Wednesday, November 17, 2010
THE WALKING DEAD: COMPARE & CONTRAST
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.
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.
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.