I Am The Walking Dead: Growing Up With The Zombie Series

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.

Current Canon Builders: The Immortal Hulk

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.

The Immortal Hulk #18 cover by Alex Ross, May 29, 2019

The Immortal Hulk launched in 2018 under the helm of writer Al Ewing, artist Joe Bennett, and cover artist Alex Ross. All three creators have been producing the work of their lifetime on this book, and each month the book steadily increases in sales. As of June 2019, the first issue alone has received over five additional printings. The reason why the book has been a critical and sales success has been the lighting-in-a-bottle these three creators have managed to capture. Due to Al Ewing’s commitment to build upon the foundation laid by past Hulk stories and Bennett’s hauntingly grotesque and unrelenting artwork, The Immortal Hulk will undoubtedly make its way into the canon of the greatest comic books of all time because it it providing readers with a story that’s never been seen before. 

Al Ewing is tied with DC Comics’ James Tynion IV for best writer that readers may have slept on during the past few years.  Al Ewing got his start in comics by writing Judge Dread for 2000 AD. Shortly after his debut, Ewing was quickly snatched up by Marvel, and has since primarily resided at the House of Ideas.  Ewing has consistently displayed his versatile writing skills by authoring books such as the grounded and street-hero focused Mighty Avengers, the mythical and anti-heroic Loki: Agent of Asgard, the bombastic U.S. Avengers, and the high-concept Jack Kirby-inspired comic Ultimates. In 2018, Ewing was one of the writers who collaborated on the weekly event series Avengers: No Surrender with Jim Zubb and Mark Waid. It was during this event that Ewing had the opportunity to revive the Hulk and set the stage for The Immortal Hulk.  

The Immortal Hulk #1 cover by Alex Ross, June 6, 2018

One of the reasons why The Immortal Hulk has been so widely successful is due to the creative team’s restoration of a horror-infused status quo for the character. Prior to Immortal Hulk, the Hulk has gone through a variety of incarnations. For the past decade Marvel has pushed the idea of the Hulk being more of a superhero over the idea of him being a monster.  Marvel has forced the superhero label onto the Hulk by making him an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., providing him with a supporting “family” cast  of other gamma powered heroes, and making him the only person capable stopping the villainous Bruce Banner (at the time, Dr. Doom has separated the two personalities into two separate bodies).  An argument can be made that Greg Pak’s Planet Hulk and World War Hulk storylines were more mature in content because they focused on the Hulk being more of an antihero, however there is still a greater emphasis on the physicality of the monster over the fractured psyche of Bruce Banner.  The character has not had a run primarily focusing on the Hulk’s monstrosity since 2000’s Paul Jenkins’ tenure on the book; Jenkins’ run was more of a government conspiracy thriller that had more in common with X-Files than Transformers. 

Al Ewing’s Immortal Hulk pulls its inspiration from Peter David’s eleven year tenure on The Incredible Hulk. Peter David has added more to the Hulk’s character than other writer to the development of Bruce Banner’s mental illness. It was under David’s direction that Banner was diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder and developed multiple versions of the Hulk (such as Joe Fixit, the Savage Hulk, and Professor Hulk). Instead of focusing on the pure brutality of the Jade Goliath, David focused in on Banner’s struggle to control a crueler, more demented and streamlined version of his repressed self. 

While building on previous classic runs, Al Ewing is cementing his run on the Hulk by adding new elements to the character. The driving force of the book is the new personality known as the “Immortal Hulk” which provides the character with previously unseen powers. This new “Immortal Hulk” persona only emerges at night and has the capability of resurrecting Bruce Banner from fatal wounds. In addition to conquering death, the Immortal Hulk personality is by and large the cruelest iteration of the character with his own perverse ideas of what justice is. In The Immortal Hulk #2, the Hulk buries a man alive in his son’s grave (along with the son’s radioactive corpse) after it is discovered his experiments are what lead to his son’s death. It has only been recently revealed that the “Immortal Hulk” identity is a retooled version of the “Devil Hulk” personality.  This rehabilitating of the Devil Hulk persona goes well beyond retconning — it is not a simple hand waving technique by Al Ewing to re-contextualize a previous story to benefit his own story.  Al Ewing is building on what came before and forging his own path forward by adding more to the mythos of the the Hulk than almost any writer that has come before him. The level of Ewing’s writing for the Immortal Hulk is master class comparable to the work Alan Moore did on The Saga of Swamp Thing. 

