We are almost back with Season 2 of Critically Comics! To celebrate and prepare for the upcoming season, we have an interview with one of the Eisner award winning creators of our first book selection of our second second — Mitch Gerds artist of Mister Miracle! We talked to Mitch about his love of Wally West, his interpretation of Mister Miracle, his artistic process and his former glory days of staring in homemade Robin Hood films. Stick around to the end of the episode where we reveal the full line up of books we have in line for Season 2 and then return next month for our episode on Mister Miracle!
by Steven Harris
Joker is a fascinating movie. Despite having no clear comic analogue, the version of the Joker presented in the 2019 film is arguably the most definitive version of the character on screen to date. Joker will undoubtably go into the film canon for the character due to how compelling Phoenix’s performance is. Not only is Phoenix’s Joker going against other on screen representations for top spot in the canon, but it’s also going against the comic book representations. For years fans have heralded Mark Hamill’s various voice performances as being the epitome of what the characters with a subset championing Heath Ledger’s performance from the The Dark Knight as the definitive version. However, Phoenix’s performance manages to tap into to something more primal and unsettling which is what puts it over any other adaption of the character to date. Phoenix’s version of the character is not humorous — he is however fully detached from reality which makes him more dangerous.
When analyzing what makes Phoenix’s version of the Joker canonical, it is easy to see how his performance overlaps with versions of the character created by Alan Moore and Grant Morison.
The origin presented in The Killing Joke by Alan Moore is widely accepted by most fans as the character’s definitive origin. Previous to The Killing Joke, the Joker was given an origin story where he was a former criminal who was set to retire before his transformation into the Clown Prince of Crime. Flashbacks in the The Killing Joke focus on an unnamed, struggling, stand-up comedian who becomes a criminal in order to provide for his pregnant wife. Ultimately, the comedian falls into an all-too-familiar vat of unnamed chemicals and emerges with the now iconic green hair and white skin. While Alan Moore uses an unnamed comedian, it is clear that Moore believes that anyone could be the Joker — that all it takes is just “one bad day.” That logic is evidenced by the Joker’s plan to kidnap and traumatize Commissioner James Gordon, thereby forcing him down the same spiral of insanity the Joker has previously slid down. However, this origin story should not be accepted at face value. Within the story itself, the Joker makes the comment: “Something like that happened to me, you know. I…I’m not exactly sure what it was. Sometimes I remember it one way, sometimes another…If I’m going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice”
This statement should call into question the entirety of the flashback that is presented in The Killing Joke. The flashbacks are very much within the mind of the Joker, and are being presented to you the reader. With this confession that he is an unreliable narrator, Moore set the precedent that the Joker is somehow capable of breaking the fourth wall (or at the very least aware of the reader). Furthermore, this one statement allows for other writers to propose their own origins for the character with the possibility that their origin is the “true story”.
Grant Morrison has done the most of any Batman writer to explicitly fold a sense of “cosmic awareness” into the Joker. Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on a Serious Earth is the first time Morrison posits the theory that the Joker is suffering from a sense of “super sanity” — that the Joker is reacting to reality (possibly multiple realities) as fast it/they presents its/themselves to him, During his Batman run, Morrison has the Joker explain that every so often he has to reinvent himself with a new persona (a clever way to explain different writers’ take on the same character.)
Arthur Fleck shares the same hyperawareness that defined both Moore & Morrison’s versions of the Joker. Arthur is not a reliable narrator in his own life, and is very much in control of the narrative that he presents to others. For example, when confronted about his condition (and whether or not he can actually control it), Arthur does not definitively answer the question. Evidence exists that he actually can. In the opening scenes of the movie Arthur walks away from an uncomfortable situation where a joke has been made to his disabled co-worker and does his trademark uncomfortable laugh. However, as soon as he turns the corner and exits the social situation, the laugh stops. This is similar to how once the face paint is applied to Arthur, the laugh is no longer uncontrollable.
The most distinctive characteristic of Arthur Fleck is his dancing. Whenever Arthur dances in the film, it is largely in sync with the orchestral score that the audience is hearing as well. (Side note: the use of music in Joker is utterly fantastic. Early in the film, music is used to denote which scenes are “real” vs. what Arthur is imaging in his head. After his psychotic decent, the use of music becomes much more unpredictable and only adds to the viewer’s discomfort). Typically, orchestral scores are never acknowledged by the characters on screen. However, Arthur’s movements are perfectly in sync with the music being played during his bathroom dance scene and before being introduced to the late night show audience. The music is being played at moments close to moments where Arthur is at his most violent is reveling in his “true nature”. Having the audience hear the same music that Arthur does only invites them into his narrative and demonstrates that Arthur has control over his narrative.
