Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Artwork Hampers The Continuing Menace Of The Walking Dead, Book Two.

The Good: Moments of character interactions, Fairly solid (if simple) plot
The Bad: The artwork absolutely sucks, Melodramatic moments
The Basics: The Walking Dead, Book Two is an adequate continuation of the story of survival horror, but not much more.

Few works have illustrated to me the importance of color, depth and shading like The Walking Dead, Book Two. The Walking Dead, Book Two is a frustrating extension of the story that follows Rick Grimes and his band of survivors following a zombie apocalypse. The volume, a compilation of the previously released trade paperback anthologies Safety Behind Bars and The Heart’s Desire has an incredibly simple plot: the survivors start clearing the prison they have found of the dead, while beginning to acclimate to the living people they found there.

With a plot so incredibly easy to summarize, The Walking Dead, Book Two is only laudable for its character elements. But, because so many of the characters – Otis and Hershel, Carol and Andrea, etc. – are rendered in ways that make them look alike, far too much effort must be expended when reading The Walking Dead, Book Two to determine who exactly is speaking. And, by this point, The Walking Dead has a number of characters, most of whom feel like zombiebait more than truly vibrant and real, so it can be hard to care about them, especially when they begin expressing themselves in melodramatic terms.

Moreover, when characters reference how bad their clothes smell or not liking the bright orange color of the jumpers that Andrea has found for everyone to wear, the lack of color in the book begins to feel inorganic and problematic. The Walking Dead, Book Two would have been greatly improved by colored panels, even if that would not solve some of the problems with the artwork feeling largely static within the panels.

In The Walking Dead, Book Two, Rick Grimes and the RV full of survivors from Atlanta drives up to the gates of a prison. Managing to kill the walkers between the main gate and the actual prison, they enter the facility to find it remarkably intact. In the cafeteria, they find four prisoners who are still alive and remarkably healthy, having been isolated for months since the outbreak began. While all but one claim to be inside for minor crimes, Rick instantly fixates on Dexter, a prisoner who admits he was in for murdering his wife and his wife’s lover.

So, when the twins are beheaded, Rick’s suspicions instantly turn to Dexter. The murders follow on the heels of Tyreese’s daughter and her boyfriend unsuccessfully initiating a murder/suicide pact which Tyreese has to finish. When the perpetrator of the child murders is quickly revealed to be another prisoner, Rick begins laying down the law. With Hershel’s family now at the prison, Rick starts actually leading, though that infuriates Dexter. Dexter and his buddy raid the armory, in the process setting loose a hoard of roamers. In the process of cleaning out the yard, Rick uses the opportunity to dispatch Dexter. Between that and a questionable decision to amputate Allen’s leg, Rick and Tyreese come to blows even as Glenn and Maggie get closer and the group welcomes a new stranger who has survived on the outside longer than anyone they know of.

The Walking Dead, Book Two introduces a number of new characters, but it is not very long before those new characters are whittled down to two. Axel, a prisoner, actually seems to be exactly what he claims, an old, nonviolent prisoner who just wants to survives, and Michonne. Michonne arrives with her sword and poncho and two walkers chained to her. Her backstory is kept hidden throughout this book, yet she instantly begins to become a dynamic character in that she disrupts Tyreese’s relationship with Carol and is found talking to herself. Eager to live with Rick’s rules simply to be out of the wilderness, Michonne is characterized by others as tough.

But, despite the soap operatic elements – Glenn and Maggie’s developing relationship, Sophia and Carl’s childish flirtations, etc. - The Walking Dead, Book Two manages to have some solid character development, most of which centers on Rick and Tyreese. Both Rick and Tyreese murder in The Walking Dead, Book Two. Tyreese takes out Chris when Chris kills Julie before Julie can kill him in their murder/suicide pact. This is mirrored by Rick dispensing justice upon the childkiller, though each man’s reactions to the other as a result of their killing becomes a point of contention between them. The character struggles and conflict between Tyreese and Rick is the main rising action of The Walking Dead, Book Two and it is a compelling and sufficiently complex conflict to engage the reader (though it does degenerate into a rather simple fistfight).

The Walking Dead, Book Two is also the book where Rick and the survivors learn that whatever causes the dead to rise is in all of them. Witnessing characters who have not been bitten by zombies turn after death leads Rick to the dramatic conclusion at the end of the book that spells death for everyone in the infected world. The perspective – the slow learning curve that gives the survivors information without answers – is compelling and realistic and enough to recommend The Walking Dead, Book Two to mature readers.

And, poor artwork or not, The Walking Dead, Book Two is intended for mature readers. The sheer number of graphic deaths in the book, combined with people beating others to a bloody pulp, is not for the faint of heart.

For other The Walking Dead books, check out my reviews of:
Days Gone Bye
Book One
Book Three


For other book reviews, please visit my Book Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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