The Immortal Hulk #8 cover by Alex Ross, November 7, 2018

One of the best things that Al Ewing has done so far in his current run is emphasize body horror in a way no other Hulk writer has done. Everyone understands the basic idea that in order for Bruce Banner to become the Hulk, his body must change. However, current artist Joe Bennett emphasizes the physical strain that Banner’s body must grow through to become the Hulk. Bennett is unrelenting in showing the pain on Banner’s face as his body must contort and expand to almost three times its size.  Previously in the run, the Immortal Hulk lost a fight with the Avengers and was subsequently dismembered in attempts to subdue the beast.  Despite having his body parts separated and placed into different jars, Ewing has demonstrated that this new Hulk can not be stopped by conventional means. The Immortal Hulk overcame this obstacle by maintaining control over his severed body parts and telepathically forcing his body together again.  Furthermore, the new design of the Abomination is pure nightmare fuel. See below for both Joe Bennett and Alex Ross’s interpretations of the Abomination’s new haunting design:

Interior art from The Immortal Hulk #18 by Joe Bennett, May 29, 2019
Cover art from The Immortal Hulk #19 by Alex Ross, June 12, 2019

Bennett is an entirely different league than most comic book artists currently because of his John Carpenter inspired designs.  In addition, the legendary Alex Ross is knocking it out of the park each month with his covers that will undoubtedly stand the test of time. No other major superhero book on stands is pushing the envelope with their character designs the way Ewing, Bennett, and Ross are. 

In addition to body horror, Ewing is bringing an undeniable existential horror to the book. The book’s second’s arc sees the main cast dragged into Hell and coming face to face with The One Below All — a demonic entity who wants to use the Hulk’s gamma energy to force his way out of Hell. The One Below All is a Lovecraftian monster who represents all of the worst aspects of mankind and wants to influence individuals into giving in to their darkest desires.  While battling the demon in Hell, the main cast are forced to interact with their deceased loved ones and struggle with the knowledge that they ended up in Hell.  The most troubling moment is when the Immortal Hulk’s true motives are revealed. He believes that if humanity stays on its current course, it is fated to be completely wiped out by a combination of nuclear warfare and seismic shifts in climate change — and that if humanity has any hope of surviving, he has to destroy the world himself before they are given the chance to do it themselves. As real world political tensions continue to rise and people deny that climate is real, it is hard not to argue that the Immortal Hulk may have a point. 

Interior Art from The Immortal Hulk #15 by Al Ewing and Joe Bennet, March 20, 2019

In addition to redefining Banner’s relationship with the Hulk, Ewing has emphasized how other characters have been impacted by simply knowing Banner. During his run, Ewing has resurrected both the previously dead Doc Samson, and Betty Ross. Both Samson and Ross are struggling with their new own individual status quos. As a result of knowing Banner, and thereby being exposed to some form of gamma radiation at some point, both Samon and Ross are now immortal as well. Knowing they can never die has opened up a personal hell for both characters, and will ultimately have ramifications on how they interact with Banner moving forward. It should be noted that Ewing has created a new character for this run who possibly has the most interesting voice in the book. Jackie McGee is a reported who has spent most of the series trailing the Hulk for her own purposes. Jackie reveals hat her home was destroyed the Hulk and that she secretly envies his power. She explains to the Hulk that she doesn’t envy his strength, but instead envies his ability to show his anger. Their entire relationship is astonishingly insightful into the gender and race politics of modern America. Instead of skirting around what would be an uncomfortable issue for most writers, Ewing tackles it head on.  

