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The Walking Dead: Compendium One

June 9, 2010

If you’re anything like me, The Walking Dead will have you gasping and screaming.
After reading Compendium One, I tweeted “I don’t think I’ve ever gasped this much while reading.” That was an understatement—I was afraid my followers wouldn’t believe me if I had said I was yelling during the course of the compendium. However, my roommate can attest to all of the big noises that escaped my slender self. (If he didn’t have a zombie fetish already, my over-the-top vocalizations might have been the impetus he needed to read it. He got hooked quickly on The Walking Dead.)

The Walking Dead should have you gasping and, perhaps, screaming. This compendium contains 48 issues of zombies: a barn rife with roamers, undead limbs lopped off at close range, and flesh-filled kisses. Awesome-gory-shocking-delicious zombie fare is what you’ll be getting, in heaps. But what is it about? To make it quick: The Walking Dead follows a cop, Rick, who awoke from a coma (he was shot on the job) to discover the zombiepocalypse had occurred. He goes out on the road looking for his family and safety. Pretty soon we have an RV full of people looking for secure shelter. Everyone learns how to shoot a gun, but many have specialized tasks.

This book quickly impacted me, mostly because I realized how useless I’d be in this situation. I don’t know how to shoot a gun. I need a fire-building refresher. I’d probably eat poison berries. My friend Sean lent me this collection because I tweeted that I had read Perspepolis and loved it, and oh yeah, I should read more graphic novels or comic books. Anyway, shortly after lending it to me, Sean messaged me asking how I was liking it so far. I admitted it freaked me out a little bit, because it reminded me of how woefully unprepared I am for the apocalypse. Someone’s gotta get working on survival skills! Sean kindly offered to show me how to shoot this summer, and assured me that as a teacher, I’m a valuable commodity. But I’m only valuable if we’re able to restore some semblance of civilization after the apocalypse. If we can’t? I’m dead-weight, man. AND NO, I AM NOT GOING TO BUY MY WAY BY REPOPULATING EARTH. KTHXBYE.

Thematically, The Walking Dead seems to be pretty blatant with its message (it is, after all, laid out on the back cover).

How many hours are in a day when you don’t spend half of them watching television? When is the last time any of us REALLY worked to get something that we wanted? How long has it been since any of us really NEEDED something we WANTED?

The world we knew is gone.

The world of commerce and frivolous necessity has been replaced by a world of survival and responsibility.

An epidemic of apocalyptic proportions has swept the globe causing the dead to rise and feed on the living. In a matter of months society has crumbled—no government, no grocery stores, no mail delivery, no cable TV.

In a world ruled by the dead, we are forced to finally start living.

Does it really take a zombiepocalypse to show us we are The Walking Dead? Aren’t we (as a culture of fat, TV-drugged Americans who claim to love our freedom) already dead? Kirkman, et al. appear to argue that, yes, we are the walking dead. We have become so satisfied with mass-produced goods, entertainment, and food that we don’t truly live. At one point in the comic, a character notes that the zombies aren’t the only walking dead. They are the walking dead. Oh snap: these fictional characters aren’t the only walking dead, either. So are we. In addition to this, “hey, are we really living?” question, this comic asks us to ponder to what lengths you’ll go to protect yourself and loved ones, and at what point do you lose your humanity? Are you dehumanized if the only clothing you have is a prison jumpsuit, you sleep behind bars, and you are safe so long as the prison fence stands? How worthwhile is life in this scenario? You have to think about what makes life important to you. If it’s Farmville and McDonald’s, you’re screwed.

If you don’t care for this message, you’ll still get a kick out of this comic (provided you like zombie or apocalypse lore). It is so much fun! The plot is riveting, the characters do things to shock you, and there is a lot of flyin’ flesh (Michonne wields a katana very well). One of my favorite things about this comic is that no character is sacred. You get attached to characters and they die. If you don’t want to make this a didactic read, don’t. Just sit back and enjoy the carnage.

I can’t wait for the next compendium…which will probably be a few years down the road. Yes, I could get the monthly back issues or the smaller collections, but there is something so satisfying about a massive trade paperback that weighs as much as my cat (she’s big) and has beautiful art on glossy pages.


Next up: The Death of Bunny Munro by Nick Cave. (That’ll probably be a while, as I have to refresh myself on history and whatnot to try to get qualified to teach social studies to middle schoolers.)

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