Warning - mild spoilers.
"What we've done to survive....sometimes I feel like we're no better than the dead ones"
Rick Grimes, Walking Dead #66
Walking Dead week is a great week. I get to read one of the best pieces of contemporary fiction but I also get to write a little review on my little blog and it is a real highlight of the month for me. It's the little things....Since Kirkman laid down his manifesto for '09 - to get his titles out on time, every month - I have been even happier. Walking Dead has made its shipping date every time this year, without any sign of fatigue or quality control issues. In fact, looking back on this concluding issue of 'Fear the Hunters', and looking back over the arc as a whole, I can now say I was wrong if I ever doubted what Kirkman was doing with this storyline. I just didn't understand. I take it all back, as issue 66 actually sits up at the top as one of the best, if not the best, of the series so far, and the arc......well, more on that later.
First up, issue 66.
So much happens, yet so much of it is not what you would expect. Understated, moving, tense - this issue has all of these qualities. The Hunters confrontation is not what you would expect - it is a testament to Adlards creativity and confidence that he would produce so many splash pages, double page spreads and quick fire panels that deal with violence without actually showing any of the acts that were perpetrated. He does not have to show the explicit details - this is an artist so in tune with his subject matter and characters that all he needs to do is show the anger or despair in the characters faces, accompanied by a few stark images of the aftermath. It is excellent.
The art really distinguishes a lot of the Walking Dead, and here it is again on a par with Kirkmans plotting and dialogue in creating a fully rounded piece of art. I have just been re-reading a scene with Dale and Rick, where Dale is lying on a bed, close to death. The art captures the man as a broken old man, his stubble resting on his double chin, his eyes weary of the fights, but Adlard also manages to infuse a nobility about him, which, when coupled with Kirkmans redemptive dialogue, provides a highlight of this issue. But I could go on, as there are so many highs - like the father / son reunion, Abraham about to go psycho on the reverend, Ricks cold killer stare, completely devoid of feelings - and the final panels between Rick and Carl which are absolutely stunning - between them, Kirkman and Adlard manage to portray a dam-burst of emotion with a few well chosen panels and few words. Adlard can draw a child quivering on the edge of tears like no other artist. Stunning.
So, what of the arc overall? Well, I had my reservations up to last issue, but the fact is that this arc is probably better enjoyed as a trade - the pieces fit together in a way that is quite remarkable, whereas those of us who buy the singles maybe don't get the bigger picture with the piecemeal offerings. Whatever - the 'Hunters' arc was not going to be another 'No-one is safe', and is all the better for it. 'Fear the Hunters' opens up so many possibilities beyond issue 66, with new revelations, a new mindset amongst some of the group, and an overall sense of urgency brought about by dwindling food supplies. There was no whole scale clear out of the cast, and again, the title retains its integrity and quality by constantly managing to sidestep what the readers expectations are, and give them something so much better. The 'fear' in the arc title retains a lot of power throughout this arc - 'fear' of the future, 'fear' of what the individuals are becoming, the fear of loss and losing loved ones (and for a while there was a fear of the Hunters - and subsequently who are the Hunters? etc).
My Walking Dead week is nearing its end. I would like to thank Kirkman, Adlard, Rathburn, Image Comics and whoever else is responsible for producing this shining light of a comic every month. It gives me immense pleasure to read it, to write about it, to speculate on it. Thank you.
One more thing - is Kirkmans position as an elevated member of the Image board influencing the content of Walking Dead? More and more often, after 'Chew' was previewed in it a few issues back, The Walking Dead now hosts preview pages of upcming titles on a regular basis. Not really a criticism, more an observation, though to be honest, more pages of The Walking Dead itself would be more welcome than bolted on previews.
Verdict. Near perfect. In a week where there is not a lot else to write home about, this title continues to hit the heights. Still at the top of its game and nearly 70 issues in - 10 out of 10.