Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Walking Dead Volume 27: The Whisperer War by Robert Kirkman (Author), Charlie Adlard (Artist), Stefano Gaudiano (Artist), Cliff Rathburn (Artist)

The Walking Dead has shifted quite a bit.  People have divided themselves into functional communities and they are even trading with each other and holding fairs.  Rick is still in charge at Alexandria, though all of a sudden he's griping about being an old man and losing touch.  Things settled into a sort of normalcy and so of course, this couldn't be allowed to continue - enter The Whisperers who are a group like none our merry band of survivors has ever had to face. 

In A Call to Arms, the infamous Negan escaped his prison and decided that his version of proving that he had turned over a new leaf would be to infiltrate the Whisperers. Quite unsurprisingly, this the prelude to disaster and ends up being the spark that begins a new war. Because of his injury, Rick is forced to sit on the sidelines and so he puts Dwight in charge of their forces.  Vincent is sent out to the other communities to ask for help in defending Alexandria.  Of the communities that are trading with Alexandria, only The Hilltop and The Kingdom agree to participate in the war.  Of the two who send forces, only The Hilltop seems to do so without any problems in their community. With Ezekiel dead, many members of the Kingdom see no reason to rush to Alexandria's aid, particularly knowing that Rick believes that he can just install Michonne as their leader.  There's plenty of resentment towards Michonne, because people rightly believe that she abandoned their community and broke Ezekiel's heart. At the end of the day, the only reason The Kingdom agrees to participate is because they fear that if Alexandria falls, so will The Kingdom. 

Rick may be seen as a saviour by many but this also comes with a lot of resentment.  I think that at this point, Rick has so bought into his own hype he cannot see the ways in which people bristle under his leadership. When Rick passes a law in Alexandria, he expects every community to follow it even if it doesn't apply to their situation. The perfect example is his rule on death penalty and his response to learning that Maggie had ordered an execution. The problem with being a supreme leader is that there's always going to be a resentment and you cannot rule people unless they agree to be ruled.

The only person Rick bothers to check in with is Andrea and she's the only one he shows weakness around.  At first it seems humbling to think that Rick Grimes could actually have some doubts about his leadership abilities or the decisions he makes but it's really about his physicality and fear that he may just be usurped by someone else. Andrea is forced to spend them majority of her time in this volume acting like a fluffer and constantly boosting Rick's ego. When Rick asks if he did the right thing when he decided to leave Negan to roam free and to fight on the front lines, rather than continuing in her objections to Negan being alive at all, Andrea simply says that she trusts Rick and is therefore fine with his decision. What the ever loving hell? Is Andrea ever going to think for herself again? At one time, Andrea didn't even want Negan imprisoned and now she's fine with him being paroled when he played a large part in why they are in this mess.  Yes, the fault still largely lies with Carl; however, Negan's actions escalated the situation into war. 

Carl really isn't much better though his excuse is that he's younger than Rick.  If we look back at how this whole thing got set in motion, we can trace it right back to Carl not having the sense of a concussed penguin because he found himself attracted to a Lydia, the Aphpa's daughter. Sure, common sense flies out the window when teenage hormones are involved but there should be limits.  Now that Carl is forced to deal with the consequences of his rash decisions, he still wants to play wrong and strong.  Michonne heads to The Hilltop to ask Maggie to chip in some forces to fight against the Whisperers, and of course, Carl is offended that he's not asked to come along and even goes as far to suggest that if he chooses to go, there's nothing anyone can do to stop him.  At this point, I really want to see Carl fed to the zombies.  Michonne has to placate Carl by pointing out that The Hilltop won't have a lot of strong warriors left behind and that she's leaving Carl there to help deal with any problems that arise. Yes, Michonne pretty much had to stick a dummy in Carl's mouth. 

Carl's obsession with Lydia has led to a pretty dark place, yet he's is all hope and sunshine that everyone  and everything is going to get through this just fine. Has it really been that long since the prison was destroyed and they had to flea? Has Carl really forgotten that nothing is guaranteed, particularly in a zombie apocalypse? Carl's yes we can attitude is enough to irritate Lydia into revealing that he's too young for her and that she doesn't love him.  Carl being a Grimes, most certainly cannot accept someone telling him no and so he has to insist that Lydia loves him. It's outright creepy abusive shit to tell someone that their feelings are wrong just because you're in love lust with them. 

This volume focuses on two relationships. For some time now, Dante has been flirting with Maggie. It's clear that at least on some level, Maggie enjoys the attention and it helps that Dante hasn't really pushed the issue before. With the Whisperers breathing down their neck, Dante realises that tomorrow is promised to no one and decides to stop procrastinating when it comes to Maggie.  Dante tells Maggie that he really likes her and wants to be with her.  As much as Maggie enjoys the flirting, Dante's declaration moves things a step too far for her. Maggie only wants to be with Glenn and is content to be alone.  It's Maggie's memories of Glenn that make her happy.  This is kind of bittersweet. Maggie and Glenn as a couple were wonderful but the idea of Maggie remaining single for however many days she has left is just incredibly sad.

