Walking Dead #82
Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn
Lettering by Rus Wooton
Published by Image Comics
Review by David Pepose
Say what you will about The Walking Dead -- maybe it's as insular as the superheroes it strives to distinguish itself from, but damn if Robert Kirkman doesn't know how to bring the emotional payoff. As our heroes are under siege from a swarm of the undead, there are a lot of great character beats in this book -- that is, if you know where to look.
In a lot of ways, the big success of this particular issue is the sprawling cast that Kirkman deals with, giving a ton of beats to a ton of characters. In 22 pages, Kirkman checks in on about 10 different characters, and they're each three-dimensional enough that they have very different perspectives on the situation. Glenn, for example, has an eerie beat where he tells the group, "I don't see my life after this … I just can't picture it in my head when I think about it. I'm not going to survive this. I know it." Is it telegraphing by Kirkman? Or just the puppetmaster giving a fakeout through the strings? Either way, you suddenly feel protective.
But where Kirkman really wins me over is his portrayal of my favorite character -- Carl. For those who haven't been reading this book all the way, Carl didn't last long as a stock child character, but as one who had hardened but never broken under some surprisingly tough choices for an 8-year-old. While Rick occasionally gets teased as someone who might have the ends justify the means, Carl is the one who bears the most watching -- because you never know which way he'll go.
Artwise, Charlie Adlard has always been a workhorse, one who sadly gets overlooked by the scope of Kirkman's auteur reputation. But in his way, he brings some dramatic flourishes to his rock-solid storytelling -- seeing the cavalry arrive looks as powerful, moody and larger-than-life than any superhero book, and there's a cleanliness to Adlard's composition that belies his occasionally shadowy line. As a result, Kirkman's storytelling never feels cramped, because Adlard knows exactly how to pace his shots. One scene that chilled me was Carl speaking with Morgan, as he wrestles with infection -- the look as Carl's cowboy hat covered his eyes turned a child into something a little bit other than human.
But here's the one problem with The Walking Dead -- it's great comics storytelling, but it's also a poster child for soap operitis. While the rest of the industry is bending over backwards to give the high concept of every character -- even to the point of inserting huge, unwieldy captions next to every person on a page -- Kirkman goes for the naturalistic route, sometimes erring against the side of caution. There are characters in this book that aren't even named in these 22 pages, and no, not even a quick trip to Wikipedia will help you there. And this is coming from someone who's read every issue of this series -- but even I have a tough time keeping the overall storyline straight. Thankfully, the plot is pretty simple -- undead hold a town under siege -- but you won't get the full force of these underlying relationships (particularly Carl) if you haven't read a ton of back issues.
Granted, though, that's a debate that's running through comics, and is endemic even to the serialized storytelling of prime-time TV. While there's definitely a bit of a learning curve -- and not quite as much room to maneuver as, say, an episode of House or Dollhouse -- the simple premise definitely works to Kirkman's favor in bringing a ton of strong character moments in one issue. If I hadn't read an issue of Walking Dead before -- and if the character beats rang true to me -- you'd better believe I'd still be on board to see what's next.
The Grim Ghost #1
Written by Tony Isabella and Stephen Susco
Art by Kelley Jones
Lettered by Richard Emms
Published by Atlas Comics/Ardden Entertainment
Review by David Pepose
After a strong start with Wulf, Atlas has suddenly been crushed under the weight of a sophomore slump. While Kelley Jones enthusiasts will likely see The Grim Ghost as another opportunity to see his distorted, nightmarish chops on display, the unvarnished reality is this book is confusing, frenetic, and surprisingly off-the-mark when you consider the talents on display here.
I guess the best way to describe this book is Spawn meets Deadman meets the Spectre. With that kind of pedigree, having Kelley Jones draw such a character -- a hulking, hooded beast riding upon an unnaturally taut steed -- could have been a sure-thing. Here's the problem -- focus. Tony Isabella and Stephen Susco go all over the place with this book, assaulting you with a first-page info-dump that doesn't quite work and then tearing ahead from there. There's a ton of action here, but the twists and turns come so fast that it's difficult to keep up.
Part of that is the assumption that we buy into the central premise -- but there's not enough groundwork done here to merit that belief. Instead of putting the spotlight on the Grim Ghost -- and for those of us who haven't read the original Atlas series, that should have been the main mission here -- we instead have a proxy character to focus on, a man named Michael who is trapped between the worlds of the living and the dead, who also has energy blast powers because he "grew up on sci-fi and superheroes." That alone is pretty cringe-worthy, and unfortunately, outside of the general high concept of "terrifying horseman," there isn't a lot to distinguish these characters outside of "good guy" and "bad guy."
The art is by and large the main appeal of this book -- but I give that praise with some real reservations. Kelley Jones can be a force of nature with his art style, with hulking anatomy, shadows cut with veins and folds, and distorted features that almost always turn into shrieks or sneers. Yet this book comes off as half-hearted with the art, as Jones brings a less-detailed, more cartoony look that will likely turn off people to his already-acquired taste. While the Grim Ghost himself looks properly menacing, even as his horse barrels ahead to the point of being airborne, others on that very same splash feel unfinished, with one woman's head looking, well, really unnatural. Michael, meanwhile, varies from cartoony and unblemished to being drenched in shadow and musculature. Jones has always had a knack for being inconsistent, but this feels pretty extreme here. I guess the real gist of what I'm saying here is -- I know Jones can do better. I've seen it.
Outside of a pretty strong twist on the last page, there's not a lot that really hooked me on The Grim Ghost, a shame considering the potential the concept seemed to have. But I think that this is a case of trying to pack too much into one comic, instead of streamlining your property to just the essentials. Unless you are a Kelley Jones completist, I don't know if there's a hook here. With inconsistent art and frustratingly frenetic plotting from the first page, The Grim Ghost is one resurrection that's far from graceful.