Review – The Walking Dead #103 (image / Skybound, 2012)

Needless to say, this is a review, so there are SPOILERS.

I can see where Kirkman is coming from now, with his portrayal of Negan. He is going to be a real deal villain, like the bad guy in those black and white matinee movies, all twirling of his moustache and sweeping his black cape about him, and a resounding evil cackle  His entrance in #100 was suitably over the top, the terrible violence meted out was only part of the show. It was also his mannerisms, his choice use of language (does anyone really swear like that?), his tactics. He was clever, calculating, but also brutal, and most definitely a complete Dick with that captial D.

In #103, Negan returns, and now its clear what Kirkman M.O is here. Negan is so loathsome, that the title now has an adversary worthy of this great series. On a par with the Governor? Maybe, it is too early to tell. it depends on how Kirkman handles the story in the months to come. But the potential is there to make Negan the greatest villain that Rick Grimes has encountered. He has the swagger, the presence, the brain and the brawn. And the swearing.

So, Negan arrives – as promised back in #100 – to collect his ‘tax’ from the community. 50%, as he said. There is some resistance from Rick, when, with the big gate of the Alexandria Safe Zone separating him and Negan, Rick stares at him sullenly, there is a moment when you wonder if the fightback starts right there. The resistance lasts a few panels. Rick ends up looking more like a recalcitrant child. It’s a great little scene.

And while I am going off on a tangent, there is another great scene at the start of the issue, with Jesus (aka ‘Paul’) doing some covert tracking of Dwight and his eye drops (love that little bit of detail Adlard keeps ‘dropping’ in). Jesus is so kick-ass he can even fell a few zombies while doing his covert thing. Does this confirm that Jesus is actually on Ricks side? Or is he that deep cover that the deception extends to Negan’s men not knowing that Jesus is actually one of their own? There is still a lingering sense that Jesus is not all he seems, and Kirkman has fostered that. And that is a shame, because I want Jesus to be with the ‘good’ guys. His character is strong enough to be a worthy addition to the main cast of characters. With the loss of Abraham, we need some more Alpha males in the cast to be able to balance out Rick. Anyway, bottom line is – Jesus is following Dwight, as per the plan Rick devised last issue. We may get to know a bit more about Negan and his environment pretty soon. I hope that is going to be interesting.

One more interesting scene before I go back to Negan, There are a few panels where Carl and Rick share some time, and you can feel the disdain pouring out of Carl towards his Father. Adlard, again, conveys the emotion in the scene. Where this will go – with Carl clearly feeling like his Father has lost face, and control over their situation – is unclear. But this will be taken further, undoubtedly. Later on in the issue, Carl attempts to threaten Negan, but his ire is quickly dampened when he realises the threat he is up against. Again, how this feeds into how Carl is going to react to the whole situation is intriguing, and probably will be looked at further in the near future, if upcoming cover art is any sort of indicator.

So, Negan is at the gates. Rick is going to let him in – what else can he do? But it is important to note that Negan and the Saviors have actually been doing some community-spirited work, clearing out some walkers that have been lurking near the vicinity of the Safe Zone. Negan clearly has a code of honour and duty to those who he deems are under his protection, however warped this world view is to the reader. But this is post-apocalypse territory, the normal rules don’t apply any more.

Now we get to the meat of this issue, with Negan and the Saviors making their presence felt inside the safe zone. These scenes are handled so well, with Negan firmly in control. It is all in the detail – for example, Negan gives Rick ‘Lucille’ to hold. This is interesting in so many ways – it shows the powerlessness of Ricks situation. Rick is having to hold the weapon that killed Glenn. It is a weapon that could kill Negan, but Rick is powerless to do it, because the repercussions would probably lead to the death of all those he loves. It shows the balance of power has truly shifted, as Rick is no more than a caddy for Negan. Negan does not view him as a threat, and is making that clear to the widest audience possible.

Negan surveys the Safe Zone, and clearly admires the set-up, so there is a threat established whereby the Saviors can decide to either co-exist in the Safe Zone or evict the current dwellers and take it for themselves.  Then we get to the food and medicine supplies. Negan does not want to take any food, as hungry people are no good to him. Another example of his tactical thinking. He wants people fit and healthy, so he can take what he wants from them. He wants productive people. He is again clearly establishing that he does not view these people as a threat. Then comes the master-stroke. When the Saviors take their cut of the medicine supplies, they take less than the 50% they are entitled to, but what they do take is the morphine and oxycontin and anything else that can be used  (presumably for ‘recreation’ purposes and as an incentive and a bargaining tool). They leave the cold medicine, aspirin and penicillin. They leave the community at risk if there are any serious health issues, presumably leaving them at the mercy of Negan, having to go to him to request those supplies. This scene again shows Rick lack of options. He has to talk Denise out of shooting the Saviors taking the supplies, and try to reason with Negan so that they can retain some of the morphine and other medicines. His plea to Negan falls on deaf ears. Rick has no bargaining power.

