Wednesday, November 17, 2010


I spent my day today (in between answering phone calls at my crappy job) re-reading the first 24 issues of The Walking Dead.  This is the first time I've gone back to these comics since reading them for the first time.  The first issue was released all the way back in October of 2003, so we're talking about quite a bit of time between then and now.

Well, the biggest surprise is that I remembered those comics in absurd detail.  I hadn't forgotten a single page in the past 7 years.  Part of the reason for that is that writer Robert Kirkman did a fantastic job of crafting scene after scene of horror and dread and psychological portraiture.  That's really the main strength of the comics over the first three episodes of the TV show.

The characters in the comic are constructed to carefully avoid cliches.  However, because of the emphasis on character, a weakness does become apparent after a while.  And it's not even much of a weakness, but is a repercussion of working in the comics medium.  The characters are too damn talky at times for my tastes.  It didn't bother me the first time through, before I was familiar with the characters and their personalities, but this time around, it was a little tedious.

This is probably one of the main reasons the television show incorporated more broad-stroke characterization over the first two episodes, at least with the newer characters.  But in a world where you can't swing your dick without hitting a zombie narrative, this isn't really a problem in the grand scheme of things.  That both versions are at least trying to focus on character before gore is where the real strength of the story lies.  Particularly given the fact that the gore isn't avoided at all.  This is why, I think, The Walking Dead connected with so many readers and is now connecting with so many viewers.

One of the things that I think the series does better than the comics is revealing and developing Shane.  In the comic, the change that Shane goes through is kind of simplified.  We don't really feel anything for him.  He's a character that other characters are wary of already.  When he finally snaps we've only really been around him for three issues, and while there's impact when he meets his fate, the reaction is more about who deals with him and how, instead of the simple fact that he's taken care of.

Can you tell I'm trying to avoid spoilers here?

Anyway, when the comic version of Shane exits our tale, we, as readers, are glad.  He was a bit of a prick and his only real redeeming feature is that he rescued Lori and Karl.  The others followed his lead because he was a cop and an authority figure, but they didn't trust him or like him.  It's one of the only simplistic characterizations in the early days of the comic and it undermines the emotional reaction to his demise.

Shane on the TV show, on the other hand, is really trying to be a good man.  He's trying to hold the camp together and he's clearly emotionally engaged not only with Lori, but with Karl.  One of the real strengths of the show in this respect, is that the actors can get more subtle emotional reactions across in a way the comics just can't. 

Now, we don't yet know if Shane told Lori Rick was dead on purpose, as a way of insinuating himself into their lives or if he really thought he was dead.  Lori clearly believes he lied, and given that she was actually emotionally attached to Shane during this time, her rejection of him hits a lot harder than it did in the comic (where their "romance" was really just one night of weakness on her part, and just friendship from that point on).   The comic Shane comes off as a stalker with psychological problems.  The TV Shane comes across as someone who actually had things to lose.

When comic Shane yells about losing his place in the camp, losing the respect of the group, etc. you don't feel it.  He's delusional.  TV Shane, on the other hand, is losing everything.  That's what makes the scene in the third episode so powerful when he loses control and nearly beats Ed to death.  Every time he punches Ed, we're watching a little piece of Shane shatter and die.  He's a flawed man, trying to be a good man, who's going to fail because he only got his shot by stepping into Rick's shoes.  With Rick back, taking charge and making difficult decisions, Shane has nowhere to go but down.

That in itself, makes me much more satisfied with the TV series than I was re-reading those early issues again.  Which isn't to say that I was dissatisfied.  They still hold up very well.  I don't think I would have scored them as highly now as I did then, when I reviewed them, but they are still well worth your time, if you're interested in reading them for the first time.  But I have to say, I'm getting more emotional satisfaction out of the TV show than I did those early comics.

That changes as the comic series goes on, I admit.  Hopefully, that means that when the TV series really gets the opportunity to expand and tell more of the original story, it'll be even better than the comic, too. 

Hmmm.  Well, I said it, didn't I?  I think the show, with the few weaknesses it's evidenced so far, is better than the comic at this stage in the story.  I didn't think I'd say that, to be honest.  But it's true.  Now, if the show can maintain that momentum and quality is a different question.  I hope it can.

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