As of June 2019, nineteen issues of the series have been published and Ewing has indicated that the creative team has not even hit the half way point in their story. If what has come before is any indiction, readers are currently experiencing a story that will be talked about for decades to come and forever alter the way we view the Hulk. 

2019 Eisner Best New Series Roulette

by Steven Harris & Tara Lawson-Harris

Last month, the 2019 Eisner Award nominations were revealed. The Eisners are awarded to those who are succeeding in the comic industry and pushing the envelope in comic book storytelling.  One category to watch this year is the The Best New Series category. For the first time in Eisner history, publishing company Image Comics has completely swept the category.  Despite knowing about some of these books, neither of us have ever read any of the series nominated. In order to figure out what all the fuss is about, we each read the first issue of each nominated series at random and have provided our initial thoughts below! 

Bitter Root #1 

Creators: David F. Walker, Chuck Brown, Sanford Greene, Rico Renzi 
Publisher: Image Comics
Release Date: November 14, 2018

Steven’s Initial Thoughts:

I was very impressed with the first issue of Bitter Root!  Despite being a fan of Walker & Green’s Power-Man & Iron-Fist book that was published at Marvel in 20__, I must admit I was unaware that this book even existed.  The premise of an all black family based out of 1920’s Harlem, who uses a combination of witchcraft and steampunk technology to fight demonic manifestations of racism and hate, is a book that I never knew I wanted.  The family dynamics of the Sangeryeo clan are laid out clearly in a way that doesn’t feel like the characters are exposition machines merely there to catch the reader up to speed.  Artist Sanford Greee and colorist Rico Renzi are a fantastic combination.  The opening pages that take place in a Harlem Jazz club feel alive and full of creative energy.  Bitter Root feels right at home in a world where creators like Jordan Peele, Ryan Coogler, and Boots Riley are attacking age old problems that people of color face in the modern world.  By the end of the first issue, I can see this book potentially finding its place into the canon one day because of its unique ethnogothic flavor. 

Tara’s Initial Thoughts

This book seems to be the most complex and important of the nominees. It’s well researched, and it’s clearly driven by passion and rage. I don’t think it’s my favorite book at this point, but I can tell that this book is needed in the industry. It’s one of the books where I’m not the target audience, but I can still see why the book matters— I’m sure many comic book readers feel similarly about ManEaters. I do like the characters in this book, especially Blink and Berg. The way Berg uses language is entertaining for the reader, and also serves to slow the reader down to process what is being said, which is a nice touch. 

Crowded #1

Creators: Christopher Sebela, Ro Stein & Ted Brandt, Triona Farrell, Cardinal Rae
Publisher: Image Comics
Release Date: August 15, 2018

Steven’s Initial Thoughts:

Out of all the issues we reviewed for this post, I found Crowded to be the book I was least likely to return to after its first issue. The book is wonderfully clever with its satirical look at the modern practice of relying on crowd sourcing apps and where that practice could potentially take us. However, its central characters were not compelling enough for me to continue to follow. The twist at the end of the first issue was easy to guess and the central dynamic between the main characters felt so strained that I can not seen how this book can exist long term. I think this story is better suited as one off OGN. 

Tara’s Initial Thoughts: 

I liked this book reasonably well. When it first opened I was reminded of Heroes for Hire in the sense that you could hire superheroes. As the story progressed, that idea combined with what was basically Kickstarter Murder. The emphasis on technology in this work makes it grounded and relatable, but also runs the risk of making it too trendy. 

My favorite character is Vita and I’m interested to see where her character development goes. Charlie stresses me out, and I kinda want to see her get her ass kicked. However, I can see the chemistry between the two, and I suspect that there will be a romantic plot line between them, although I’m not sure if there’s any textual evidence for that prediction. 

