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OK, I'll admit it. I'm a little obsessed with The Walking Dead. I first read the comic series almost four years ago, but recently I decided to start from the beginning again after playing through the Telltale Games point and click adventure 'The Walking Dead: The Game' twice, and avidly catching each episode of the series.
Thankfully, volume 1, which covers the first six episodes in the series, is every bit as engrossing as I remembered it to be, with some excellent art by Tony Moore.
'Days Gone Bye' introduces us to protagonist Officer Rick Grimes, a cop who is placed in a coma after being shot by a criminal during a shoot-out. Waking up in hospital one month later, he soon realises that something has happened during his this time. For some reason, the dead are walking the earth, and his wife and son are nowhere to be found.
After Rick escapes the hospital, the comic then chronicles his search for his missing family, whilst uncovering just how much the world appears to have deteriorated.
Within 30 pages, Rick has found his family, Lori and Carl, who had been escorted from their home by Shane, Rick's best friend and fellow cop. Taking solace with a bunch of fellow survivors, Rick soon blends in with his new crew, and adopts the position of leader.
Writer Robert Kirkman successfully creates an engrossing character-driven story, that sees you connecting with each character, who are for the most part, only really established quite vaguely. However, you find yourself feeling the heartache of Andrea as she says goodbye to her sister, and we feel sorry for Allen as he accepts his miserable fate. You also get to equally dislike and love things about every single character. Rick is a fantastic character who you increasingly root for (I found I did, even when he gets a little too harsh to the others at times), and also, I've always thought Dale was easy to like.
Whilst The Walking Dead is largely about living (and surviving) a zombie apocalypse, volume 1 and the subsequent volumes are more about how we as humans deal with such a situation, rather than the zombies. In fact, even in volume 1, we realise that it's not so much the zombies we should be fearing-but our fellow human beings. Living on the brink of death can change a person, often for the worst-as seen with Shane, a character who has you feeling sorry for him and hatred in equal measures.
So I urge you to pick up 'Days Gone Bye', and read the volumes following this. Currently there are 18 volumes to work through, and each one is just as good a read as the last. Days Gone Bye successfully combines horror with humour, action, compassion and hatred....oh, and zombies. Lots and lots of zombies.
The Walking Dead Volume 1: Days Gone Bye is the first part of an ongoing comic book series by Robert Kirkman and was published in this collected format in 2004. You get the first six issues here. The comic is critically acclaimed and famous for spawning a popular television series of the same name by Frank Darabont (before they fired him anyway). The television series is sometimes criticised for being too slow and not having enough zombie carnage but that's the whole point of the comic. It's more about the human characters. How they interact and survive. How they cope with the knowledge that the world will never be the same again and that their relatives and friends are gone. It's all about the group dynamic and how very different people will adjust to suddenly having to live and work to survive with relative strangers in an unimaginable crisis. Who is going to be in charge? How is that person going to be chosen? Charismatic authority? The strongest? The most intelligent? Zombies are always lurking on the fringes of course and will strike when the opportunity presents itself in their usual shambling manner. No running zombies here I'm glad to say. Slow, walking pace zombies are much scarier. By their very nature they will catch you off guard at some point and you may end up as lunch! The Walking Dead is of course yet another in an endless line of riffs on the classic (original) trilogy of undead horror pictures by the great George A Romero. I'm surprised actually that it took this long for someone to come up with the idea of doing a proper zombie comic in the style of those films. "For me the worst part of every zombie movie is the end," says Kirkman in the introduction. "I always want to know what happens next. The idea behind The Walking Dead is to stay with the character for as long as is humanly possible." So in the Walking Dead series you to get to follow the characters over several volumes as they try to survive in a post-apocalyptic landscape rife with shuffling lumbering lurching flesh eating zombies.
The central character in the comic is Kentucky sheriff's deputy Rick Grimes. At the beginning of the story Grimes is shot in the chest in the line of duty while working with his partner Shane. He groggily wakes up in hospital a month later after emerging from a coma and calls out for a nurse. When there is no response whatsoever from anyone he dresses himself and ventures out into the corridor to look for some staff. He soon realises the hospital is completely deserted. Apart from dead people and zombies that is. He somehow manages to escape from the nightmarish blood splattered hospital and realises that the outside world is just as desolate and seems to be inhabited only by the walking dead. It's the end of the world as we know it. The zombie apocalypse has happened. I welcome the zombie apocalypse with open arms myself. I'm going to fortify the local Sainsburys and live on jumbo bags of posh crisps. Anyway, the new landscape poses some immediate questions. Has civilisation collapsed entirely? Rick manages to get home but finds that his house has been looted and his wife Lori and son Carl have long since gone just like everyone else in the street. He eventually meets another survivor though who tells him that before the media stopped broadcasting the government had advised everyone to relocate to major cities where they were hoping to arrange fortified centres. Rick comes to the conclusion that Lori must have headed for Atlanta where her parents live. He visits the now abandoned police station to get his uniform and grab some guns and sets off for Atlanta to see if he can find his family.
This is a really good comic if not quite a great one. I haven't read future volumes yet but I'm told that the series gets better as it goes on and that the writing of Kirkman (who was a relative novice here) improves too. The dialogue is a little clunky in places but there are some memorable lines too. The final line by Rick here is great I think. The comic is pretty grisly in places and not for children. You can't have a zombie comic without some gore and a few shocks. The start of the comic is almost identical to the overrated Danny Boyle film 28 Days Later but you have to remember that The Walking Dead was being written and planned a long time before that film came out. If anything, 28 Days Later and The Walking Dead BOTH mimic John Wyndham's The Day of the Triffids with their opening storylines. The black and white art by Tony Moore is certainly interesting and mostly effective. His zombies are good and his lines on the page are striking at times creating a great atmosphere. The emotion of the characters is conveyed well by the artist. If you had to nitpick you could say that some of the drawings are somewhat cartoonish (the chins are too big and comic book superhero!) and jar with the dark and realistic atmosphere the comic is groping for but on the whole I like the illustrations here and I think the black and white works well. I couldn't imagine this in colour now after reading it. I believe though that Moore was replaced for later volumes and the art got even better. One thing I like about the comic is that no one seems to be safe. They are completely unafraid to kill people off and you even miss a few of the people they do have munched by zombies.
There are some nice panels in Atlanta when Rick travels into the city on horseback like a cowboy and gets a lot more than he bargained for in the end before finding a small group of survivors who are camped outside the city. Here he meets his wife and son again (quite poignant) but trouble soon brews because his former police partner Shane is there and Shane has taken a shine to Rick's wife Lori in his absence. He isn't pleased at all to see Rick unexpectedly return and tension between them soon develops. This is exacerbated by Rick's leadership qualities. He is a genuine do gooder and not one to sit around letting other people decide what to do. There is some inventive stuff here I think. I liked the section where they venture back into the city to obtain some firearms and Rick has the idea of rubbing themselves with dead body parts to disguise their smell from the zombies. It works but what happens when it rains? There are some good tense situations throughout. Maybe some of the characters veer towards caricature and aren't drawn out enough but I think there are some interesting ideas here that are relatively new to this well worn genre. What, for example, would it mean to be a child in the zombie apocalypse? I don't recall ever seeing any children in the Romero films but that question is addressed here. The Walking Dead Volume 1: Days Gone Bye is a good comic on the whole and you'll be curious to read future volumes if you do get hold of this. It's certainly recommended to Romero and zombie fans. This runs to about 140 pages overall and at the time of writing is available to buy for about a fiver.