REVIEW: The Walking Dead #75

The Walking Dead #75 is a landmark issue for the series, and its very impressive for a creator-owned book to build this level of history as an ongoing entity.  But did the content of the issue live up to the impressive number?

Much has been said about the color back-up feature. I personally loved it, thought it was a great easter egg for the fans, and was glad it was included. But the real highlight continues to be the fascinating main story. After months of agonising slow-boil, thing finally start to come to a head in this instalment. If Kirkman were to give his issues titles, this one could surely be called “The Other Shoe”, as it certainly dropped here, hard.

I’ve seen a few people here and there talk about how Rick could or even should die, but I think this issue was the perfect showcase for how The Walking Dead very much remains the story of Rick Grimes, and that there is a lot more story left to tell. We’ve seen Rick make some morally questionable decisions before, but generally I think most of us have been able to justify his actions – increasingly ruthless and violent as they may have been – as for the greater good. But this was not the case here. In this issue, we see Rick cross the line, in convincing, unnerving fashion.

The clever thing about how Kirkman does it is that it isn’t just all of a sudden, Rick is doing the wrong thing. He starts out the issue quite justified, I feel. He sees an abusive man who is hurting his wife and kids, and as law enforcer tries to stop him. He doesn’t get approval from Douglas, and feels Douglas is making an unacceptable compromise allowing this abuse to go unpunished, solely because Pete is a doctor. So Rick takes matters into his own hands. This is borderline, but generally we can still see Rick’s side of things. But in one page turn, Kirkman turns that on its head…

Did anyone else actually gasp at that page turn, revealing a deranged-looking Rick (the slabber is literally dribbling from his mouth) pointing the gun at Douglas? It demonstrates what stellar work Kirkman has done developing his cast, that we start treating them like real people. We actually feel disappointed in Rick for what he’s doing. At the time, his plan to get the guns had a foreshadowing of menace, but he explained it all away as a “just in case” failsafe and eased our concerns. But by pulling a gun on Douglas at the slightest provocation, he’s not only revealed the worst in his own nature, but endangered the other members of the group who helped him get those guns. And look at what he screams as he wields his gun at the group:

“I’m the one who does what needs to be done – no matter what. You need me. I make the hard decisions. I do whatever it takes to keep the people around me alive. If you think you can survive without me, you’re wrong.”

It’s the same justifications we’ve all been using all along to excuse Rick’s behaviour. And now here is Rick, using it himself. And when he says it out loud, it feels hollow, like the ramblings of a mad man. Perhaps such justifications have always been hollow, and it took putting that mindset in context like this to see it. Rick remains my favorite character, as he has been throughout the life of the series. But this arc is intriguingly not only showing him slip off the moral high ground, but is making us question whether he was ever really on it.

On the flipside, Douglas continues to grow in my estimations. His dismissal of Gabriel was very satisfying, and while we might be dubious about his decision to keep a wife-beating doctor around, he was unquestionably in the right come the final confrontation. I think having Douglas be another Governor would be too easy. By making him more morally complex, with a valid stance and decent motivations of his own, it makes for a more nuanced rivalry with Rick. With the alpha male struggle between Rick and The Governor, it was simple good VS evil. This struggle is shaping up to be more about shades of gray. Which makes the question of who is going to fall on what side all the more compelling.

Some people might be complaining that the book has gotten boring with less zombies to worry about, but I think The Walking Dead is as fascinating as ever. The slower paced issues leading up to this explosion were all about delicately laying the groundwork, arranging all the pieces into place for this perfect storm. And now we have this power struggle going on, this clash of big personalities trying to assert themselves. It’s fantastic human drama.

Not that there aren’t zombies. Behind the power plays and the community politics, in the background, delicately weaved into this narrative tapestry, is the subplot with Glenn out on his scouting trip. They’ve encountered both a herd and a potentially hostile rival group, either one of which could bring disaster to the gates of Alexandria. Things are going to get nasty, soon…

Some have complained about The Walking Dead #75 not being “big” enough in that it didn’t arbitrarily kill off some major characters. Why would you want that, I ask? These characters are so great, it’s hard enough losing any of them even when it’s at the culmination of a major arc, never mind just because the issue has a certain number. I for one am glad the cast has remained intact, for now at least. Rather than some huge status quo shift, Kirkman and Adlard instead used The Walking Dead #75 to demonstrate what this comic has been doing so well for about 7 years now – nicely timed for potential new fans enticed by footage of the TV show at Comic-Con.

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