What’s the best way to establish a new villain’s credentials? Have him kill off a member of the main cast in his very first appearance. That’s what Negan, leader of The Survivors, did and it made him instantly hateable. Of course, death is really cheap in this series and a real bad guy in this title needs more than just straight up murder to be memorable. Is there any reason we should actually be interested in this new guy, or is he just another Governor? Fortunately for us, Negan proves to be a compellingly unstable presence in this volume who may not be sticking around long enough for his schtick to grow old.
Making good on his demand for half of the resources from Rick’s community, Negan shows up with Lucille in tow and wastes no time in letting everyone know who’s in charge here. If his threats through the gate, strolling out with half of the “good stuff,” and his little tete-a-tete with Carl didn’t establish the fact that now he’s in charge, the man’s one-off to Rick after taking his bat back certainly will. The interesting thing about Negan is that while he’s clearly a bastard, the man operates by a specific set of rules. He’s not going around being crazy for the sake of craziness and actually keeps his word on every occasion. Negan is a man who does understand the value of fear and intimidation, and that’s illustrated quite well in his conversation with Carl halfway through the book which seesaws back and forth between who has the upper hand. The boy puts up a good fight, but we see that for all that the world has hardened him he’s still just a kid.
They do take a break halfway through the conversation so Negan can administer “the iron” to someone in his compound who didn’t follow the rules. “The iron...” is brutally effective in its simplicity and winds up being one of the most disturbing moments I’ve seen in this series, or any comic in a while. If only for the “gooiness” that artist Charlie Adlard gives its application.
As nasty as Negan is made out to be here, it wouldn’t be “The Walking Dead” if Robert Kirkman didn’t have his characters trying to turn the situation around and keep the struggle from being completely one-sided. The plan for Rick’s group to start making their own bullets continues apace here, while Jesus gets a few scenes to show that he’s easily one of the most capable individuals in the title right now. He also facilitates the introduction to another character that has been buzzed about for a few months now: Ezekiel.
Ezekiel is... well, it seems like it’s about time that we met someone like him in this title. A self-styled “king” with his own “kingdom” (and tiger, you can’t forget about the tiger), it doesn’t surprise me at all that someone would see the zombie apocalypse as the perfect time to indulge in their own fantasy life. He gets a great introduction as a potential ally in the fight against Negan and the meeting is marked by a surprise twist that I’m actually inclined to take at face value. If nothing else, Ezekiel’s introduction does make me want to see more of him because of the questions his very existence raises. Was he always like this? How did he establish his kingdom? How is he keeping it clear of zombies? Inquiring minds want to know!
At this point, there are few more consistently entertaining titles on the market right now than “The Walking Dead.” It’s clear that Kirkman has a plan and he shows us that he knows how to pull it off. Even though forces are allying against him, Negan remains a credible who will more than likely take out another cast member or two before he’s finished off. So tension remains high as planning continues and the wait for the next volume remains as tense as ever.