Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Review: "The Walking Dead: Compendium One"

I received “The Walking Dead: Compendium One” as a Christmas gift, and mowed through it thanks to an unfortunate cold that kept me laid up during the New Year holiday weekend.

It was a very interesting experience for me, backwards from the usual. In most cases, I’m very familiar with the source material before I go into TV and movie adaptations. This time, I had about five seasons of the TV show under my belt without having read the comics.

SPOILER ALERT: Before I go any further, I’ll tell you that if you haven’t read the comics or watched the first few seasons of the show and plan to, you may want to stop here. I’ll be discussing the similarities and divergences between the two, and you may learn some things you don’t want to know.

Now that’s out of the way, I’ll start by saying that I was a little surprised at how very different the two are. Though they follow the same basic story arc, so much has been changed. I wondered constantly while reading this whether I would have the same appreciation for the show if I had read it before or if I would have been angry about some of the changes.

One, in particular, that I think would have ticked me off is the character of Tyreese. Though he eventually became a sympathetic character in the show, he was really shortchanged there. Many of his best moments ended up with Daryl, Shane and even Hershel. He’s a pretty badass character in the books, who really didn’t get his due in the show.

That aside, though, I think a lot of the changes that they made were good ones. In particular, the slower burn between Shane and Rick. In the book, there’s not as much back story and deceit on Shane’s part. He snaps pretty quickly after Rick’s return, and his tale is over early on. I thought by extending his role and building more backstory, the TV show did a better job in building the tension.

It’s pretty common knowledge that one of the show’s most popular characters, Daryl Dixon, and his crazy brother Merle, don’t exist in the comics. That’s another point in AMC’s favor. They’re both great characters, and the show wouldn’t be the same without them. Likewise, Hershel gets a real boost in the cinematic world. The moral compass of the show, he’s not nearly as likeable in the book. Though he changes through the story, he never becomes the man whose death affected us so much in the show.

The character, though, where I think AMC’s version far outshines the book, is Carol. In the show, she’s evolved into one of the most intriguing participants – a stone cold and calculating schemer with the uncanny ability to drop back into soccer mom/housewife role and make people who don’t know her underestimate her. In the book, she never grows beyond the needy abuse victim that she begins as and takes her own life, rather gruesomely, while the group is still at the prison.

Speaking of gruesome, the horror portion of the tale is really where the stark style of the comic overshadows the show. I’m still making my way through season five of the show and had just seen the episode with Noah’s exit. I thought that it might have been the most brutal thing I’d seen, but it’s got nothing on what happens early in the comics. Kirkman racks up bodies like George R.R. Martin, and most of them go out in very ugly ways.

By its very nature, the comic medium has a disadvantage to a novel or a television show. You don’t get a lot of time for exposition or a lot of peeks into the characters inner thoughts and motivations. Reflective scenes tend to slow the medium and are used sparingly, leaving primarily the artwork and your imagination to fill in the gaps. The Walking Dead does that exceptionally well, as its stark black and white artwork beautifully conveys the ominous feel of the story.

In the end, unlike most adaptations, I’m left really having to view the two versions of the story as completely different entities. Perhaps because I was introduced to the story through the show, I find myself in that rare position of enjoying the adaptation and the source material equally. Now comes the big decision. Do I want to read ahead in the comics or wait for the show. Since I’m about halfway through "Compendium Two" right now, that’s a tough call I’ll have to make soon.

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