressman Douglas Monroe, the small community near Alexandria has survived and grown conservatively with each member of the community adding to it. While Rick is suspicious and watches everything and everyone in the community closely, others in the group become excited about the hot showers and food offered by the community. Cleaning up and introduced to everyone, with their weapons taken to an armory building, the survivors find themselves unsettled by community events like Halloween and getting jobs, but otherwise come to believe they may have found their promised land.
The Walking Dead: Life Among Them is not at all a horror book. Instead, it is a volume that wrestles with the effects of living in a horrible world . . . after the horrors have ended. The Walking Dead: Fear The Hunters illustrates that those who survive in an uncivilized world are not prepared for a return to the trappings of civilization. Universally, the members of Rick Grimes’s group are paranoid and unsettled seeing children playing, getting jobs, and not living on the edge. Not one of Rick’s people balks at sharing Rick’s house the first few nights in the community while they quietly worry that Monroe’s people are trying to divide them up to weaken them.
But there is nothing explicitly wrong with the community in The Walking Dead: Life Among Them. Douglas Monroe seems nice, despite hitting relentlessly on Andrea, popping up awkwardly, and yelling at community members who mention the community’s original founder, Davidson. At this point, there is nothing unseemly about the community and writer Robert Kirkman is smart to keep the focus tight on the characters. It is in Life Among Them where it is made explicit that Eugene is not all that he initially seemed to be and that the hope the group – especially Abraham – has clung to has largely been false hope.
Smartly, The Walking Dead: Life Among Them keeps tightly focused on the characters we care about. The pastor picked up in Fear The Hunters is entirely a non-entity in Life Among Them and even Carl is somewhat minimized. Instead, Life Among Them focuses on Rick’s paranoia over the community appearing too good to be true and his concerns with how Carl is failing to integrate with the children there. It has Michonne finding it difficult to give up her sword and Andrea wrestling with the consequences of making and losing an entire family in the fourteen months since the outbreak. Andrea’s moments of reflection are absolutely essential following Dale’s demise in Fear The Hunters and her emotional scenes nicely balance Monroe’s longwinded monologues in Life Among Them.
As well, Robert Kirkman’s implicit statement in Life Among Them is a worthwhile one. Surviving a savage world makes civilization an unobtainable goal. In doing what one must to survive, there is no soft re-entry into normal society and the paranoia and fear exhibited by Rick’s people when they are handed the answer to all their prayers is completely normal. In fact, Kirkman’s frequent references to Woodbury strengthen the idea that something must not be right in the community and that plays up the sense of looming horror and uncertainty for the reader . . . even though it is not present in the community. Indeed, one of the best moments of Life Among Them is Abraham’s simple, quiet, revelation to Rosita that after a few days inside the walls, he is terrified to leave the community for the construction work he is assigned to.
The artwork in The Walking Dead: Life Among Them is not great, but new characters like Douglas Monroe and the cleaned-up version of Rick Grimes are very recognizable. In fact, Charlie Adlard smartly puts the cleaned-up version of Rick far away from Aaron (who looks strikingly similar) in the book. Because there is surprisingly little movement and a lot of talking in Life Among Them, the artwork in the book is hardly as distracting as in some of the other The Walking Dead books.
For those looking for a purpose to The Walking Dead, The Walking Dead: Life Among Them finally provides it. After all the horror, inhumanity, and gore, the series takes a break for a quiet volume of character introspection, one that actually explores the human condition . . . and realistically asserts that after fighting for survival on a daily basis, attempting to be something more and create a society based on ethics and trust, is no easy task.
For other The Walking Dead books, check out my reviews of:
Days Gone Bye
For other graphic novel reviews, please visit my Graphic Novel Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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