War is very slowly brewing in The Commonwealth.
Each month it grows more and more difficult to review The Walking Dead without feeling like a broken record. Whatever merits each individual issue might have, the series as a whole has been stuck in a storytelling rut for well over a year at this point. Even though there’s been some momentum in recent months, it’s beginning to look more and more like readers will be forced to wait until the big issue #200 mark to see this simmering conflict finally boil over.
This problem is even more frustrating than usual in issue #188. On its own merits, this is actually one of the more well-rounded chapters of the series in recent memory. Robert Kirkman’s script bounces between a number of different locales and characters, but not in a way that feels messy or choppy. Each subplot is given a bit of room to breathe. This issue moves the pieces around the board and inches the book closer to a major showdown between the Commonwealth and its neighbors. The problem, again, is that the book has been inching and nudging for so long that it’s impossible not to grow fed up with the overall glacial pace.
Still, there’s some compelling material at work in this issue. Mercer’s plight is easily the highlight currently, as no sooner does he finally stand up for himself and his men than he finds himself branded a traitor and hung out to dry. On the other side of the conflict, Rick is desperately trying to maintain order and prevent Mercer’s arrest from deepening strife within The Commonwealth. Here too is another strong character dilemma. Rick went so far as to execute a friend to prevent war from breaking out, yet war seems inevitable anyway.
Plodding though the book’s pace may be, the greatest strength of the Commonwealth storyline is that there are no clear heroes or villains. Well, Pamela’s son is kid of an irredeemable jerk, but apart from him. The point being that this conflict is much more complicated than the straightforward battles for survival that have tended to dominate the series in the past. After all this time, it’s still unclear whether The Commonwealth needs liberation or for Rick and his friends to go back home and stop stirring up trouble.
Also helping this issue is the fact that Kirkman and artist Charlie Adlard make significant room for good, old-fashioned zombie carnage. Handled properly, the undead can still pose a clear, immediate threat to our heroes, and that’s something this issue manages. The zombie sequence helps spice up what is otherwise a fairly bland issue from a visual standpoint. Many scenes are dominated by talking heads, a fact made worse by Adlard’s tendency to recycle similar facial expressions. But when the focus shifts to undead action, Adlard really nails the tension and ferocity of the situation.