Man-Eaters #1:

Creators: Chelsea Cain, Kate Niemczyk, Rachelle Rosenberg
Publisher: Image Comics
Release Date: September 26, 2018

Steven’s Initial Thoughts:

I have made no secret about how much I’ve missed Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Bitch Planet series. After the first read through of Man-Eaters by Chelsea Cain, Kate Kiemczyk and Rachelle Rosenberg, it is seems a worthy successor has made its way to the spinner rack. By utilizing a ludicrous concept (that women get their periods they become unstoppable feline killing machines), the creators take aim at the stigma around mensuration and femininity in our society. The quirky narration is aided Niemczyk’s clever splash pages that firmly establish the book’s satirical tone.  Out of all the first issues selected, the final page cliff hanger of this book felt like a gut punch. I am intrigued by how long the creators can sustain this book and how far they are willing to push the envelope. 

Tara’s Initial Thoughts:

I like the humor of the book a lot. It’s very sarcastic and witty. It takes a normal bodily function and exaggerates it to the point of “horror”, but it’s a comedic horror. The idea of women’s mood swings and hormones coming from their “pussy” and not men’s rather intolerable behavior is definitely inventive. Taking it to the next level with women’s periods turning women into literal pussies, or giant cats, is also interesting on an animal studies level. I would have to do more research into this, but on a first take, I’ve never heard of a big cat attacking someone for no reason. It’s always because someone invaded their personal space (like we see with a lot of attacks that happen at zoos), or because they were kept domesticated in private homes, or because of illegal hunting (which also makes a solid parallel to rape, unfortunately). 

However, I was expecting a bit more substance from the first issue. I might be biased on this front because, as a comic book reader, I generally trade-wait. But I got to the end of the issue and was surprised that was I there— I turned the page, the story was over, and I was disappointed because nothing much had happened. The entire comic was this weird exposition-through-action thing that writers do when they have to world-build. And I get that a lot has to happen before the story can really unfold; world-building, mood setting, and characters are all things you have to develop up-front. However, I still feel like the entire first issue could be summed up in the one page summaries that some comics have before the story starts— you will especially see it with cross-over events. Which is basically all a way of saying that the first issue felt like exposition, and that the real action will start in the next few issues. I loved the first issue, and I wanted more, but it reminds me of Y: The Last Man and I’m slightly worried that it will be too trendy of a book because of the sarcasm; since comics are written in a serial format, that trendiness can work for sales and not for long-term canonical reasons.

Gideon Falls #1

Creators: Jeff Lemire, Andrea Sorrentino 
Publisher: Image Comics 
Release Date: March 7 2018

Steven’s Initial Thoughts:

The first issue of Gideon Falls reads like the fist chapter of a long forgotten Stephen King novel.   Jeff Lemire— best known for his quieter and more introspective pieces like The Nobody, Essex County & The Underwater Welder —is charging head first into new territory with his first horror series. The mysteries set up within in the inaugural issues are compelling —  but also carry faint echos of LOST or the Dark Tower series where threads are laid but I’m hesitant to pull on due to fear of unsatisfying resolutions. However, without a doubt the most promising part of Gideon Falls is the art of Andrea Sorrentino. On the Secret Empire episode of the Critically Comics podcast, I previously declared my admiration of Sorrentiono’s style and innovative layouts. It is my hope that Gideon Falls will unleash the creative floodgates and let Sorrentino go absolutely bananas with his art duties. 

Tara’s Initial Thoughts:

I think I read the first issue when it came out, but I had forgotten about it. So reading this felt familiar and distant all at the same time. I loved this first issue and would 100% keep reading. I’m curious to know how Norton and Father Fred will intersect. I also want to know why Norton is drawn upside down so much. I’ve always enjoyed reading about people who are maybe crazy, but probably aren’t, and this book has that. I feel like my love for this book means that I should be saying deep complex things about it, but I don’t have deep complex things to say. I liked the tone and how it reminded me of Castle Rock and Fargo. I’m drawn to the characters— I immediately trust both of the m but am wary of that fact at the same time. 