Furthermore, during the film’s final moments, Arthur makes two comments that show he is fully aware of the narrative being presented to the audience. First, Arthur is singing along to the closing song “That’s Life” by Frank Sinatra. Despite being slightly stilted, Arthur is singing along in time to the song and matching the lyrics verbatim. Second, there’s a moment where Arthur is laughing and it cuts to a young Bruce Wayne in front of his dead parents. When asked why he is laughing by his therapist, Arthur replies “you wouldn’t get it.” Due to the canonical nature of how closely Bruce Wayne and the Joker are destined to become, one can interpret the scene as that Bruce would, in fact, get the joke. Arthur knowing that someone in the universe can finally get the joke is another example of how this version of the Joker shares a similar sense of hyper awareness to Moore and Morrison’s version of the character.
The aloof detachment from reality that exists in both Moore and Morrison’s version of the Joker is present in Phoenix’s performance. Being detached from reality makes him indifferent to his surroundings and the value of human life. Having a foot in reality makes the character less effective as evidenced by the greed obsessed Nicholson version and the hypocrisy of planned chaos found in Ledger’s performance. Having the Arthur Fleck version of the Joker carelessly dance as the surrounding city burns adds a level of discomfort only previously seen in works by Moore and Morrison. A discomfort that reminds you that there is nothing to celebrate about this character. He might be dancing and laughing, but there is no reason why you should be as well.
What do you think— does Joker’s similarity to comic book canon make it more effective as a film? Sound off in the comments below.
by Tara Lawson-Harris
In seventh grade, I had a group of about four boys yell at me in front of the entire class for daring to speak up in social studies. Their main argument: “she doesn’t know what she’s talking about because she’s on her period.” I wasn’t on my period. But how was I supposed to prove that? So I let them shout me into silence, hoping that my female teacher would tell them about the inappropriateness of their comments. Instead, when I fell silent the teacher turned to the boys and engaged them in conversation. Not a single girl spoke up for the rest of class.
Seventh grade was fourteen years ago for me, and I still remember that moment. I remember the anger, the humiliation, the knowledge that what I had to say mattered, and the realization that no one cared. Those feelings still resonate for me. I wanted ManEaters to take that rage and turn it into something cathartic and powerful. Instead, I got ads for the fictional EstroPop and a nonsensical plot.
My primary issue with ManEaters comes from the way that it is written, not from its politics. There are currently ten issues out, and 20% of those issues do not address the storyline at all. One of the issues is a magazine from the fictional world, and another issue is the instructions to a game. The remaining issues have entire pages dedicated to fake ads, most of them for EstroPop, the drink for men to avoid having too much estrogen in their systems. Comic books only have about 22 pages to tell their story, and nearly 1/4 of the story so far isn’t telling the story. The few moments that do focus on the story are condensed into fewer pages, and as a result, major details and transitions get overlooked.
For example, issue number 7 ends with a missing girl being found by the main character’s mom hiding in the main character’s house. Then the mom says that the girl is not a panther, and the reader finds out that the mom is a panther. Issue number 8 is the instructions to a game. Issue number 9 starts with the main character and the no-longer-missing girl in a recovery camp. Which makes no sense. Why would the rebellious panther mom put her daughter in a recovery camp? Were they forced to go to this camp because it was discovered that the main character had gotten her period? At some point the reader finds out that there’s a “plan” for the recovery center, but why this specific center?
I want to like ManEaters. I want to be charmed by the genre bending issues that are instructions to a game or fake magazines. To be impressed with the fake ads for EstroPop. To feel like I understand and relate to the plot. As a feminist, I feel obligated to love this book because it was written by a woman and has a feminist message (at least, I’ve been told it does). It even got nominated for an Eisner Award, which is one of the highest awards a comic book creator can get. But I Just. Do. Not. Like. It. Wasting so much of the reader’s time with multimodal gimmicks is just bad writing.