For some time now, Jesus has remained a single man other than the random sex he's had with Alex. Despite Jesus and Aaron both running from the suggestion of the community that they should be in a relationship together, the people are determined that this is going to happen. Yes, the entire community has shipped their gay members. Anyone else see a problem with this?  Aaron and Jesus cannot even have a single conversation with each other without someone stepping up to say that them being a couple would make the community happy. 

This whole thing feels... forced and ill-thought out. The entire community is on side? Really? Because we're not far from the modern world here and entire communities don't generally get behind gay men having a relationship. And there is something deeply fetishistic about the idea of everyone deciding their gays should get together, basically because they are gay regardless of any kind of compatibility

It also kind of highlights an undertone here: because many an LGBT person has rolled their eyes at straight people setting them up with someone on the sole premise of mutual sexuality being a match (because personality, values, hobbies etc just don't matter next to THE GAY). But here we have the equal question of them being close to the Only Gays In the Village. And the story's really not acknowledging this rare tokenism (which is a habit). Because here's Aaron thinking "I don't want him to just use me for sex" without following up with at least a brief "but it's him or being alone forever because everyone else here is straight!" This is actually a legitimate worry that would occur to Aaron, given that many LGBT people especially in rural and/or conservative areas face the same impression.

The whole thing - from lack of homophobia, the universally trying to set them up, to lack of consideration of their desperately small numbers just kind of feels very much "trying" but not TOO hard. There's a lot of thought missing

As much as this volume is about the war with the Whisperers (which actually feels quite anticlimactic), it's also about the relationships which people have forged over time.  The Saviours don't want to participate in the war because they feel abandoned by Dwight. This is telling given that the Saviours are now being led by Sherry in Dwight's absence.  It's Dwight's absence that leads to the Saviours deciding that they don't have to help in the war. All of the alliances that Rick thought were secure are actually quite rocky and there is even infighting within the individual communities. 

Overall though, Dwight isn't having a good time.  Sure his tactics at battle with the Whisperers are brilliant.  Separating them from the herd and then masquerading as Whisperers to kill them is extremely smart. This however is a burden placed upon him by Rick, who even goes as far as saddling Dwight with Negan - the man who stole his wife and ironed his face.  Negan being Negan cannot help but taunt Dwight about Sherry and points out the fact that Sherry is already with someone else as proof that Sherry just rides on the back of anyone with power. Really, this amounts to slut shaming of Sherry and I'm not at all impressed by this.  Of course this all serves the larger narrative of trying to sell Negan as a changed man after having been imprisoned by Rick.

When Negan first appeared with the Saviours, he was the loud mouthed occasionally funny big bad. He swung his bat and killed Glenn, an act I'll never forgive him for.  Much of Negan's characterisation has been cartoonish expressly because The Walking Dead didn't bother to delve into a back story.  In The Whisperer War, the writers finally go there.  Negan goes into battle initially unarmed because really, should he be trusted with any kind of weapon? When Negan is finally cornered, Dwight tosses him Lucille. For Negan, this is a moment of victory because a lot of his personality is invested in this bat. We've read through various comics as he speaks about Lucille as though she's a person rather than an inanimate object.  It isn't until Negan breaks Lucille attempting to beat the Beta to death that we learn that Negan named his bat after his wife who he abandoned and never buried.  It's heavily implied that until he actually broke the bat that Negan never actually mourned Lucille's passing, hence him taking the time to bury the bat.  Of course it comes with Negan wishing that his wife is getting her brains fucked out while she's in heaven. Negan has to keep it classy like that.  It will be interesting to see as the story progresses how much more of Negan's backstory is going to be revealed in an effort to rehabilitate this character.

Personally, I don't think that Negan is a character who should be on the redemption train given the fact that he has viciously killed people and ironed people's faces. One could reasonably argue that the only reason we root for Rick is because he's been the protagonist from the beginning of the story and that he too is guilty of unspeakable acts.  I suppose this would be a reasonable argument to make but that in and of itself doesn't mean that we should also embrace Negan. I will admit that some of my distaste for this idea is about Negan's murder of Glenn.

I highly suspect that upon the conclusion of the Whisperer War that Rick and Co are going to have to find a new place to live.  The Walking Dead has had these characters settled in the Washington area for quite some time now.  The fact that Eugene has been talking to someone in Ohio, suggests that this might be the next location.  If this is where they choose to go, I really have to say that it makes no sense. Why not go back south? They would have a moderate climate and more fertile land to grow food given that they have to be running out of canned food that is edible by now? Picking a place along the coast would also allow for fishing.  At this point I can only guess where the story is moving to but I am quite certain, the story is indeed moving.

Died this volume: Father Gabriel