The one pointless scene of the week, and the one part of this issue that just did not hold up well at all, is Andrea and Ricks lovers tiff. What was that all about? I took this summary from the Walking Dead Wiki, as they explain it so well, and shows the scene up for what it is – pointless;

Andrea is about to move out of Rick’s house because she isn’t satisfied with his decision of letting Dwight go back. Rick stops her in the last minute and tells her about his plan, how he is pretending to be scared so they can strike back at Negan. Andrea wonders why Rick didn’t tell her earlier, and he says he didn’t want everyone to know.

This is the issue 1 of the new arc and is, as yet, untitled. Well thank goodness for that. Too many of these recent arcs have been labelled and packaged. it feels like each 6 episode run is overtly worked purely for the trade reprint, which feels like a constraint to story. That may be so, but by giving a name to every arc, you also make it an ‘event’, it gets expectations too high. I like The Walking Dead just as much when there is no arc title blazed across each issue.

In summary, a great issue, so many exciting possibilities. The cover art is not a direct commentary on the action in the issue, but is an expression of the way the balance of power has shifted in this comic. Negan holds all the power now. How Rick reacts to that is now the driver of the plot. If he makes a wrong decision on this, it could cost many lives. I get the sense that any move against Negan, even if successful, is going to come at a heavy price.

The title is really back on track, where the next issue cannot come quickly enough. This, coupled with the fantastic Walking Dead game that is out now on various plaforms, and the soon to be aired Series 3 of the TV show, means it has never been a better time to be a fan.

The Newsfield Years

‘The Newsfield Years’ focuses on the complete story of Newsfield Publications, the publishers behind some of the most influential group of magazines in the 8 bit 80s. Featuring in-depth interviews with Roger Kean, Matthew Uffindell, Oliver Frey and Franco Frey the film focuses on the remarkable impact it had through its publications such as Crash, Zzap!64 and Amtix, featuring very open accounts of how they were created right through to Newsfield’s demise in the early 1990s. The film explores how they dealt with the early days of getting their magazines into the Newsagents, the ‘Unclear User’ legal battle, developing a comic strip, their journalists becoming celebrities, resisting incredible pressure from Games Publishers for positive reviews as they knew they could literally make or break a game’s success and the stunning artwork of Oliver Frey.

Nice Poster – Metalstorm, The Destruction of Jared Syn (in 3D) (1983)

This was on my bedroom wall a long, long time ago. A case of exciting Movie Poster, combined with engagingly confusing and long winded movie title (a bit like Spacehunter Adventures in the Forbidden Zone (also in 3D)). Was the movie any good? Who knows! I never watched it, I just liked the poster, with its array of Mad Max-type hero, futurewar cyborg type killer and lots of SPACE all around them.

It does not get much in the way of love via its IMDB rating, sadly Take a look yourself, see what you think;

and while we are at it, have some more movie poster aer and video cassette art for Metalstorm the Destruction of Jared Syn!!!

The Stand Omnibus Review (Marvel, 2012)

Having recently shelled out on The Invisibles, and soon to receive the exhaustive (and most likely exhausting)  Marvel ‘Zomnibus’, plus the eagerly awaited Criminal Deluxe Edition Volume 2, I am experiencing a relative flood of Omnibus titles to stockpile as the autumn nights draw in. As I purchase a lot of my books via Amazon, they are always happy to shove more products in my face that I will most likely ignore, but sometimes they throw me something I was blissfully unaware of / was woefully uninformed of / did not see coming and I am more than presently surprised, so much so that I immediately reward them with more of my cash as I purchase said product.

What I am trying to say is, is that they recommended that I may just like The Stand Omnibus from Marvel. Well, how very perceptive for a website bot. I immediately ordered. It arrived within the week, and has, without doubt, been the best Omnibus purchase I have made. There are so many reasons why, and this review is going to attempt to share some of the love emanating from me, fresh from finishing the main book (the one with all the comic books in chronological order in glorious colour with great binding) in this 2 volume slipcase set. The second book is the equivalent of the second DVD full of ‘extras’ in a 2 DVD film presentation. That book is not being reviewed here.

