Robert Kirkman hasn't exactly broken new ground in the zombie legends mythos with The Walking Dead, but then again, why would anyone need to? As any fan of zombie lore can tell you, you can't get too hung up on the hows and whys of them. What brought them about is rarely all that interesting. What you care about and want to see are still-living humans doing whatever they need to do to stay away from the undead...and then being horrified when the zombies still manage to attack.
And on that score, Kirkman has succeeded brilliantly. The Walking Dead is all about the living, the people who struggle to retain their humanity in the face of the unspeakable. So what does that mean? What good is being human when you're no longer the dominant species on the planet? And what's really left to hold on to? The Walking Dead is an examination of all those questions and more.
It's also a long, slowly unfolding story. There's no race to the finish here, no secret cure that promises an end to all the troubles quickly. That's well-evidenced by the sheer heft of this volume. At more than 1,000 pages, it collects the first 48 issues of the ongoing comic series. It gives the book a nice way to be read: over a long period of time, letting the horror of the entire situation truly sink in. This is humanity's last gasp, after all. Kirkman has ever been a sporadic pacer in his writing, sometimes racing through certain scenes and sometimes allowing subplots and side stories to linger long periods of time. (To wit: One fairly important human character in The Walking Dead is killed off relatively quickly in the series; one can imagine other writers would have kept this character around for a good long time, if only for the different storylines he could generate. That Kirkman doesn't yield to such temptations is encouraging and speaks to his overall sense of the larger story; it's promising that he doesn't need this character to stick around long after he's served his purpose.) Then again, because of that same pacing, the opportunity to read the series in long form, over 48 issues, is more appealing. Subtle nuances in characters and story that may have been missed in the serial format are more easily caught here.
Kirkman builds on previously established zombie tales (most notably George Romero's movies, of course), but neither an appreciation nor an understanding of those is truly needed here. The zombie genre is merely a means to an ends here, and as such, it's perfectly suited, because it gives Kirkman's true talents a venue in which to shine. And shine they do, even in the blood and sleaze.
Reviewed by John Hogan on May 19, 2009
The Walking Dead Compendium, Vol. 1