Sky-ward #1 

Skyward #1

Creators: Joe Henderson, Lee Garbett
Publisher: Image Comics 
Release Date: April 18 2018

Steven’s Initial Thoughts:

Despite its simple concept, Sky-ward seems primed for an multi-media adaption. The main concept of living in without gravity seems perfect for a film or VR video game — it would allow for the world to feel so much more alive.  Based on the first issue alone, I can’t shake the vibe that this book was created in hopes of auctioning off the adaption rights in the future.  While the world of Skyward is fun, none of the characters or conflicts created within the first issue do not demand that I return in the future.

Tara’s Initial Thoughts:

I really like the cover, which is why I read it before Jeff Lemire’s book, and let’s be clear: that is the only reason. But it turned out to be a solid read. I felt like there was action, without giving away too much of the plot. The ending was great because it introduced a new character and a new set of stakes for the main character (who at the beginning of the book, I wasn’t expecting to be the main character). The plot of 20 years without gravity and people can’t even remember life without gravity. How. Fucking. Cool??!  Also, based on they first issue, I expect that this will be a great book for disability studies.  

One thing that I like about the book is that it feels outlandish without feeling crazy. I don’t expect to start floating, but if I did start floating and there was a scientist saying “I told you so” I’d be like “yeah, you did, but I didn’t read your article because there are way too many articles in academia, also I suck at math.” 

But I really love that it features a woman of color because the world needs more WOC-led books. Also, the prose is great. It’s been really hard for me recently to be invested in a story for the story and not for feminist, animal studies or non-fiction characteristics, but this book does exact that. But also I feel weird about it because Joe Henderson is a white guy and not a POC. 

Isola #1

Creators: Brenden Flethcher, Karl Kerschl
Publisher: Image Comics
Release Date: April 4 2018

Steven’s Initial Thoughts:

Disclaimer: High fantasy is typically not my cup of tea. However, the world and characters introduced in the first of Isola have intrigued me to return for at least one more issue. As a fan of the creators previous Gotham Academy book, I have no doubt Fletcher & Kerschl can successfully manage the task of world building at an appropriate rate. Despite feeling like this is equal parts King Arthur legend, Star Wars, and Avatar, Isla still feels fresh in large part to Kerschl’s art style. If the creators play their cards rights, Image may have another Saga level smash success on their hands. 

Tara’s Initial Thoughts:

As far as quality goes, this book is definitely top tier—up there with Gideon Falls. It did a ton of world building in a way that didn’t feel like world building, but instead felt like I was just reading a story. It also set up a lot of questions that I look forward to finding out the answers to. The art was beautiful, and I absolutely loved seeing how the Queen looked compared to the other animals in the story. My only complaint is that I would like a bit more character development— at this point I don’t know if the main character is a woman or still a teenager, or why she is with the Queen and no one else is. But I suspect those questions will be answered in the next few issues. 

Final Thoughts:

Steven’s Prediction: I think the book that impressed me that most was Bitter Root. Out of all of these books, Bitter Root has a premise and world I’ve never seen remotely like. After the first issue I’m rooting for this book to have a health life span. However, the book I am most likely to follow the most is Gideon’s Fall. Based on how other locked-box mystery stories have let me down in the past, I am not quiet sure if I’m ready to commit to another story in that genre.

Tara’s Prediction:
My favorite book was Isola, mostly because of its incredible art, but also for its beautiful prose. However, the book that I think is most likely to win the Eisner for Best New Series is Bitter Root. Its subject matter is both important and timely, and the voices feel very fresh.

Episode 1.05 – Secret Empire by Nick Spencer

by Steven Harris & Tara Lawson-Harris

On the fifth episode of the Critically Comics podcast, Steven and Tara discuss the Marvel comics event Secret Empire by Nick Spencer! This episode covers the event series that focused on an evil Hydra controlled Steve Rogers taking over the Marvel Universe. Now that two years have passed since the series ended, did the event live up to hype? Is making Steve Rogers a nazi a step too far or is it an incident where life imitates art? Listen and let us know your thoughts on whether or not Secret Empire goes into the canon of all time greats!