The Walking Dead Books 1-3

I’m late getting to this series, but I have always heard good things about it.  It recently won an Eisner Award, and AMC is airing the first episode of their new television series based on the comic October 31.  I figured I might as well check out the original.  I’m not a big horror fan, especially in comic form, but I do like the classic zombie films.  Here I am three books (36 issues) later.  Be warned: the series is like potato chips (or what I imagine crack cocaine must be like).  You can’t just read one.

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Author Robert Kirkman is a master of the cliffhanger and plot twist.  Every issue ends with the reader wanting to immediately read the next, which is certainly good for business in the comic world.  I’ve read a lot comments on the net praising the characterization and how the series deals with the human condition.  My elitist English Lit pedigree will not let me buy into it truly being literary in that aspect, like say Maus or Stitches. It’s a zombie comic.  It’s escapist fun, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  In fact, I love the series, or I wouldn’t have read the first three collections straight through.  In terms of characterization and overall literary weight, I have to say it probably rises to the same level as a good Stephen King novel, although I haven’t read enough King to truly judge.   But it is really, really, outstandingly good as a zombie / survival series, perhaps even the best.

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Book 1 (issues 1-12) introduces the reader to Rick, the protagonist, and the situation, a zombie epidemic.  Rick is a cop, and he was in a coma from being shot in the line of duty.  He wakes up to find the hospital abandoned, except for the zombies.  He quickly learns the basics of the situation and heads for Atlanta where the government has supposedly set up a safe haven.  He joins a group of survivors with an RV.  There are plot twists galore, and then they meet another group of survivors who have a farm.  There are more plot twists, and Rick and his group are invited to leave the farm.

Book 2 (issues 13-24) begins with the group stumbling on a new safe haven.  I’ll not give it away.  It is in book 2 that we begin to learn more about the characters.  Several go through changes, especially Rick.  There’s a lot zombies, and as always, there are plot twists galore.

Book 3 (issues 25-36) is probably the weakest of what I’ve read.  Rick and a couple of group members go on an expedition.  Once again, I’ll not give it away.  They find other survivors and learn that live humans may be more dangerous than the zombies.  The characterization of several of the new characters in these issues is pretty weak in my opinion.  They just don’t make sense to the point of breaking the suspension of disbelief, which is saying a lot being that this is a zombie comic.  Oddly enough up to this point, the series has not been especially gory.  Book 3 is gory and even excessive in one issue. There are plot twists in these issues, but none are as surprising as the previous books.

My one criticism as a whole is that the dialogue can be pretty terrible.  The characters tend to say each others’ names way too often, especially when it’s a private conversation between two people.   It may be annoying to the discerning reader, but if you’re into the story, it will not stop you from picking up the next issue.

Special Exits by Joyce Farmer

Special-Exits-HCIn this graphic memoir, Joyce Farmer  chronicles the gradual decline of her elderly parents’ health and how that decline affects their relationships, their emotional well-being, and their day-to-day existence.  Farmer’s parents, Lars and Rachel,  face their suffering with a stoicism that borders on insanity, refusing to see doctors or simply just not telling their daughter they are seriously ill because they don’t want to bother her.  Lars tells Farmer at one point, “Things get worse in such small increments you can get used to anything.”

Farmer’s parent live in a bad neighborhood in southern Los Angeles.  They experience the 1992 L.A. riots as shut-ins, her mother not being able to leave the couch.  Farmer’s father can see the flames from their front door.  Their house is in disrepair, and like most elderly couples, they get to a point where they just can’t keep up with the cooking and cleaning.  Farmer regularly visits to clean the house, shop for groceries, and learn about her parents’ lives; but it is too much for one person to do part-time.  She hints throughout the years that they need assisted living, but both of her parents refuse until it is no longer an option.  In fact, her father makes her promise that he will be able to die in his own house.

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Anyone who has cared for a loved one in that last season of life, or witnessed their parents care for their grandparents, will attest to the heartbreaking truth about the human condition Farmer has captured in pen. This book, like Art Spiegelman’s Maus,  will likely become a classic in the graphic novel medium for its artistic craftsmanship and emotional power.

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The Sandman: Endless Nights by Neil Gaiman

The_Sandman_-_Endless_Nights_c02This is the first The Sandman that I’ve read, and it was obvious that this is not the place to start.  I imagine that you have to already know these characters and their stories to get much out of this.  Each vignette focuses on one of the Endless, who are evidently some mix of mythological god-like incarnations of human emotions… or something. There is not a lot of explanation for anyone new to the series.  Some of the vignettes are stories.  Some are fragmented portraits of that specific character.  I thought the stories were weak, but that could be because I came into the book knowing nothing about the characters.

The artwork, on the other hand, made it a worthwhile read.  I particularly enjoyed the artwork in “Fifteen Portraits of Despair”   by Barron Storey and, of course, “Delirium Going Inside” with art by Bill Sienkiewicz.  Storey’s portraits of Despair are fragmented and bizarre, capturing the terror and hopelessness that accompanies despair.

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Sienkiewicz is a personal favorite.  Delirium actually has a story, but I couldn’t make much sense of it.  Maybe that’s the point, seeing that it is Delirium, but I got the feeling that there is a back story that I didn’t know that would have explained it.  However, Sienkiewicz’s collage and watercolor style is brilliant as always.

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