When Walking Dead decides that it’s time for the rubber to hit the road there is nothing better. It’s true Walking Dead writer Robert Kirkman has a penchant for an “action-lull-action” structure to the series, which sometimes leads to long stretches where little happens action wise. Kirkman uses these lulls to strengthen the characters, develop sub-plots and introduce new story arcs.
The last several issues of Walking Dead have centered on protagonist Rick Grimes and his crew trying to assimilate and maintain after entering a gated community filled with other survivors. With issue #81, the second part of the No Way Out arc, Kirkman decides enough talk, its time for some action. Of course the action is centered in the humanity of the characters, which makes it that much more powerful. It’s the type of storytelling that reminds us that comics really are literature.
Issue 81 opens with sex, always a strong way to start a story. Rick’s getting some, and dealing with the guilt over it, while Michonne is getting some and trying to enjoy it. Meanwhile the entire crew is stressing over Andrea, who is stuck in the watchtower due to the sudden onslaught of walkers just outside the walls of the community. Kirkman keeps the tension alive by making sure the responses and action are all on a human level. With the supernatural backdrop, it would be easy for Walking Dead to devolve into a simplistic and violent fantasy story. For 81 issues Kirkman has avoided that pitfall by making sure his characters respond in a human way, complete with mistakes and sudden problems nobody saw coming.
The pacing of Walking Dead 81 is also key to the success. From the opening scene Kirkman slowly builds the events until the issue is rolling like a runaway train. What begins as a tender moment between Rick and Jessie ends up with a heartbreaking casualty and a cliffhanger that leaves you desperate for the next issue. Where No Way Out ends up is anybody’s guess, and what develops out of this for the characters is another mystery. As always Walking Dead tends to mimic real life better than most comics out there, a strong achievement in the world of science fiction.
This brings me to the one issue I’ve always had with Walking Dead, the art. It has nothing to do with the actual artist, Charlie Adlard is superb, I’ve just never enjoyed the look of the series. I respect that Kirkman opted for black and white in order to give Walking Dead a stark look to match the emotional content, but the characters all tend to bleed into each other. It’s odd because the action looks great and the violence is incredibly realistic, but when it comes to the actual characters it takes a minute to establish who is who, even after all this time. Regardless of my nitpicking on the art, Walking Dead #81 is another fantastic entry in a series that never fails to entertain.