Multimodal gimmicks can work in more traditional storylines — for example, look at Squirrel Girl and how every issue starts off with a twitter thread. However, the attempts to have a radical plot overlaid with the gimmicks makes the narrative come across as scattered and uncoordinated at best. After that incident in middle school, I wanted to read a book that talked about getting your period. I didn’t want the book to focus on menstrual cycles per se, but I did want them addressed. I used to read a lot of fantasy, which meant that I was reading about characters that didn’t have bathrooms or tampons, and I always wondered how the female characters dealt with this lack of resources. Even in modern YA, I’ve never read about someone bleeding through their pants or being paranoid about leaving a stain on a chair. A feminist comic book where girls and women getting their periods was the main point of the story seemed like the perfect first step to normalize representations of women’s periods. A step to normalizing the idea that periods and pms-ing does not make women crazy.
Without some type of traditional storytelling move (plot, setting, narration), the book comes across as not knowing what it’s about. It comes across as being thrown together in an emotional dump at the last minute and expecting all women to say it speaks to their experiences. A lack of trans representation aside, this experience absolutely does not speak to me. It doesn’t come close to the anger I felt, or to the anger I know other girls feel. It doesn’t speak to the struggle of hiding a thick wad of plastic up your sleeve while you walk to the bathroom. The anger because you shouldn’t have to hide a hygiene product.
I want to love Chelsea Cain’s ManEaters. But when a book doesn’t try to relate to your emotional experiences and relies only on flashy gimmicks, the reader isn’t going to be emotionally invested in the book. I wasn’t.
As a feminist reader, this review is difficult for me. I want to support this book. I want to feel angry and fired up about the stereotypes around menstrual cycles. Instead, I read that book and was annoyed that I had spent time and money on it. But giving the book a negative review could mean that someone wouldn’t read it. If they aren’t reading it, then they aren’t buying it, and if they aren’t buying it then the creators don’t get any money and the publishing company doesn’t get any data saying that talking about periods is a selling point for some readers. So am I obligated to buy a book that I don’t enjoy because of the feminist issues behind it? If I do buy it, am I telling the publishing industry that I am okay with bad writing as long as it’s feminist? It’s a conflicting place to be in as a reader, and I still don’t have an answer that I’m satisfied with.
Have opinions on the book? Sound off in the comments below.
by Steven Harris
Current Canon Builders is an ongoing series that Critically Comics publishes that focuses on the stories of today that will most likely end up being in the canon of tomorrow. Since we typically reserve podcast discussions for completed works, this column will solely dedicated to works that are still being published, but have displayed the qualities of a book that will be discussed, analyzed, referenced and loved in the years to follow.
Full disclosure, I do not identify as a Venom fan. Still, the core concept (a symbiotic alien who attaches itself to broken people to become a super powered anti-hero) is interesting and can lead to some pretty entertaining stories. The closest I’ve come to identifying as a Venom fan was during Rick Remender’s 2011 run that reimagined Venom as a covert special ops mercenary superhero. A large part of my admiration for that run comes from Remender focusing on Iraqi War veteran Flash Thompson and his own personal demons.
However, while the majority of fans enjoy this run, they still largely identify with the Eddie Brock version of Venom — the sometimes brain-eating lethal protector with an on-again off-again hatred of Spider-man. Personally, outside of the character’s initial story arc, I have never understood the character. He seems like a leftover artifact from the EXTREME! 90’s era of comics that never had anything more than surface level depth. With a bias already in place, Marvel’s 2018 Venom series had a lot of heavy lifting to do in order convince me to read past issue one. Thankfully, that challenge was met
Under the guidance of Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman, Venom has become a must-read book. What was once a one dimensional character has become a compelling, emotionally conflicted anti-hero who is not only struggling to find his role in the world, but finding a way to stop an all encompassing and maddening cosmic horror.
At the start of Cates and Stegman’s run, Eddie Brock is at an all time low. Living in a dirty apartment, Brock is established as a pill popping vigilante who wrestles with his symbiote other. Cates writes the symbiote unlike any other writer to date. Over the course of the series, the symbiote becomes much more than Eddie’s alien passenger— he is becomes a manipulative, abusive lover. And despite all of the emotional trauma that the symbiote puts Eddie through, the reader can feel the pain Eddie has whenever the symbiote abandons him. The love between Eddie and his symbiote transcends the page, and is one of the most unique relationships in the comic industry today. Through a LGTBQ lens, Eddie Brock is potentially the non- heteronormative hero that the comic industry has needed for years. Only time will tell how Cates continues to evolve the complicated relationship between Eddie Brock and his alien passenger.
