The second The Walking Dead compendium is a weighty volume, coming in at 1068 pages, which equals 48 more issues of graphic novelly goodness. If reading the first compendium taught me to expect the unexpected when it came to how closely the comics and the TV show are related, reading the second was a completely blind experience – as I mentioned in my previous review, the events of the first 48 issues takes us approximately to the same point in the story as last December’s episode 408 (the mid-season finale – see my review here), so the next set takes the story in unanticipated directions. If you’re a fan of the TV series, and don’t want to read any possible spoilers of the upcoming second half of season four, don’t click through; to everyone else, read more after the break.
Spoiler Alert: This review will briefly discuss plot points from the AMC television series The Walking Dead, as well as discussing The Walking Dead: Compendium Two graphic novel at greater length. Read more after the break…if you dare.
In my review of Compendium One I commented on the graphic style and design choices of the comics, and I have nothing new to add to that here; I still feel that black and white is the correct aesthetic choice for the subject matter at hand, and the at times spartan frames are nicely contrasted with ones containing a high level of detail (usually when limbs are being removed, or heads are being squashed like over-ripe melons). The second collection of 48 issues are of just as high a quality as the first 48, despite the departure of Tony Moore from this set (he was actually only present for the interior artwork of the first six issues, and covers through issue #24, but his work in horror and other genre comics is well-loved. Check out more about him here).
The story picks up shortly after the assault on the prison which saw the deaths of Tyreese, Hershel, Lori, and Judy (not to mention the Governor and his band of merry killers). It begins by following Rick and Carl, who are soon joined by Michonne. They regroup at Hershel’s farm, which in the comics was the agreed upon fallback point, should anything go wrong at the prison. After the group gathers and assesses their situation, they begin moving again, although with no real purpose beyond trying to get enough food to survive, and finding a safe place to stay. They’re approached by a new, smaller group, led by an ex-military type named Abraham. He’s accompanied by a couple of people, one of whom claims to be a government scientist who knows how to cure the zombie plague, and needs to get to Washington, DC. Although they’re leery at first, Rick and Abraham join forces, learning to respect each other after facing off against some decidedly Deliverance-style wackos who try to sexually assault Carl.
The group faces a new threat, in the form of desperate humans who have decided to forego whatever canned goods are left, and hunt the most easily found big game left: other humans. Dale, who was bitten in an attack on the group, but kept it hidden from everyone, decides to go out into the woods alone to die; however, he is captured by this group of cannibals, who call themselves “the Hunters.” He’s knocked unconscious and brought back to their camp, only to awake to the sounds of the group eating one of his legs. Rick and Abraham, realizing something is up, are able to hunt the hunters, and the confrontation between the groups, while not as epic in scale as that between them and the Governor’s forces, leads to the most brutal frames I’ve seen in the comic series so far. I won’t go into detail, but I will say this: the decisions made by Rick and the group in extremis are reflective of how, I suspect, many of us would react in a similar situation, despite our comfy couch/warm house/full belly assertions to the contrary. Desperate times and desperate measures and all that – survival is paramount, and monsters deserve monstrous fates.
The group continues on their way to DC, only to find that the scientist they are escorting is not what he claims to be. The city is overrun, just like everywhere else they’ve been, but before the group leaves the area, they are approached by a named Aaron, who is a scout for a local group of survivors. They don’t trust him at first, and he does seem far too good to be real, but he leads the group to a location near the city called the Alexandria Safe Zone. It’s idyllic, with power and fences and a sense of normalcy that’s been missing since the zombie apocalypse began – yet Rick doesn’t trust it, or its leader Douglas. He slowly and quietly asserts authority, until things come to a head and the town gets overrun by walkers. They’re able to fight through, eventually winning the day but losing far too many people, and Carl is nearly killed after receiving a grievous wound due to friendly fire. As a father, this sequence was a very emotional read for me. This speaks volumes to the writers’ ability to maintain relevancy and interest in a comic book series that is now into its eleventh year.
