Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Walking Dead Vol. 2 Miles Behind Us

This volume, Rick and his gang (Andrea, Dale, Glenn, Allen, Donna, Sophia, Carol, Lori, Karl, Billy and Ben) head out, away from Atlanta looking for shelter. Along they way, they run into more survivors, Tyreese, his daughter Julie and her boyfriend Chris. After a brief stop in a gated community, which turned to be full of angry zombies, Carl is injured and they find themselves at Hershel’s farm, along with Hershel’s children (Lacey, Maggie, Arnold, Billy, Rachel and Suzie) and neighbours Otis and his girlfriend Patricia.

Carl heals quickly, but tensions flare between Rick’s group and Hershel, over Hershel’s barn o’zombies and Rick & co have to leave, leaving Glenn behind with Maggie. Rick & co arrive at the prison. And Lori is pregnant.

I think the main theme for this book is a kind of wary acceptance. Having moved on from Atlanta, there’s a greater sense of threat from the group, after the joy of reunion and the shock of the attack there’s less of a sense of hope of things getting better. Rick tries to hold onto the positive - but he does it with naive hope (Carl being able to sleep until the dystopia ends) and by refusing to look at the negative (encouraging everyone to congratulate him and Lori over her pregnancy). He even goes as far as to deny the possibility that the father of Lori’s baby might be Shane. But the general mood is one of fear and acceptance - Lori and Carol worry about giving birth without any medical attention. Even Tyreese warns his daughter, Julie, about the risk. Lori worries about raising a child in the dystopian world.

This volume isn’t about the world getting better, it’s about finding a safe place to survive - and being burned out so much that even the prison - living in a prison - seems like a good option. And it’s also about beginning to find a reason to survive, characters begin to have sex and partner off; embracing life and relationships in a much smaller population.

In a great moment of increasing inclusion, Tyreese joins the cast. Almost from the beginning, Tyreese is a productive and useful member of the group - partly by being so physically fit and a strong, capable fighter; which is pointed out repeatedly and gratefully by the group. They do not take him for granted. In turn, this leads to some extremely belated gratitude to Glenn, for the risks he took keeping them supplied, when they are forced to deal with hunger for the first time and learn the deprivations Tyreese's family had to endure on the road. It’s late and they really should have said it sooner, but at last his achievement and risk has been acknowledged

But Tyreese is more than a big, strong Black man, even at this early stage, Rick frequently considers him to be his natural peer. Tyreese is the one he goes hunting with, Tyreese is the one who leads the second group whenever they split up. And when Rick is hasty or angry, Tyreese is the voice of reason. Beyond reason, he is the voice of compassion - after Otis shoots Carl by accident, it is Tyreese who reaches out to him.

In a parallel with the TV series, we also see Glenn in a relationship with Maggie - which is rare to see, an Asian man with a White woman in the media.

Unfortunately, the treatment of women hasn’t really improved since the first volume. Women are constantly put in a secondary role in this series so far. We hardly ever see them with a weapon, we never see them actually kill a zombie (even in the dramatic fight outside the barn, Lacey jumped in and died, Arnold fought and died and Maggie just fell to her knees comforting Herschel). Women are delicate flowers who are kept to child rearing and tending while the men fight - they’re certainly never consulted for any decision making. In the beginning, when Dale appoints Rick leader, his logic is that Shane is dead, he’s too old, Glenn is too young and Allen isn’t a leader. Not only are the women not considered for a leadership position; but Dale thinks they need a strong leader to be protected.

The women are largely content to be silent and passive - but when women do try to speak up it’s always punished. Lori speaking up is constantly presented as nagging and when she argues with Hershel he nearly slaps her. When Andrea tries to get Allen to shake off some of his grief and actually be there for his children, he viciously attacks her, calling her a b@tch and a c@nt. The sad thing is that these are pretty much the only times the women dare to speak up, argue or express any real active role in the comics and they’re quickly policed. Even Carl goes hunting before the women are allowed to.

With the people pairing off to have sex, there’s also an unfortunate trend in womb policing going on too. Hershel objects vehemently to Glenn having sex with Maggie (though I love her counter argument) which unfortunately fits in a trend with Tyreese objecting to Chris and Julie sleeping together. Tyreese clearly has ongoing issues with Chris and his warning to Julie about pregnancy makes sense, but it’s still an unfortunate trend.  Dale walks around positively obsessed with Lori possibly carrying Shane’s baby and  he repeatedly tries to warn Rick about it. Seriously, why does he care and since when is it his business? It’s like every comic it comes up, Dale will have a moment to tell Rick “it’s not your seed in your woman’s womb, the hussy!”

There’s a whole lot of womb policing going on here - the menfolk need to take their noses away from the uteri!

In addition to the obvious problem with such constant sexism, it also casts a pall on other interactions - like Rick asking Hershel if it’s okay to teach his teenaged children how to shoot, and asking Tyreese about his teenaged daughter; but he never bothered to ask Lori about Carl and she was portrayed as an unreasonable nag when she objected. The contrast is blatant.

The blatant sexism remains the main problem in comics at this point - eclipsing even what happened on the show (which took some doing).

Alive: (Rick’s Group): Rick, Lori, Karl, Tyreese, Carol, Julie, Chris, Sophia, Andrea, Dale, Allen, Billy, Ben

Alive: (Hershel Farm): Hershel, Maggie, Glenn, Otis, Patricia, Billy

Dead: Donna, Lacey, Arnold