The highlight of the first arc of Cates & Stegman’s Venom book is the introduction of the new character Knull. The creation of Knull is a masterclass in how to properly introduce a new character. Knull’s background is effortlessly intertwined with not just Venom’s history, but with the history of Marvel cosmic. What makes Knull stand out in the current comic landscape is not just his Lovecraftian aim to wipe out the light from the universe but his loyal Earth-based cult. While Knull is imprisoned in a far corner of the universe, a select handful of humans are convinced that Knull’s crusade against life itself is just. Stegman’s design for Knull takes inspiration from Dracula and is a perfect match for the motivation for that Cates has given with the character. Within their first arc, Cates and Stegman created a creator who is undoubtedly going to remain in the Marvel Universe for the foreseeable future.
While the introduction of Knull and revamping of Carnge are great reasons to check out the first arc of the series, the emotional core of Cate’s Venom run can be found in the second arc. The revelation that Eddie Brock has a son adds a much needed emotional anchor to the book. As Eddie fights to save the universe from Knull’s crusade, he must now also navigate the path of fatherhood. While not everyone has an evil symobite living within them, Eddie’s fight to deal with his inner conflicts while attempting to be a better parent is a struggle most young parents can deal with. By giving Eddie a son, Cates has added another level of inner conflict to him that humanizes the mostly alienating character.
Furthermore, Cates is using the vast canvas of the Marvel Universe to simply tell some pretty cool stories. The Ven’am one shot is a gem of a story. The issue drops a symbiote enhanced solider in the middle of a war-torn Vietnam jungle. While there, the protagonist meets up with Wolverine and Nick Fury to fight rogue symbiotes. Equal parts Predator, Commando, and The Thing, the story Cates presents is the coolest forgotten story Marvel has produced in years.
With the launch of the Absolute Carnage mini-series, it is now more evident than ever that Cates and Stegman are producing work that will likely define their careers. The duo has reinvented the mass murdering symbiote Carange in a way that is absolutely terrifying. The 90’s edge lord psychopath is now more than a villain who murders for shock value; he is now a conduit for Knull’s will on Earth and is trying to awaken the elder god in order to bring about the end of the universe. Cates ability to make the return of Carange something that fans eagerly awaited for is nothing short of astounding. However, the best part of Absolute Carange is seeing the art trio of pencilst Ryan Stegman, inker JP Mayer and colorist Frank Martin cut loose. Stegman’s pencils are crisp. Mayer’s inks perfectly bring out the detail in the pencils. Martin’s color make the images pop off the page due to the nightmarish glow he’s added. No other artist team are this insanely in sync with each other right now in the comic industry. Each splash page feels destined to become an iconic image.
With Absolute Carnage shaping up to be only the end of phase one for Stegman and Cate’s Venom saga, fans will be talking about this run for years to come.(Another testament to Cate’s unique vision of the the symbiote mythos is simply comparing the main mini-series to other souless tie in mini-series by authors who fail to modernize the concepts in an equally captivating way.)
If Cates and Stegman can maintain the momentum, quality and dedication to continuing their well polished super powered anti-hero horror saga, this will not only become the defining Venom story – it will become the story that defines how writers can transform aimless properties into must- read fan favorites. Venom by Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman started off as underdog of a book that no expected much out of and in under two years have made it a book that will undeniably one day end up in the canon of all time great graphic novels and comic books.
by Steven Harris
Since its inception in 1993, Vertigo Comics has been the home to foundational works such as Sandman, Preacher, 100 Bullets, Fables, Scalped, and Y: The Last Man. It is hard to imagine what the current comic landscape would look like without these books. Without the original content published through Vertigo, the creator owned comic boom that Image Comics has been enjoying for almost a decade now would have never occurred. (Vertigo does not afford creators the same control over their work that Image Comics does; publishing through Vertigo means that DC Comics/Warner Bros. owns the rights to book and not the creators.)
Earlier this summer, DC Comics announced that they were shutting down their Vertigo Comics imprint. The news came as a surprise and to the dismay of many long time comic book fans. For many readers, Vertigo Comics was the home for their first mature readers book and holds s special place on their shelf.
However, Image Comics is not responsible for the death of Vertigo Comics.