The Stand is one of Stephen Kings better known, and according to fan polls, best loved books. It is also one of his longest, and one of his most divisive (one reviewer who went by the name of Spider Robinson actively campaigned to urge people not to read the book, such was his loathing of it – read it here). I read it in 1983, when it was still in its original 1978 version. There has since been 2 revisions of the book (2 revisions I was completely unaware of), and its the final one, the ‘complete & unabridged’ version, released in 1990, that is the basis for Marvel Comics comic adaptation. You find that out in a very nice way, with a scene that references the Warren Beatty / Madonna movie ‘Dick Tracy’, which was one of the Summer Blockbusters of that year. It is also one of the few pop culture references to frame the story. It is telling, as I think this excellent adaptation invests the reader with enough intelligence that they do not need to hit them over the head with specific cultural references, to give the story a relative position to the readers experiences. This version of The Stand is the age old tale of Good versus Evil, God and The Devil, the dark versus the light. It tells that story very well, and is probably the finest adaptation of a literary source in comic form.

The comic adaptation was divided up into 6 runs, covering nearly 4 years, starting with The Stand: Captain Trips in the autumn of 2008, followed by American Nightmares, Soul Survivors, Hardcases, No Man’s Land and concluding with The Night Has Come, which finished its run earlier this year (in February 2012). That was a massive commitment from Marvel comics, to keep with a project to the end regardless of sales on single issues of the title. But more importantly, this was a huge achievement from the Creative team, who, in an industry where those teams are disbanded on a regular basis, managed to keep its people from the first to last. The most obvious benefit to the reader is the consistency of art style. The greatest benefit to the readers of this omnibus is the talent of the Creative team. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, as writer, manages something of a minor miracle in his filtering of this massive Post Apocalypse saga, all 1152 pages of it, into a balanced, absorbing retelling of Kings novel. As important, as absolutely crucial, is the work of Mike Perkins, whose naturalistic, clean art captures perfectly a world ravaged, and the full spectrum of human emotions and interactions. Alongside him, the colours of Laura Martin are pitched just right, slightly muted, but bursting into life when required to capture the intensity of the story at key points.

The story is, in essence, a tale of Good versus Evil, a story of how man destroys man, but also of sacrifice, salvation & hope. It’s Religious overtones are blatant, but it is also a retelling of how humans ultimately fuck everything up, given enough time and resources, only to begin again with renewed purpose on doing it right second (third, fourth, fifth etc) time around. There is also more than a nod to Tolkien and his Lord of the Rings books in this story, and the riffs on that tale are completely blatant and seem more an act of fan service on the part of King than any sort of wholesale lifting from the source material.

This adaptation is a lesson in how to use the source material work in comic form. As a reader the feeling of the plot moving at a steady pace is palpable, from the initial outbreak of the superflu nicknamed ‘Captain Trips’, to the pandemic, to the aftermath, to the marshalling of the forces of Good against Evil. The main characters have enough depth and personality to make you care enough about their fate, from the brooding, tragic Nick Andros, the capable everyman Stu Redman, the man-child Tom Cullen. None of this would be possible without the economy and precision of Aguirre-Sacasa’s text and the humanity that Perkins pours into the panels, depicting these characters. The portrayal of Randall Flag (aka The Walking Dude, aka THE DEVIL HISSELF) is all easy courtesies and charm with the swagger of a Rock Idol, until he gets mad, and then Perkins gives Flagg enough of The Devil and Animal Predator Nightmare Fuel (like the rows of Shark Teeth he flashes before lunging for the Kill) to make him a worthy unfiltered image of Evil.

The action set pieces work really well, as sparing as they are throughout this massive book, and are handled with a sure touch – you feel the chaos, the tension, you see the chaos, the tension, the effects of violence, the destruction that can be wreacked upon a body. It’s cinematic and I mean that in a good way – Perkins has great vision and frames each panel with care and attention. The level of detail and consistency in his work is astonishing.

So is it worth your time and money? For those with any interest in Stephen King, The Stand or Post Apocalypse fiction, then it’s a no-brainer. You must treat yourself to this fantastic package. Marvel invest in quality when they put together an Omnibus. You may around 50 to a 100 sterling, but what you get is good paper, fantastic reproduction of the comics, superb binding, and a comfortable sturdiness when you hold the book in your hands. For book case lovers, I can tell you that the Omnibus’ from Marvel catch the eye with their fat spines and vibrant lettering.

I read the whole thing in 3 sittings, probably totalling around 6 hours of solid reading. There is more to it than reading the text and skimming the art – you stop and take each panel in, there is no way you hurry thriugh this. It is the best adaptation of a book I have read in comic form. The fact its source is one of my favourite books obviously helps its case, but that should not diminish from what I am trying to express; for one of the more gripping, moving, thriling comic book experiences of modern times, this has few equals. Marvel’s decision to make the adaptation, AND then collect it in this premium Omnibus format, reaps dividends for the reader.

To summarise; it is very, very good. Buy it.