The Walking Dead #175 feels like a fresh start, and that’s a good thing.
There will be spoilers…
The story picks up with Eugene and Michonne’s group finally meeting up with the mysterious community on the other end of Eugene’s radio, identified as the Commonwealth. But Stephanie, Eugene’s contact, is not there. Instead the group is met by a large cadre of armed men with military weapons and armor, along with a corporate looking individual named Lance Hornsby. Hornsby’s smarmy, and self-satisfied, but so far seems mostly harmless. He does threaten to have the group killed if they don’t answer his questions and then come with him further into the community, but he mostly seems exasperated that this whole interview is taking as long as it is, mainly due to Eugene acting kinda crazy about Stephanie’s absence.
It’s a strangely tense issue, even with almost no violence, because Robert Kirkman’s story is loaded with mixed signals that puts the reader in the same position as Michonne’s group. They want to believe they’ve found a decent community, but experience has led them to be wary. The stormtrooper-esque armor is foreboding, as is the title of this arc, “New World Order,” and Hornsby’s evasiveness about Stephanie’s fate is suspicious. But one of the soldiers makes an earnest attempt to reassure Michonne that they’re good guys, and the group is treated well.
No torture or insults or threats of death by baseball bat from Hornsby or the soldiers (so far). From what we see of the Commonwealth, they’re big. Bigger than any other group Rick Grimes and company have run into yet (almost 50,000 residents). They appear to be thriving, with a stadium for sports and music instead of defense and survival, and a wall of the lost covered with photos of missing friends and family, originally used to facilitate reunions among the scattered survivors. Hornsby spends 6 panels talking about how nobody really finds anyone they’ve lost anymore, that the wall is now for sentimental purposes only, which of course sets us up nicely for the surprise reveal that for at least one member of the group, the wall still serves its original purpose. It seems like the Commonwealth is on the up and up. But then again, how can you trust a guy who smirks this much?
The narrative has been dragging a bit since the victory over the Saviors, notwithstanding the threat of the Whisperers. It feels kinda like Rick’s story has mostly been told. He’s graduated from warrior to administrator, for the most part. So I’m glad to see this issue focus on people other than Rick, especially Michonne, one of my favorite characters. I can take or leave Eugene, but that has more to do with his depiction on the TV show than anything he’s done in the comic. But I’m really starting to like new character Princess/Juanita, if only for her ability to break the tension.
There are a lot of cool possibilities here. My best guess is that the Commonwealth are in some way connected to whatever’s left of the government. Their armor and weapons appear military in nature, and they seem to have access to a lot of it. The soldiers seem to be competent professionals. It’s a little bit odd, though, that when they’re attacked by zombies on the way to the Commonwealth, they’re more worried about waking the sleeping Hornsby than they are about the zombies. They face the zombies with bayonets at first, rather than bullets, so as “not to wake the baby,” and he seems oddly childlike; he’s completely relaxed in the face of a zombie horde, first sleeping through the attack then cheerfully bidding the guards farewell as he and Michonne’s crew continue into the Commonwealth while the guards take care of the walker swarm. And again, the guy just looks like a tool.
A common complaint about The Walking Dead is that it’s hard to tell characters apart. I don’t find that the be the case at all; it might have been true early on, but the art here by Charlie Adlard, Stefano Gaudiano, and Cliff Rathburn fits the series so well that it’s easy to simply take it for granted. It’s stark and solid, with emotions clearly depicted on the character’s faces and in their body language. But all the characters are recognizably different individuals. I do find, however, that Kirkman’s cast of characters has grown large enough that I struggle sometimes to remember who some of them are. Perhaps a cast of characters listing on the title/recap page, complete with portraits and captions reminding us who they are, would be helpful.
This is a good issue. The pacing is tight, the tension is high, and there’s a sense that the world of the zombie apocalypse is expanding. It makes it apparent that The Walking Dead is no longer about a small group of people trying to survive with some semblance of their humanity intact; it’s about rebuilding civilization itself. Rick’s group has beaten the Governor, cannibals, thousands of zombies, and Negan’s Saviors. They’re big enough and strong enough that, at this point, the zombies are a purely environmental danger, one that can be circumvented with proper training and preparation. But other people, with other ideas about how things should be run? They’ve always been a problem. And the Commonwealth is the biggest group of other people they’ve met so far.
The Walking Dead #175, published 1/3/18 by Image Comics, featuring writing by Robert Kirkman, letters by Rus Wooton, and art by Charlie Adlard, Stefano Gaudiano, Cliff Rathburn, and Dave Stewart.