When they announced they were closing Vertigo Comics, DC Comics made it very clear that they were the ones to blame. DC was shutting down Vertigo Comics as an attempt to streamline their publications. Staring in January 2020, DC will have only three labels on their books: DC Comics, DC Kids, and DC Black Label. DC will continue to publish their in- continuity superhero books under their main brand, while all ages material will fall to the DC Kids imprint. The Black Label will be the isolated imprint that is meant for mature readers only. In their official press release, DC Comics Editor In Chief, Dan Dido, explained ““We’re returning to a singular presentation of the DC brand that was present throughout most of our history until 1993 when we launched Vertigo to provide an outlet for edgier material….that kind of material is now mainstream across all genres, so we thought it was the right time to bring greater clarity to the DC brand and reinforce our commitment to storytelling for all of our fans in every age group. This new system will replace the age ratings we currently use on our material.”
In theory, their plan seems simplistic. It is only when you start to explore what the “Black Label” is that their plan to bury Vertigo Comics falls apart. At every new announcement DC seems to be undermining their original goals for the Black Label imprint.
When the DC Black Label was announced in March of 2018, it was promised to be an imprint that would allow top tier talent to tell DC stories without the burden of continuity. Each book would have its own individual release schedule and format specific to each book (For example Batman: Damned and Superman: Year One are both oversized magazine format series while Batman: Last Knight on Earth has a traditional comic book format). With talent such as Frank Miller, John Romita Jr., Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo it makes sense why DC was giving a form of carte blanche with their characters to these creators. In the past, DC has enjoyed both critical and commercial success from the creative teams, so of course DC would grant them more freedom. For writers who have not worked for DC in the past (such as Kelly Sue DeConnick and 12 Years A Slave screen writer John Ridley) that level of freedom on iconic characters is an immense draw. If the Black Label were to only exist as a place to tell mature themed super hero stories, then both it and Vertigo Comics could peacefully coincide. However, the creative freedom promised to the creators may have been nothing more than a pitch to get readers interested. The first issue of Batman: Damned featured a panel that contained a shadowy outline of Bruce Wayne’s penis as he was climbing out of his Bat suit. In re-printings, that outline has been censored out. Clearly, the Black Label does indeed have some limits that DC is not comfortable with creators pushing.
DC’s creation of the Sandman Universe was the first warning sign. Spawning from 2017’s Dark Knights: Metal event by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, DC Comics launched the Sandman Universe within Vertigo Comics. Each series published under the imprint has ties to Neil Gaiman’s original Sandman series. Despite early critical success, the Sandman Universe books have failed to capture a massive commercial audience. With Vertigo closing down, DC has already announced their plans to continue the books under the Sandman Universe banner, but under the DC Black Label imprint.
Despite Sandman being synonymous with Vertigo Comics, January 2020 will see the first publication of Sandman material outside of Vertigo Comics since its creation in 1993. (While some Sandman characters have occasionally shown up in the main DCU, no series primarily focusing on the characters have been published under the DC Comics brand.) The decision to create the Sandman Universe as a separate brand was a conscious effort by DC to begin separating the connection that the Sandman IP once had with Vertigo Comics. It remains to be seen if creators assigned to the Sandman Universe books will enjoy the same supposed creative liberty as their Black Label peers.
Announced in June 2019, Hill House comics will be an imprint of mature themed horror comics that will be personally curated by best selling author Joel Hill. The aptly named Hill House books will be launching in October 2019 as part of the Black Label. Only one of the four Hill House comics will be written by Hill. Aside from one book by industry pro Mike Carey, the remaining books will be penned by or other authors who are new to the comics industry. By the time Hill House was announced, it was clear that Vertigo was already being put out to pasture. From a marketing standpoint, it makes since to create the small imprint and use the acclaimed author’s name as the primary sell point for the books. However, in hindsight — it seems odd to create a new mature readers themed imprint before killing the old one. If anything, publishing the Hill House imprint on the Vertigo banner may have been enough to ignite interest in the imprint again.
Hill House won’t be the only original content published under the Black Label. The Last God by Phillip Kennedy Johnson and Riccardo Federici is schedule to be released in fall of 2019. Separated from main DCU continuity, The Last God is an original creation and has no ties to the man DCU. With the original idea that the Black Label was created to give creators a space to work with pre-existing characters, its baffling that this series will be published under that label instead of at Vertigo Comics. The success of Tom King and Mitch Gerdos’s Sheriff of Babylon shows that fans will still flock to Vertigo Comics when an original series demands their attention. ( Fun fact: Sheriff of Babylon was been so well received, it has now been incorporated into the curriculum at West Point’s CIA training classes.)
