My god that was intense. After the relatively lackluster issue 60, this time around The Walking Dead got firmly back on track. This could, in fact, be the best of the series yet. No joke.
Warning - Spoilers ahead. Do not carry on reading this review if you do not wish to know what happens in issue 61.
There are a few writers who can produce this sort of post-apocalyptic scdenario and make it work. But as far as I am concerned, only Robert Kirkman can manage the complexities of human relationships and make every action and reaction seem unforced. Here, he does it again.
This is the bit you really should not read if you don't want the issue spoiled for you. Each page seems to drip with significance, like Dale mentioning to Andrea that there hadn't been any roamers recently. Well, that will be the Hunters who are watching you from the shadows....But more than that, so much more than that, is the one incident that is so devastating that it dominates the rest of the issue and all the other events from there. The death of Billy, at the hands of Ben. It is so shocking, so upsetting, but it is how the survivors react that is more interesting. Michonne (why is she in the background so much - has Kirkman forgotten about her? Or is she next for the chop?), Maggie and Glenn are bystanders as first Abraham, then Rick, come to a pretty quick decision on how to deal with the young murderer. Too dangerous to be left alive, as he is locked in the back of the newly acquired van, these 2 men decide that he must be killed. Dale and Andrea are appalled, Maggie also, but there is little to change their minds. Abraham's physical appearance takes a darker, graver turn, the menace and violence simmering off him in a palpable heat. The Rick and Abraham alliance now seems fully formed. But even more shocking is the next turn of events. Carl, in the middle of the night, wakes, leaves his hat as a decoy in his bed, and face contorted with hatred, kills Ben with his pistol. That facial expression, so like Ricks before he killed the redneck a few issues back. Like Father like Son.
Carl is now truly a character in his own right - trying to shield Sophia from the devastation of Billys body, he is making independent but fundamental decisions for the good of the group. I am unsure whether his killing of Ben was revenge or a conscious decision to protect the group. Whatever - it hit like a hammer. At that point, I think my mind was a little blown. From out of nowhere, Kirkman and Adlard had created the most explosive issue of The Walking Dead, and without fanfare - lets remember that the big 'hunter' arc starts next time, with issue #62 - had again amazed and moved me.
As for the preacher on the cover, a Father Gabriel Stokes (is the surname a clue? 'Stoking' the fires of hatred, a herald for the hunters?), his appearance seems peripheral. In fact, I think his appearance is a slight hindrance to the storm clouds gathering over the survivors, with their quiet anguish and the fear, their fury and their deadly pragmatism. I think his involvement is fundamental - surely his appearance has a purpose? - and I guess that purpose will be revealed soon enough.
Charlie Adlard's subtle framing is superb, letting you see enough of the death of Billy without it being gratuitous. It is explicit, but it is subtle. Does that make sense? He is as important to the book as Kirkman - his characters come alive from the pages, whether it is Dales despair, or Abrahams dark commitment to do what has to be done to survive. He can convey their moods in such a way that Kirkman does not have to over elaborate with words. Here, truly, the pictures tell their own story.
What else? More little details - like Eugenes radio still not working (those little doubts being put into our mind - is he for real? Is he with the Hunters?). The Walking Dead has a poisonous, paranoid atmosphere right now - filled with death and despair, mistrust and violence, the group fragmenting....and then, as you might expect if you are a long term Walking Dead reader, there is a superb cliffhanger. I will say no more, but believe me when I say it is worth it. Okay, I will say one word. Hunters.
Verdict. Perfect. 10 out of 10.