The Walking Dead #26


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The Walking Dead #26


  • Words: Robert Kirkman
  • Art: Charlie Adlard
  • Inks: Charlie Adlard
  • Colors: Cliff Rathburn
  • Story Title: N/A
  • Publisher: Image Comics
  • Price: $2.99
  • Release Date: Mar 15, 2006

A groundbreaking moment, an astonishing sight – a helicopter soars over the world of the dead! The biggest event in the history of the series starts right here!

Rick and his survivor crew have settled nicely behind the protective walls of a gated, nearly abandoned prison. Winter has passed with numerous casualties, including three of the original four prison inhabitants and a quarter of Rick’s original posse. With spring then coming on strong, the dead – the zombies – are arriving outside the prison’s gates with increasing speed (it seems the warmth urges them to be more active). A whole bundle of climactic drama has recently subsided (angstiness sparked by stress and cabin-fevered tempers flaring) but the story and situation have calmed now, quieted to an almost harmonious degree. Add to this the flak-jacket, full-body riot police suits Glenn finds in the prison armory which give the wearer absolute protection against zombie bites, and our merry band of brothers appear to be at their coziest place yet within their grand journey of continued existence.

Then they see it, in the sky, in the distance: a helicopter. A helicopter flying more than six months after all of civilization collapsed. Who is flying it? And why? And what might such a sight portend for the future of this series?

I’d be lying if I stated that the series picks up speed with the advent of this moment; the story has a tempo – a rhythm – which has never been deviated from, and this issue is no exception. Writer Robert Kirkman handles the helicopter event with the gravity he does any of his unexpected plot points. There’s a feeling of grandeur to it, and the characters take the time to properly express its significance, but moving too fast and foolhardily in the land of The Walking Dead is a sure way to die punctually; so things continue on steadily, carefully. Rick gathers a small crew and they drive out to meet the pilot where the helicopter appears to land, and along the way the characters continue to bend their already warped relationships with each other ever further, stoking the fires for what will surely be the next round of crazy, apocalyptic, and carnal affairs. This issue, with the helicopter sighted, the groundwork is supposedly laid for "big, BIG stuff…", though don’t expect to see any of it in within a single issue. We just saw the helicopter, and now we have to take the journey with Rick and Co. to find it. Once there, you can be sure there’ll be another major moment followed by oodles of gradually escalating histrionics.

Kirkman has frequently stated that the true "walking dead" shambling within the series aren’t the zombies; rather they are the straggling remnants of humanity, the men and women trying to cope and find their way in an unfamiliar world. Things change after the world ends, but these characters came from a civilized past, so their trials to adapt to each other and form some kind of symbiotic, healthy relations (balancing what truly works within a thrown-back world with the refined ethics of reluctant survivors) are the main drama and draw of the work.

Big things happen, much like the moment of the helicopter, but the grand entertainment is watching page upon page of character reaction and counter-reaction as all the myriad threads are leisurely pulled taught into something layered and wearable. Another aspect to delight in: every character in TWD has a distinctive, believable voice and it’s to the writer’s credit that they all sound like his voice, which means he’s either very existentialist, very bi-polar, or very good at writing opposing viewpoints (I’m guessing all three).

On the visual side, artist Charlie Adlard puts out more of his perfectly mottled and modeled work, every panel in tune with the needs of the script. There’s been a fair amount of opposition to Adlard’s aesthetic on this series, but I would argue that what he brings to the story is precisely what Kirkman wants it to be. The zombies look rotten, sluggish; the characters look dirty and rugged; and the scenery is serene. There’s a dark, almost noir-ish quality here, which works well with a rough, character-driven script; but there’s also compassion buried beneath, showcasing all the desire and desperation and fear – every expression reads equal parts weakness as well as strength. Cliff Rathburn provides the gray tones, and if I’m going to praise the roundness of the artistic atmosphere, I have to give a hearty nod towards him as well. He and Adlard make for a superior team.

So big things are on their way; not this issue, and at best only a sampling in the next issue, but then that’s how this series has always worked its magic. It’s a brilliant read with finely-tuned, momentum-building, character-driven drama – it’s the Gone With the Wind of post-apocalyptic survivalist epics, and regardless of its unhurried pace (or perhaps because of it), it is an epic. Like Cerebus, like Bone, like Thieves & Kings and A Distant Soil, like all the many other, great, long-running comic book sagas, it’s a story that, once done, you’ll forever wish you had been reading all along. So read it, already and spare yourself the woe!

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