walking_dead_125_cover_2014Editor’s Note: Some kind of instinct. Memory of stories they used to ruin. This was an important spoiler in their lives.

Let me start be reiterating the spoiler warning in the first line of this review. I recognize that I try to get cute with my spoiler warnings, and therefore they might be missed by some people who want to cut to the chase and get pissed off by reading spoilers on a free Web site written by a drunkard who’s spent almost two years complaining about the antagonist in The Walking Dead. I intend to spoil the living shit out of this issue. Starting now.

Thank fucking God that, after about 23 straight months of the rotten, one-note son of a bitch, someone has finally put the shiv to Negan. Granted, it happens at the very end of the issue, and since this is only part 11 of 12 of the All Out War storyline, he still has 22 pages to magically get someone to seal the gaping wound in his neck to still be a pain in someone else’s, but I have waited since July of 2012, when Negan killed Glenn (which gets namechecked in this issue) to see someone actually hurt that wretched bastard.

I have been vocal about how slowly-paced things have seemed since Negan came on the scene to curse and threaten his way through The Walking Dead, so seeing him take a blade to the throat would have given this issue a thumbs up even if the other 21 pages were wordless Charlie Adlard ink washes of Rick trying futilely to crank himself off with his wrist stump. But that’s not the case.

Instead, we have a rich issue filled with the aftermath of Negan’s earlier biological warfare, some scenes of some serious jockeying in conventional warfare, and a whole bunch of sweet, sweet psychological warfare. Meaning that not only does this story meet the definition of All Out War, but it is the first really, really good issue of The Walking Dead in quite a long time.

Rick and company are dealing with the aftermath of Negan’s attack on the settlement with weapons tainted with zombie blood. Nicholas is going down for the count faster than a guy forced to watch The Room without the benefit of whiskey, everyone is watching Rick to see if the bolt Dwight shot him with is going to turn him into Hannibal Lecter’s retarded brother, and Rick is sending a small force out to meet with Dwight in an effort to flank Negan if he makes another attack. Thankfully, it turns out that Negan is a different Hannibal’s (the 2,200 year old military genius) retarded brother, in that he walks to the front gate of Rick’s compound under the assumption that Rick is dead from the allegedly tainted crossbow bolt, demanding that everyone surrender. Instead, Rick walks out and spends some time insulting Negan, calling him a moron for waging war when both communities could be working together, trading, bartering and defending each other, rebuilding society even better than it was in the zombie apocalypse. Negan seems to be whalloped by the idea, suddenly spinning out ideas how such an arrangement could make things better for everyone involved…

…and then Rick stabs him in the neck, and the crowd watching from behind the comics page goes wild!

This is a very, very well-constructed issue. The opening showing Negan still being excited from last issue over the idea of taking a squirt on Rick’s corpse is an early reminder of exactly who we’re dealing with, so even when we see him seemingly excited over the idea of working with Rick, we have a recent enough example of the kind of man we’re dealing with to be apprehensive about Negan’s motives. We see someone die in the aftermath of Negan’s biological warfare, and we have that death not only affect a child, but writer Robert Kirkman shows us that child interacting with Carl (whose mother died violently at the hands of attackers), whose nutcutting and pragmatic advice reminds us of the heavy cost living in this world requires.

So by the time Negan shows up spouting his usual blustery line of bullshit, we have been well reminded of the stakes involved in dealing with Negan. So Rick would be well-served and justified in responding to Negan’s challenge with gunfire… and yet he walks out with his own bluster. On the face of things, this is a case of Rick being reasonable and tolerant has he often has been throughout the ten years of this comic, but Kirkman does something far more clever here: look at Rick’s language. He is aggressive in his language of cooperation, calling Negan a moron, and stupid, and lazy. And he does this all while preaching cooperation and tolerance. It is Rick’s usual message, couched in Negan’s methods of intimidation and insult, which gets Negan’s attention…

And then there is Negan’s reaction. Kirkman and Adlard do excellent work here; Adlard gives us Negan’s initial positive reaction to Rick’s proposal with a giant splash page. This slows us readers down and is the common visual language of the sudden revelation. We then get a page of four horizontal panels in a medium two-shot, showing Negan pacing and talking through the idea with wide eyes and one hand over his face as if deep in thought… but look at that third panel on page 21. Specifically, look at the silhouette just in front of Negan’s left arm. He is carrying a giant gutting knife, yo.

This is a masterful couple of pages. Kirkman and Adlard’s splash of Negan lead us to believe that Negan has seen the light. The four-panel monologue of Negan working through the idea lead us to believe he might actually be buying it… but after two years, we should know better, and Adlard’s subtle knife shadow in panel three shows us that Negan is just as full of shit as he always has been…

And then we get a splash page of Negan, horrible, too-long-lived Negan, getting a shank to the fucking neck.

I realize that I have ruined this entire issue for you. But the mechanics at play here were simply too well done for me to not talk about them in detail. Kirkman and Adlard remind us of Negan’s character, and of the stakes involved in living in this world with zombies and with people, then lead us on with classic visual storytelling, give us a small hint that our suspicions that Negan’s sudden change of heart are crap, and then show us readers what we have wanted to see for more than a year and a half. This is not just a comic book that shows us a bad guy getting what we want him to get, but one that is as technically well-executed as I’ve seen in a damn long time.

Even though I have ruined the ending, get this issue to see how professionals tell a comic book story. Don’t miss this one.

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