It’s been a while since I’ve read the early issues of The Walking Dead and even then, I read them digitally, which is by no means my preffered method of reading comic books. At around issue #100, I started to buy the trade collections instead and haven’t stopped since. Since I’m living in London for the time being, and comic book shops with fully stocked shelves of amazing wonders are within walking distance, I have decided to slowly collect all of the trades of The Walking Dead and experience them anew as actual books. I will also chronicle my second venture through TWD with this series of posts, starting with the very first trade, The Walking Dead: Days Gone Bye, issues #1-6.
Robert Kirkman’s introduction to the series mentions how he hopes TWD will become “a sprawling epic” that will go on for a very long while, to the point where when readers look back at Rick Grimes when he first started out, and not be able to recognize him – and I have to say, that really is the case here. This is a Rick who had never fired his gun, who still believes the world can go back to normal, who still tries to talk to the walking dead as if there was anything left of who they once were – a Rick who is scared and can even completely shut down if too many zombies come at him. Very different from the hardened badass of more than a decade’s worth of comics we know today, but the seeds are there and it’s truly remarkable to observe the beginning of that natural progression from rookie cop to bone-a-fide ruthless asskicker. Same goes for some of the other characters, albeit to a lesser extent. Days Gone Bye makes it very clear right off the bat that TWD is going to be a character-driven affair, with plenty of dialogue between our heroes about the nature of the world they now live in, as well as sharing their hopes, doubts and fears in a believable manner. It’s clunky at times, what with crucial bits of zombie lore, such as the “don’t get bit” rule being established almost at random, a rather awkward scene of Rick talking to his horse and sharing memories of the birth of his son that didn’t really hit the mark for me and Rick’s conclusion that zombies tell humans apart by smell coming slightly out of nowhere, but there are plenty of moments of genuine, heartfelt human emotion that ground the story in reality and make us quickly form attachments to these people. The most powerful moment for me was right after Rick found Lori and Carl. After introducing himself to the rest of the Atlanta group and telling them his story, Lori cuddles up next to nim and notices he’s shaking. He admits that he’s been so busy looking for them that he didn’t really have the time to be scared. Tony Moore’s art really sells how much of an impact these last few weeks have had on Rick in that one moment of him staring in fear and desperation at the reader. Speaking of Lory, I really liked her interactions with Rick. Yes, they bickered about things, but it was bickering that made sense, such as whether or not Carl should have a gun, with good arguments on both sides and you could see how much they ultimately care for each other, as well as for Carl. In terms of plot, other than introducing the characters and the world, Days Gone Bye is the story of Shane and how he goes nuts. For me, one of the few things that the TV show did a lot better than the comics was their handling of Shane – it was simply a much more interesting character, with a great arc and one hell of an impact. Comic book Shane kind of pales in comparison, even though his arc is still handled well. He was a man who ultimately couldn’t cope with what was happening, whose fear and denial, combined with Lori’s rejection ultimately caused him to completely meltdown. Days Gone Bye ends with his death at the hands of Carl and a rather poignant line by Rick about how killing the living should never feel like killing the dead. It sounds stupid when I say it, but it was a great way to bookend the story. Looking back on Days Gone Bye, I think it’s a fantastic, if not entirely perfect, introduction to the world of The Walking Dead. Reliving it with the knowledge of what some of these characters are like so many years down the line is both fascinating and bittersweet.