I’ve always enjoyed the Walking Dead comics, even through the ups and downs, and I’ve always been a strong advocate for it. But even I was starting to notice the pattern of “wander, settle, contact, battle, flee, repeat,” so when Rick and company seemed like they ACTUALLY found a place to settle in, it was only a matter of time before a force of nature like Negan swooped in to displace them. This time, though, something incredible happened: they dug in their heels and proclaimed “Not this time!” What followed was twelve issues, over six months, of All-Out WAR that climaxed last issue with Negan and Rick having a conversation about what they could actually accomplish if they stopped fighting each other. Then Rick stabbed Negan in the throat. Robert Kirkman has, with this issue, grabbed the wheel and yanked it in a completely different direction than what the book has followed over the last previous 125 issues: the characters seem ready AND poised to take a run at actually rebuilding society. He’s gotten them to the point that, rightly so, the zombies are not just a nuisance, but being actively weaponized by either size in one way or another, THAT’S how used people are to them. Kirkman’s development of this world over the last ten years has been nothing short of amazing, considering the fact that he’s never really lost focus on the central group, through all the changes its undergone.
Charlie Adlard is a truly interesting artist. His pencils took over from issue 6 and were completely different in a way I couldn’t deal with at the time, but over the last decade, I’ve come to truly appreciate their simplistic-yet-incredibly-expressive tones. And because his pencils are minimalist, you get panels that look incredible, detailed and very, very different from one another. This isn’t a book, nor an issue, where you see faces repeated in dialog-heavy scenes, we’re treated to dramatic cuts between items and people of interest changing and adapting to the actions that surround them. Stefano Gaudiano’s inks help pull these out and make them real, adding to each and every incredible detail, particularly any panel that features blood which, in this title, is a WHOLE lot of panels. We also get Cliff Rathburn on “gray tones,” which I assume are the pieces in the panels that are neither black nor white, but I’m not familiar with that term, so I may be wrong. It fills in the shadows and small details amazingly, either way.
For an all-out war that has lived up to the hype to this point, I found this issue’s conflict fell by the wayside very, very abruptly. I get the idea of taking the general off the board being a great way to win a war, but when that general’s soldiers are still RIGHT THERE and not one of them wants to press the issue, it feels like the pieces are falling into place a little too neatly. Last issue gave us an incredible emotional climax, and this issue seems poised to ride it out or even escalate it further, but things come to a crashing halt just when they were starting to build back up in a satisfying way.
This is a very worthy, very appropriate end to this epic arc, even if it wasn’t without flaws. As far as comic book endings go, it’s about as great as we could hope for and it sets up innumerable directions for the series to go from here. So take a breather, creators, you earned it and I absolutely cannot wait to see where the series goes next.