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.