Is It Wednesday Yet?
28 April 2009 — Here we are again with another installment of your favorite comic book review series. As always, the reviews are free of spoilers, so read on without fear of having your experience ruined!
Our grading scale is simple:
Buy: An excellent comic book.
Borrow: A good comic, but save yourself some money by reading a friend's copy.
Flip Through: Give it a once-over at the comic shop.
Skip: This doesn't need to be explained.
Publisher: DC Comics / Vertigo
Released: 15 April 2009
Writer: Brian Wood
Artist: Nikki Cook
Colorist: Jeremy Cox
Letterer: Jared K. Fletcher
Cover: John Paul Leon
Set on the island of Manhattan in the very near future, DMZ examines how the lives of New Yorkers have changed since their town was designated a demilitarized zone. When a freethinking revolution passes through the hearts and minds of Middle America, the concept takes hold and manifests itself in the form of a full-scale revolt. With the majority of the country's National Guard overseas, the Free State movement moves quickly, overtaking the vast majority of the US landmass in the blink of an eye. The battle stalls in NYC, however, and with neither army able to maintain control, it's labeled a no man's land and summarily evacuated. Now, years into the conflict, rookie journalist Matty Roth has begun to make a name for himself through a series of stunning reports from deep within the DMZ.
This month we spend some time with Zee, DMZ's foremost supporting character. A roving field medic with no real affiliation among the various throngs and factions inside the metropolis, Zee was the first local we met in Manhattan way back in DMZ #1. She's a kind of poster girl for the bold, righteous, DIY nature of the more humane communities within the city: tough and intimidating on the outside to protect the warm soul hidden underneath. This isn't the first time the book's focus has shifted her way, nor is it likely to be the last, and she doesn't flinch under the spotlight.
She's Brian Wood's most relatable, down-to-earth character — more so than Matty. Where the majority of the city's residents have lost their minds in the chaos of anarchy, Zee keeps her head and wits about her at all times and manages to act like a reasonable human being, even under the constant threat of sniper fire. But although she may sound like an inspirational figure, that doesn't make this an uplifting story. Zee might be one of Wood's best characters, but his most deeply developed creation remains the city itself, and it's in no way as rational an individual. While this issue may be about hope in the face of great adversity, that doesn't mean the right people always come out on top.
Temporarily filling in on the visuals this month is Nikki Cook, whose loose, quick brush strokes provide a noticeable change of pace from the rough, gritty work that usually typifies the series. I didn't care much for her efforts at first glance, but as the story bore on they did begin to grow on me. While her imprecise cityscapes and almost flippant approach to the issue's sparse action scenes left a bad taste in my mouth, Cook makes a strong impression with the facial expressions and body language she grants the cast. As a primarily character-centric issue, that kind of focus works for the most part this month, but I can't see her being a long-term fit for this series.
Although the services of regular artist Riccardo Burchielli are a big missing piece, Brian Wood's storytelling is able to pick up the slack. His ability to make readers care, one way or another, for new characters with just the slimmest of introductions is a godsend, especially during the "down periods," so to speak, between major story arcs. Longtime readers will be pleased to note that DMZ is still going strong, and those unfamiliar would do well to catch up as soon as they can. Buy it now, or pick up the first trade if you haven't already. I regretted waiting so long to do so myself.
The Walking Dead #60
Released: 15 April 2009
Writer: Robert Kirkman
Artist: Charlie Adlard
Gray Tones: Cliff Rathburn
Letterer: Rus Wooton
Cover: Charlie Adlard
While on the surface it seems to be a run-of-the-mill zombie book, The Walking Dead has developed into one of Image's longest running, most highly regarded comics. As the weeks of scarce survival have turned into months and years, the title's cast — helmed by a small-town police officer named Rick Grimes — has been through its ups and downs. Pained by the brutal longevity of the situation and the constant menace of a surprise attack, the ragtag cluster of survivors are beginning to find that despair and hysteria may prove to be bigger threats than the zombies themselves.
I won't lie: this is my first look at the guts of The Walking Dead. I've had the first trade on my to-read list for almost a year now, but keep finding reasons to hold off purchasing it. So, to say I found the idea of starting with issue number 60 intimidating may be something of an understatement. Sometimes that headfirst dive is just what it takes to really spark an interest, though, and I'm pleased to report that's precisely the case here.
I found Robert Kirkman's writing astonishingly accessible; it's easy to understand without a lot of backstory. It's obvious there's more to this situation than meets the eye, but that additional, undefined depth actually adds to the experience, rather than putting me off with a big chunk of weighty overhead. Although this is the final issue of a five-part story, I didn't need a lot more direction than "there's a herd of zombies on the horizon." A great deal of the issue is spent on a mad dash for survival, but Kirkman is still able to sneak in a few powerful moments of characterization and genuine drama. It's an excellent blend.
Providing Walking Dead with its artwork since its second story arc, Charlie Adlard is more than just a familiar face at this point. He brings just as much vigor to each character as the writing, adding an untold extra chapter to each survivor's story with every scrape, bandage or bruise. The decision to go black and white means Adlard's readers will be asking more of his compositions, criticizing his decisions in more detail, but the artist blossoms under that added responsibility. Without the crutch of colorization to lean on, he's more daring with his shading and more cinematic in his approach. This actually feels like a Night of the Living Dead-era screamer, which does more than I can say to put its readers in the right mood for the story that's being told.
The Walking Dead is a rarity: a match of writer and artist that fits together like mind and body. They're a perfect fit, and so is the story they've set out to tell. There's enough depth here to keep familiar readers banging on the door each month, but also an amazing focus on accessibility to ensure curious new readers don't throw it away after the second continuity-soaked page. I'm done waiting, this is going on my pull list right away; I can catch up with the back issues at my leisure. Highest recommendation to buy.