A couple days ago, the news tore through the online horror universe like crap through a goose. Robert Kirkman's acclaimed The Walking Dead comic book series has officially been optioned by AMC as a TV series to be directed by Frank Darabont. And let me just say, I'm very excited about it. But my excitement comes with certain caveats. Allow me to explain.
I started reading The Walking Dead from the very first issue, back in 2003. That's right, I read the original monthly issues--none of that trade paperback or hardcover stuff for me. I was overjoyed to find an ongoing comic book series about a zombie apocalypse, and one that seemed to be smartly written, and amazingly drawn.
Speaking of drawn, I'll say that it was the stunning artwork by Tony Moore that helped take the book to a whole other level. Unfortunately, after only six issues, Moore abruptly departed. That was the first blow. He was replaced by Charlie Adlard, an artist I never warmed up to. I found his work to be sloppy, uninspired, and even confusing.
With Moore gone, my interest in the book began to wane. The shoddy artwork began to draw attention to the flaws in Kirkman's writing. The multitude of similar characters who became hopelessly impossible to distinguish from on another under Adlard's pen and brush. Then there was the snail's-pace plot development, which devolved into soap opera, in which whole issues would go by without a single zombie, let alone any action whatsoever.
The book had great promise. On paper, it's an excellent concept: Charting the ongoing efforts of a group of survivors in a world overrun by the undead. Kind of like a great zombie movie that doesnt end after just two hours, but shows you what happens week after week, and month after month. But my problem was with the execution. The problem was, nothing much happened.
I remember an issue which ended with our heroes mistakenly wandering into a gated community swarming with ghouls. You'd think this would be fodder for a whole bunch of issues overflowing with zombie action, but Kirkman wraps it up in just one issue, then takes the characters to the shelter of an abandoned prison, where they remain seemingly forever, interacting solely with each other while the zombies remain harmlessly outside the gates.
Still, being the zombie lover that I am, I gave the book every chance. I stuck with it for three years, despite the fact that I started losing interest after only six months. But I finally had to give up.
Through all that time, what kept me engaged was the great concept, which I knew, as other readers did, would make for a great television series. There had never been a zombie TV series, and certainly in this age of quality cable shows, the time was ripe. Naturally, most hoped for an eventual HBO run, since that seemed the most approptiate outlet.
And so now, years after I walked away from the book, ironically, comes the news that finally, The Walking Dead will indeed become a TV series. And despite my abandonment of the comic, I will admit that my interest has been greatly piqued, for a number of reasons.
Firstly, those early issues of the series are very strong, and will make for some killer episodes. Then, there's the Darabont factor. The man is a gifted director, with a head for genre material, and I have no doubt he can deliver a product that is actually superior to the material on which it's based.
However, the show must avoid the pitfalls that doomed the book, in my eyes. To go an entire episode in which we completely forget that the world has been taken over by zombies would be disastrous, quite frankly. Kirkman made the rather pretentious claim at one point that the title referred not to the zombies, but to the human characters--and his readers rightly called him out on it within the book's copious fan letter pages. The writer eventually backed down and even admitted himself that it was a bit of a heavy-handed conceit, or at least one that George Romero had already exhaustively mined.
To be a success, this show needs to deliver the goods, and not become the boring soap that the book became. It also needs to work around the constraints of commercial TV. AMC has freer reign than broadcast networks, but its not as free as HBO or Showtime. But then again, this book isn't so much about the gore factor, anyway, so maybe that won't be much of a problem.
There are a lot of people excited about this project, and with good reason. But I wonder how many of them actually read the comic book, especially as long as I did. Sure, it is a great idea, and had moments of greatness, including the torture of Michonne at the hands of the Governor, or the stuff at Herschel's farmhouse... but for the most part, in my opinion, it fell far short of its potential. And I'm hoping this show won't do the same.
So don't get me wrong here--I am excited about a Walking Dead TV series, and have been hoping for one for the past five years. However, I can't blindly heap praise on a comic book I found to be often disappointingly sub-par. And so I charge Mr. Darabont: Amaze me, sir. Fix Kirkman's mistakes. Work your magic and turn a great concept into a great television series. And I promise to tune in every single week.
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