Writing: Robert Kirkman
Art: Tony Moore (1-6 and covers)/Charlie Adlard (7+)
Published by: Image, October 2003 - present
The Walking Dead is a unique take on the zombie genre and probably the only zombie comic worth mentioning. Its idealogical roots lie closer to 28 Days Later than Night of the Living Dead. It's not about people freaking out about the zombie apocalypse, but about the psychological changes that come over people freaking out about the zombie apocalypse. I can't say it's the most intelligent comic I've ever read, but it shows creativity and depth that are rare in most.
In keeping with tradition, we meet the protagonist in his hospital bed and he stumbles into the daylight to find society dismantled, everything and everyone he loved destroyed, etc. He sets out in search of his lost life and, shocker, he finds it! Or some semblance. As luck would have it, his wife and young son have neither been eaten nor joined the ranks of the living dead and he stumbles upon a camp they're sharing with an assortment of other still-human refugees.
The comic tells the story of this band as it grows and shrinks and travels through the wasteland of civilization. Someone dies in nearly every issue, but thus far the hero has hung on. The stories deal primarily with the loss of family and the human drive to find new companionship, as well as the insanity grief brings about, and how our dormant caveman instincts might rear their heads in such extreme circumstances. An early part of the story deals with the tension between longtime friends when they find themselves in competition over a woman. What might otherwise end in a night of heavy drinking and grudge sex ends with a duel and a murder.
Perhaps the comic's best trait is its ability to capture the sense of gritty perseverance that defines a hopelessly desperate situation. Even in stolen moments and monologues, the tension of the plot stays strong. After establishing that anyone can die any time, it's hard not to feel as though you're merely watching people edge toward death. It compells you to hang on their every carefully pencilled word.
Though it's not strictly a zombie story, the zombie fanatic in me wouldn't be satisfied unless I told you something about the particular zombie mythology of The Walking Dead. These zombies are Romero zombies: slow, shambling, and persistent. (They are not Land of the Dead zombies - they are not smart or capable of emotion - they are pre-revisionist-Romero zombies.) Zombification doesn't happen only as a result of a bite. Anyone who dies will rise up again and need to be dispensed with.
This book seems to have a good sense of pace and purpose, and so I'd like to see it stick around. However, the reason for the zombies has yet to be explained. Hopefully, if that happens, some giant conspiracy won't overwhelm the rest of the plot and the quick, deft characterizations that make this comic so good. Like tasty human prey sitting huddled in the dark with our shotguns in our laps, we can only wait and pray.