"The Walking Dead" was a herald of the zombie genre in the comic industry, and no book since then has done the genre justice. Superficially, the serie"The Walking Dead" was a herald of the zombie genre in the comic industry, and no book since then has done the genre justice. Superficially, the series seems clichéd and unoriginal. Much like any other story involving the undead, Kirkman's book involves humans confronted with the grisly horror of a world now overrun with the living dead. Unlike most of its predecessors, and its contemporaries, the series focuses on much more than the simple horror of outrunning an implacable enemy. The thing that sets "The Walking Dead" apart from any other zombie movie or story that I have read is the deep psychological and sociological subtext that underscores the story.
Though I am sure Kirkman lacks a degree in either psychology or sociology, his characterization of the individuals in his books reads as if he has done a field study in another dimension where zombies have taken over. This is the key difference in his work. "The Walking Dead" is not about zombies, but about people. Within this series the undead serve as the vehicle through which an exploration of human nature is undertaken and Kirkman travels through a human landscape that is touching, tragic, inspiring, horrific and hopeful. To emphasize the departure from the typically grisly affair which zombie stories typically are, the artwork of the series is a stark black and white, magnificently penned by Charlie Adlard, reducing the gruesomeness and emphasizing the humanity of the story.
Before I get into the specifics of the story in volume 11 of the series, I want to point out that unlike its slowly shuffling zombie hordes this volume came out at speed. Fans of the series that only read it in trade (and there are a surprising number of us) are used to a rather long turn around time which can leave us with quite a hunger for new volumes. I don’t know what lit the fires over at Image, but everyone I know that loves the series was shocked and very pleased to see this volume on the New This Week wall at our local comic shop.
On to the meat of the story as it were. One of the persistent complaints amongst fans of the series who read it in trade is the unfinished feeling of each and every volume. As the comic industry continues the practice of collecting individual issues into trade paperbacks, and enforcing story arcs through editorial mandate which neatly fit such packages we have become used to such things. In a book which Kirkman owns and controls, such creative guidelines have not been set or enforced and so we are frequently left with volumes that begin in the middle of a story and have no satisfactory ending but Fear the Hunters does not suffer from such issues in the least. Though it simply begins in the unremarkable place the last volume left off an event occurs which quickly becomes the defining starting point of the volume. Coupled with this event comes the ending, which provide emotional finality as the last page leaves readers with one of the most poignant images in the series to date.
The overwhelming feeling of Fear the Hunters was climactic, as I closed the book it seemed that the story had reached a crucial point and we nearing the end (of course we all know that that certainly isn’t true). From the beginning of the volume it was clear that it would be more heart wrenching and dark than most. With the whole intent of the series being to examine human psychology and sociology amidst unspeakable horror and danger, Kirkman intrepidly pushes boundaries with each volume as he puts his characters through the emotional and physical wringer. With Fear the Hunters he takes not just a step, but several paces and maybe even a short jog past any previous lines in the “how effed up can I make this” sand. The volume brings the metaphor of human and zombie full circle with shocking and emotional results.