After they kill off the remaining walkers, Carl slowly makes it through a difficult recovery, and the group is again approached by an outsider: Jesus, and if that isn’t a loaded name, I don’t know what would be. He claims to be from a nearby large community that trades for supplies with several other groups, and he wants to bring the Alexandria survivors into the fold. Rick is suspicious, and doesn’t get off on the best foot with Jesus, but eventually he decides to look into the offer and travels with him to Hilltop, along with Michonne, Andrea, Glenn, and a stowaway in the back of the van: Carl. They get to Hilltop, and its everything Jesus has told them it is; however, shortly after arriving a man tries to kill the settlement’s leader, and Rick finds out from Jesus that there is a darker side to the offer. Apparently, there is another group nearby – the Saviors – that extorts half of everything Hilltop has in exchange for keeping the area clear of walkers – but they keep changing the rules, and the Hilltop people are beginning to suspect that the deal is decidedly not in their favor. The Saviors group is led by a man names Negan, who, Jesus tells Rick, is a complete psychopath. Rick and the leader of Hilltop, Gregory, strike a deal: they will supply the Alexandria group with food and other necessities (at a fraction of the 50% fee they’re paying the Saviors), if Rick’s group will take out Negan and his men. Looks like we’re heading to war.
While Compendium Two ends before we even see Negan, it sets up the impending struggle quite well. Negan is made out to be a kind of Governor plus: someone who is an evil psychopath, but who also has strategic organizational skills and a potentially much larger and better fed army. This book did not, for me, have quite the same level of intensity as Compendium One, largely because it was missing exactly that: a Governor-type character to focus fears and concerns on. There are some gripping storylines (the Hunters, the Alexandria group, Hilltop), some losses (Dale, two young orphaned boys (one at the hands of his own brother)), some interesting new characters (especially Abraham and Jesus), serious moral conundrums (the group’s reaction to the Hunters, Carl’s decisions regarding the brother who killed his younger sibling, Rick’s decision to take over the Alexandria group), and flirtations with inner-demons (Maggie contemplates – and attempts – suicide, Morgan (you’ll remember him as the father who Rick met very early in the series – both TV and comic – when he went back home) who struggles with the loss of his son and impending madness). These all make for good reading, in much the same way that followers of ongoing series always want to see what comes next. With the addition of Negan and the Saviors (sounds like a 1980s band name), Kirkman et al seem poised to up the ante once again, and return readers to the frenetic pace and high stakes of the last several issues of Compendium One. I can’t wait to find out – the series is up to issue #120 now, and I’m going to go pick up the issues I’m missing today.
For those that want to catch up on The Walking Dead series without paying through the nose to get original comics (a copy of Issue #1 recently sold for $10000 at auction), the compendiums are really the way to go. To get up-to-date, these are the pieces you need to buy:
The Walking Dead: Compendium One – this covers Issues 1-48
The Walking Dead: Compendium Two – this covers Issues 49-96
The Walking Dead: Volume 17 – issues 97-102
The Walking Dead: Volume 18 – issues 103-108
The Walking Dead: Volume 19 – issues 109-114
Issue #115 and up should be available at your local comic book store (Issue #120 came out last week). If you wait until March, Volume 20 will collate issues 115-120 for you.
Theoretically, you could wait until Compendium Three comes out, but at a rate of one book a month, you’re looking at a publication date of early 2016. If you’re willing to wait that long, more power to you. I’m not, and am now buying the series monthly (and at a cover price of about $3.00, it’s well worth it to me).
Steve’s Grade: A-
While not as compelling as the storyline in Compendium One, Compendium Two gives readers more of the characters they’ve come to love, and does so with an eye to detail and real human emotion that is a rarity. Storytelling and artwork at their finest, and intimations of greatness to come.
Robert Kirkman’s Official The Walking Dead website
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