However, the absolute final nail in Vertigo’s coffin was the announcement of a new John Constantine: Hellblazer series that is being launched as a part of the Sandman Universe brand underneath the Black Label imprint. Many fans rejoiced at John Constantine finally making his way back to a mature themed series after spending several years as a part of the DCU proper. The original Hellblazer series ran from 1988 to 2013 for over 300 issues and acted a lighting rod for some of the best talent in the comic industry. As the longest running mature themed book on stands, Hellblazer was once the crown jewel for Vertigo Comics. To bring back a mature themed Hellblazer book under any imprint other than Vertigo Comics is a sign that DC has lost faith in their Vertigo brand.
In a perfect world, the replacement of Vertigo Comics by the Black Label should have been easy. As originally promised, the Black Label could have been a place where mature themed stories could be told without being bogged down by continuity. The inclusion of new content under the Black Label muddies the water slightly — but it still could’ve worked by firmly establishing that anything published under Black Label was not in continuity. These simple but hard lined two rules would have justified the creation of the Black Label….
…but this is comics. Nothing is ever THAT simple.
DC has begun to republish several fundamental graphic novels and comic books under their newly minted Black Label. Books that were previously determined to be all ages are now being shipped under the mature themed Black Label. To publish Watchmen under Black Label, makes sense — However, the idea that Grant Morrison’s All Star Superman or Darwyn Cooke’s New Frontier series are now going to be labeled as mature themed is absurd. Anyone who has read either of those books would not hesitate to testify to their inoffensive and earnest nature. By publishing this under the Black Label, DC is losing a potential new audience for those books.
The idea that all Black Label series will be not bogged down by continuity is going out the window with Geoff Johns’ Batman: Three Jokers series. Originally teased in 2016’s Justice League #50, Geoff Johns revealed that at least three different individuals have operated in Gotham as “The Joker”. Since this story originated in the main DCU continuity Justice League book, it stands to reason that when Batman: Three Jokers is published, it will indeed directly effect the main DCU continuity Batman. Already, DC is undermining their original idea that everything published under the Black Label is not tied down by continuity.
Lacking a clear cohesive vision of what their Black Label imprint should be, DC Comics may have preemptively killed their most important imprint in Vertigo Comics. Vertigo may return someday, just like it arrived in 1993, as a lightening bolt from nowhere that changed the way fans view the comic medium. However, until then, Vertigo is now just a relic of the past — a talking point of the comic shop inquisition who will say “I was there when Y: The Last Man was being published monthly” as a way to bolster their own self importance. Instead of continuing Vertigo’s legacy of ushering in new talent and unforgettable narratives, DC Comics has lost faith in their imprint…a move that could ultimately result in fans losing faith in DC Comics.
by Steven Harris & Tara Lawson-Harris
Join us for our second mini-episode of the Critically Comics podcast! We had the opportunity to comic creator David Finch. Finch has been an instrumental part of several landmark comic book runs of the past twenty years. He has worked for both DC and Marvel providing art for books such as Batman, New Avengers, Moon Knight, Forever Evil and Wonder Woman. We talked to Finch about what it is like working for such a wide variety of writers, which of his work he’s most proud of, and what he would like to see go into the canon of all time great comic books and graphic novels.
by Steven Harris
DISCLAIMER: This post will have spoilers for not just The Walking Dead #193, but for the entire series. A more thoughtful analysis of the series and the finale is to come at a later date.
To say I was there at the beginning may be a lie. I cannot pinpoint the exact moment I boarded the fandom train that was The Walking Dead. While the book started in October 2003, my memory of picking up issue #1 was around the same time that Green Lantern: Rebirth (the start of an equally influential and personal run to me) came out — however that book would not be released until October 2004, a full year later. What may be a more accurate statement is that The Walking Dead was there at my beginning.
It should not surprise anyone that growing up I was more of what is referred to as an “inside kid”. Despite playing on sports teams, a lot of my adolescent summers were spent playing video games and reading and rereading (and rereading and reading) comic books. Now as an adult, I cannot tell you how many times I have read The Walking Dead. However, what I can do is tell you what was happening in the book at each pivotal moment in my life:
January 2006 – Writer Robert Kirkman published a blog post for CBR for his “Buy My Books” Colum where he attempts to tell people to not waste their time by trying to break into the comic book industry. (Link) Kirkman’s words cut my teenage self to his core and sets me on the path of becoming an attorney. This comes on the eve of The Walking Dead #25 being published.
