Although despite being five seasons in, The Walking Dead could still learn some lessons from its comic book counterpart.
Here’s how my love of The Walking Dead and non-superhero related comics began…
I consider myself a medium-level comic book nerd. Sure I’m not an expert, but I have plenty of passion and interest to go around.
The guys at Forbidden Planet (our only comic shop option in the particular clone town I live in) know me by sight, if not by name and I get weirdly excited whenever I see one of them in our local with a girl. “Yes this fellow nerd is gettin’ some. There’s hope for everyone!”
I’ll also admit I’m shamelessly in favour of superheroes. I’ve never been an expert or a collector, but I watched X-Men and Spiderman cartoons endlessly as a kid, I bought one-offs from second hand shops and read whatever collected editions I could get my hands on. I always (not so secretly) loved the bright, colourful and simple images of a hero struggling in a world that continues to test them.
However, my true love of comics developed when I started to branch out into the non-Marvel, non-costumed branch of the comic book world. From the fascinating mouse themed exploration of a time spent in a concentration camp in Maus to the delicate, heart-achingly lovely coming of age story that is Blankets.
I loved it all. Soon I found that artists and writers were doing things with comics that they couldn’t get away with anywhere else, and boy can they go dark!
The Walking Dead comic Book
The Walking Dead quickly became a firm favourite and it was the first time I had seen really violent, dark stuff happening in a comic book. Kids killing kids, brains being blown out everywhere and torture, so much torture.
These are all regular occurrences for the weary travellers in Robert Kirkman’s epic story. It’s illustrated in stark black and white, so some of the guts and body parts were not as graphically gross-out as they could be, but the horror is still there and feels palpable at all times. The Walking Dead really is wonderful looking, in an ‘intestines everywhere’ kind of way and with fantastic writing to boot.
So, the fear we all get when something we love is turned into film or TV was substantial. However, with an impressive first season featuring some incredible make up work, especially in Rick’s first proper encounter with the dead, it really did feel promising. In spite of the dodgy accent work and some scripting that was less than spot on.
The Walking Dead TV show’s slow march to meh
Then along comes season two, a slow, mournful static series on the most boring locale in existence (fuck that fucking farm, man). Sorrowful people walking round in circles having circular conversations with one another. Suddenly the zombie element, so beautifully imagined in many films, seemed like it might be too much of a challenge for a serial show.
The endless march of the dead. Knowing that each and every character you love (despite so much underdone character work) would end up just another bloody meal. The only theme ever explored is ‘what are you willing to do to survive?’ Every decision, good or bad, is rewarded with pain and loss. It’s bleak stuff.
I almost gave up after season two, I didn’t care about the characters which the writers had done little to define or develop and I didn’t care who got munched. Frequent changes of showrunners didn’t help this and a lack of direction was tangible. Which to me is ridiculous, the source material is right in front of the producers. It’s already incredibly popular and they’ve laid it all out for them. Idiots.
So why carry on?
After shaking off the shackles of the farm it started to stretch it’s legs. Suddenly we were looking at capable people hitting challenges head on and, more importantly, winning. Not completely or all the time, but now we were watching able characters being badass. Not walking man-chow getting picked off every time they try to do anything. The characters started to have form and personality. The storytelling become more focused, concentrated. More powerful.
It stuck loosely with the arcs of the comic book, following Kirkman’s lead while still taking it’s own direction. Keeping it different enough to keep the comic fans interested but still able to watch some of the things we’ve read and loved come to life (Terminus right?!)
The women became multi-dimensional, interesting, forceful characters in their own right. Not merely WAGs doing the cooking and cleaning clothes on a washboard (seriously where the hell did they find a washboard?!) Suddenly we were dealing with situations I wanted to see: how would we deal with Zombies and the other dangerous people that would infest that kind of world?
But finally, the last, best, most important reason I keep watching? The pure, obvious and visceral joy the creators take in offing walkers (roamers, lurkers, biters) in the most gory and awesome ways possible.
From smashing their heads in car boots, to forcing fingers through theirs eyes to use their heads to hit someone else in the face with, to blasting them with the water cannon from a fire engine. It feels less bleak than in the comics, you can see the enjoyment they take in the make-up work, the prosthetics and coming up with as many ridiculous Zombie kills as they can. I think I could watch The Walking Dead hour upon hour just for that,
Does that make me a weirdo? What the hell, I like what I like.