Monday, February 2, 2015

What I'm Reading: The Walking Dead: Safety Behind Bars

The Walking Dead: Safety Behind Bars is the third collection of the Walking Dead, collecting issues #13-18. Of course, now the Walking Dead is a huge phenomenon with the TV show and action figures and lunch boxes (?), but it started off back in 2003 as an independent comic series by unknown author Robert Kirkman.

I started reading with issue #69 in early 2010, although other comics nerds had been telling me for a long time it was a series I had to get into. I resisted because zombies were so trendy at the time and I was pretty much burned out on zombie stories. But when I did give TWD a chance, picking up an issue on a whim, I was hooked right away. The characters are so well-written, so flawed and recognizably people you could actually meet, that it becomes harrowing to see them put into the impossible and scary situations they encounter. At some point, I went back and got a couple of the early collections to see how they ended up where they were later.

At the beginning of this volume, Rick, the leader of a small band of survivors after the zombie apocalypse, has come across a prison. This appears to be perfect, because once the zombies inside are cleared out, there'll be a double row of fences to keep others out, plus the prison must be well-stocked with canned goods and blankets and things. A complicating factor turns out to be that not all the prisoners have turned, and so there are four hardened criminals who have been living there for months, shut away in a part of a cell block that the zombies couldn't make it into. At first they're relieved to make contact with people from the outside world--but after awhile, they decide they don't want to share the premises with Rick and his friends. At one point, one of the criminals, a convicted murderer, tells the others that their visitors are too damaged by the horrible things they've seen to live in a civilized way.

I have one friend who says his girlfriend has been known to scream out loud when reading Walking Dead comics. I've never done that, but I can see how it happens. Kirkman's pacing is perfect, and he's not afraid to kill off major characters at any time. Sometimes the dread at turning the page wrests with a desire to see how an issue turns out, and I find myself wondering if I really dare see what terrible thing happens next. And yet, I can't stop myself and have to find out how it ends up. If you can handle that kind of tension, Walking Dead might be a series you want to follow. Start with Volume 1: Days Gone By. I bet you'll be hooked.

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