August 2006 – As I transitioned into high school, Rick Grimes and company started to encounter Woodberry residents for the first time.
Late 2007 / Early 2008 – With every paycheck from my first job as a cashier, I made sure enough money was put back to ensure that I could purchase each new issue of the NO ONE IS SAFE arc.
May 2010 – I graduated from high school and The Walking Dead hits issue 72. As I started to about going out into the wider world, Rick Grimes and company started to branch out into Alexandria community.
July 3, 2010 – I am able to meet Robert Kirkman one last time before I moved away to college and the Walking Dead becomes a world wide phenomena.
December 2011 – I walked up to Robert Kirkman at a signing at A+ Comics & Collectibles in my hometown of Lexington, Kentucky with the freshly released issue 92 in my hands. I joke and tell him that I am going to law school because of what he wrote five years ago on his blog. He awkwardly laughed it off. We ran into each other again later that evening at a screening of David Fincher’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. He apologized to me again.
July 2012 – I moved in with my girlfriend. As we shared an apartment and discussed what our relationship would look like moving forward, Glenn had his head bashed in by a baseball bat.
August 2014 – The Whispers emerged as the new antagonists in the book as I started law school.
April 2017 – As I marry my wife, Rick Grimes learned that his wife was doomed in issue 166.
July 2017 – When Carl started his new role in the Hilltop community, I was studying to take the BAR exam.
July 2019 – As I start to drown in work and feel that I am not in control of my life, one of the few constants in my life is suddenly gone — The Walking Dead is over.
As a fan who has grown with the characters in the book, it is hard not to feel slightly betrayed. It still has not sunk in that I am never going to see any of these characters again. For the past sixteen years, this book has been there every month in my holds folder…and now it won’t be. From an artistic standpoint, Robert Kirkman deserves a standing ovation for ending the book in this manner. It’s a perfect analogy of how characters died in the book — it was often sudden, upsetting, and unpredictable. I am incredibly grateful for the endings we do get in the final issue. As I sat on my porch and read the final issue, tears welled up in eyes seeing how far some of the characters have come from their introduction. Listening to the rain, I cried full tears at seeing how far Michonne had come during the course of the series. She is a character who was literally thrown into the depths of hell, and seeing her come through the other side is so damn empowering.
Endings are always hard. They never full satisfy the entire fanbase, and some fans will renounce the entire series due to their hatred of the ending. Personally, I am not a fan of the way Kirkman summarizes the last sixteen years of storytelling down into a simple children’s story. It is a trope that is over-used and allows authors to glance over years over storytelling for simplicity’s sake (I’m looking at you Sweet Tooth). Reducing the growth the characters had over decades down into single panels (and in the case of Negan — off screen) is bothersome. For a series that has taken its sweet time by dragging out storylines, the abrupt nature of the ending of beloved characters is startling and almost feels like a disservice. However, I realize I only feel that way because I have seen these characters grow at a rate of 22 pages a month for the past sixteen years — my mind has still not adjusted to the fact that they’re officially gone forever now. When you step back and look at the series as a whole, Kirkman’s unexpected finale ends on a high note. There was never any doubt that this book was Rick Grimes’s story, so it only makes since that the book ends with his death. Kirkman could’ve pulled a David Chase Soprano’s ending and immediately cut to black the moment of Rick’s death. The finale is a gift in a lot of ways — we are not entitled to any sort of closure for non-Rick Grimes characters; this is Kirkman’s story after all and he owes nothing to fans. The finale hammers in what a heroic character Rick Grimes is and why he should be on par with an Odyessus or Vladek Spieglman. The sacrifices that Rick made in his lifetime for the greater good are inspiring. Furthermore, with the finale that Kirman does give us, he shows that people can overcome the difficulties of their lives — that they don’t have to be defined by their tragedies.
Without The Walking Dead being published on a monthly basis, the comic book industry has a titanic void to file. Without The Walking Dead being published on a monthly basis, I have a titanic void to fill. All great literature impacts the reader on some level, and I can say without a doubt The Walking Dead has affected my world view. I doubt we will see a book on this caliber again, and I am truly grateful that I was able to experience the story in real time.