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Image Month: The Walking Dead - On the Road to One Hundred and Beyond

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Image Month wouldn’t be complete without shining a spotlight on the cult hit turned cultural phenomenon that is Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead.

It’s hard to talk about a single issue of The Walking Dead without considering the series as a whole.

Scratch that.

It’s hard to talk about a single issue of The Walking Dead without considering the phenomenon as a whole. From day one, Robert Kirkman’s zombie epic captured the imagination of fans everywhere with its grim depiction of a post-apocalyptic world, where the difference between the living and the dead is a matter of degrees. Month in and month out, Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, and Cliff Rathbone have consistently upped the ante for their ragtag survivors of the zombie apocalypse, with shocking tragedies, maniacal sociopaths, and the degradation of their own humanity.

Captained by an increasingly unstable and dictatorial Rick Grimes, Kirkman’s ensemble cast of protagonists has finally found a safe haven after long months of desperate wandering and truly gruesome encounters with all manners of depravity and misfortune. Now, just as Rick and company seem truly poised to settle into their new community with rejuvenated spirits after surviving a zombie stampede, the world has become an even scarier, bigger place.

The revelation of a small network of communities shakes Rick to the core, almost to the point of sabotaging any chance of establishing relations with his fellow survivors. Having just dispatched a potential assassin in front of an entire town in typical stoic, bloody fashion, it remains to be seen just how tolerant these new allies are. With many in his own camp questioning his leadership either openly or behind his back, one of the biggest questions hanging over their futures, is Rick’s reaction to any kind of challenge to his authority.

Billed as something of a prologue to the so-callled “Road to One Hundred” storyline, this latest chapter in Rick’s newfound resolve to rebuild some kind of sustainable civilization lays the foundation for what will surely be a milestone to remember. Although story details have been somewhat elusive, the very fact of a fledgling network of communities already existing seems a bit too coincidental. Will Rick defer leadership if someone amongst his potential new allies steps up to the plate? Or will his obsessive drive to ensure his son’s survival dictate a more selfish path? Let’s face it, the man’s proved himself capable of much, much worse.

It’s interesting to note that as the comic book series ramps up the tension on its journey towards 100 issues, the television series stands poised to return more popular than ever this October. Fueling a mass morbid fascination with the “zombie apocalypse” on a societal scale, Kirkman now finds himself at the head of a genuine entertainment phenomenon. If you think I’m making too big of a deal about this, then please consider: When was the last time you heard co-workers discuss and debate the actions of characters so avidly and with such zeal?

I know people who have laid out entire survival strategies just in case the zombie apocalypse actually occurs. For real. My own plan revolves around a return to my rural roots and the creation of a self-contained island nation (full of gun-toting, crossbow-slinging Darryls, no less), through the blowing of the last operating swing bridge in the western world and the hijacking of a floating ferry fortress – but I digress…

Just what kind of impact the television show’s popularity will ultimately have on the comic book series is anyone’s guess, at this point. Yet, even as the Road to One Hundred is littered with disturbing cover images hinting at only more death and despair for Rick and his people, ever since Kirkman announced the eventual introduction of TV character Darryl into the comic, the most popular question on everyone’s mind is when he’ll actually appear.

It’s an interesting development in a series that has forced its audience to question its own morals and values on a very disturbing and deep level since its inception. Now, as The Walking Dead transitions into a multi-media juggernaut, it challenges our perceptions of what a successful entertainment property is in an age where new delivery methods and technologies pop up almost daily.

Some in the comic book industry like Alan Moore might argue for a total separation of media but his is a standpoint coloured by having his work adapted after the fact. Kirkman, on the other hand, is a modern, media-saavy creator and latter-day saint of the creator-owned movement, who understands the current realities of 21st century publishing better than Moore ever will.

Perhaps more than any other creator in recent memory, Kirkman has the potential to change the way we read comics and support the talented people behind the scenes, who make it all possible. Few have enjoyed such a high level of success in such a relatively short period of time and few have remained so committed to their creative vision.

One hundred issues is one hell of a milestone but at the end of the day it’s just another number. Changing the way we think and react and perceive as an invested audience…

Now that’s an accomplishment.

The Walking Dead #96, Robert Kirkman (W),Charlie Adlard (A). Image Comics, ongoing series, $2.99. Released on April 18, 2012.

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