Walking Through Mud: The Walking Dead #115 Review

tmp_walking_dead_115_cover_2013971730894This review is going to be colored by the fact that I am sick to fucking death of Negan and am more than ready for The Walking Dead to move on to something new.

We have been dancing with this character for fifteen months and his crew of douchebags for even longer than that, and for the entire time it has felt like the guy has one note, and writer Robert Kirkman has been playing it over… and over… and over, in an unending loop that should offend the mind of any self-respecting software developer:

while (bool negan.getIsAlive())
    List ricksPlanToBeatNegan = new List ( { “Take The Fight to Negan!” } );

    n = n + 1;

See what months and months of reading about Negan has done to me? I develop software for my day job, and I just spent ten minutes trying to come up with a valid Java-ish method rather than contemplate 12 more issues with this fucking character.

But 12 issues should be the long and short of Negan, because The Walking Dead #115 signals the start of the major story arc All Out War, which should give us the final showdown between Rick’s and Negan’s people. And if the check that the title’s floating is any good at all, this showdown will be a straight-out fight, rather than these little insurrections and half-measures and bouts of oneupsmanship that have made reading The Walking Dead since July of (Jesus) 2012 feeling like walking through thick mud: you take forever and a ton of effort to take every step, and yet go nowhere fast.

So things should start speeding up… eventually. Because part one of All Out War is really more of the same.

Rick has established an alliance with Ezekial’s people and Jesus’s people from The Hilltop, and are preparing to hit Negan at his headquarters. Rick confesses his doubts to Andrea while Ezekial confesses that his pet tiger shit in the tub to Michonne. Ammunition is being produced while Rick rallies the troops, leaves Andrea and Carl in charge back and the homestead and sets off with a small army. Outside Negan’s camp, Rick pops off a couple of shots to get Negan’s attention, namechecks the old law of “You kill and you die” that he set in place back at the prison, and tells Negan to surrender, send out the women and children, and then wait patiently for summary execution (Somebody’s been watching Dredd). Negan does his normal bullshit, vulgar posturing… before bringing out a surprise that turns Rick’s understanding of his position on its head.

Sound familiar? It should: on some level, this is the same stuff we’ve been reading every few issues for more than a year. Despite the promise of war, this is yet another issue filled with implied violence, big threat talk, vulgar Negan douchebaggery, and a big twist that puts Rick and his people – and the reader – on their heels.

Which is fine on some level, and one could argue that its an effective setup for the presumed extensive violence coming in short order (unless “All Out War” refers to more arguing, only with exposed penises)… but we don’t need the setup, because we already know that Negan is a prick who always has something up his sleeve. We’ve had 15 months of setup to know that the only cure for what ails Negan is a lead suppository followed by a long and restful dirtnap. Are we really expected to believe that Rick really thinks that Negan would just surrender on demand? But I’ll get back to that in a minute.

What does work here is some of the character notes leading up to the confrontation. Kirkman uses intimate moments up front to allow Rick to announce that he’s nervous about the upcoming confrontation, and that in his mind, all he’s ever done is try to keep his family safe – and poorly at that. It’s a nice humanizing moment that takes a step back from Jesus’s proclamation in a recent issue that Rick is a natural leader born to take his people to safety (a hell of a comment coming from a guy named Jesus), and it helps to rehumanize the situation away from these characters being shifted around a board to keep the conflict going all these months.

In addition, it’s good to see Carl in a light that doesn’t involve him running around half-cocked and trying his damnedest to get his head blown off. Kirkman gives us a nice moment between Carl and Andrea where she implies that Carl will be in charge of the defense while Rick is off shouting toothless death sentences over a wall, and artist Charlie Adlard gives us a visual of Carl looking more adult than I think I’ve seen him in this comic book. It’s a good combination of art and writing that shows Carl has evolved, at least a little, over the course of this series, and that worked for me.

But Jesus Christ, how many times am I gonna need to see Rick and Negan yelling at each other and chucking ultimatums around over a Goddamned fence? I am trying like hell to withhold judgment, and I am hoping that we will soon find that Rick has some kind of sneaky, backhanded flank attack in mind that we’re gonna see at the start of the next issue, because otherwise, this is the dumbest Goddamned attack plan I have ever seen, and I have played Risk against blackout drunks. Rick has witnessed Negan bludgeoning Glenn to death, shooting to kill at his common law wife, and holding his fucking son hostage… and he makes a frontal approach and yells a formal declaration of war to give Negan a chance to surrender? That’s like arguing the pros and cons of a vegan diet with a zombie: it might make you feel like a good guy, but there’s not much greater point to it.

Adlard’s art is one of the most effective elements of the story to accentuate that the impending war will potentially have a human cost. His work is as it alway is, with a thin to medium line, and he does a good job pacing this probably calm before the storm, but where his storytelling shines is in the facial expressions, particularly early in the book. There is palpable joy in Rick’s face looking at Andrea and in Michonne’s looking at Ezekial. I’ve already mentioned his making Carl look more adult than usual, and there is visible affection between a lot of these characters early in the book. But once the confrontation begins, Rick is all business… and that last panel of Rick after Negan pulls his little surprise? Yeah, I don’t want to fuck with that guy.

But the problem is that nobody fucks with anybody here. This is not a terrible story, but it’s one that we’ve read at least three or four times since July of last fucking year. It was yet another 20-something pages of Rick and Negan puffing themselves up and shouting at each other across some fence, with Negan again doucheing it up and putting one over on Rick. It’s not a bad tense confrontation before the promised storm… but it’s a confrontation we’ve been seeing for months. I am ready for the shooting to start, already.