As the title implies, this is the setup to the big “All Out War” storyline of which the first issue is the biggest-selling comic of the year so far. (Thanks to its fifteen interlocking covers celebrating the comic’s tenth anniversary.) Seeing Rick forge together a coalition to take on Negan and his Saviors is a rickety effort, full of ambition, false starts, backstabbing and enough pitfalls to make you wonder if anyone on either side of the equation knows what they’re doing. I mean this all in the most complimentary way for the book, though.
You see, while Rick and Negan are both very clever and cunning individuals neither of them has any formal military training. So even though there’s a war on the horizon, the march towards it isn’t going to come off like any kind of well-oiled machines. People on both sides will make mistakes, let their emotions get the better of them and do things that will threaten to decide the conflict before it even starts. This is seen early on when Jesus has to plug a leak in the Hilltop from a point that he was not expecting. Such an act is only the tip of the iceberg here.
Come to think of it, this is likely why Abraham was killed back in vol. 17. Given that he was the only person in the series with military training, his input could’ve proved decisive in this conflict. Such a thing would’ve also undermined Rick’s status as the de facto leader and so he had to go, and go in a way that still depresses me every time I think about it.
Moving on, the first half of the volume deals with Jesus taking care of business and Rick solidifying his relationship with Ezekiel. The latter does drop his guard somewhat to reveal the real person behind his kingly facade to Michonne, and becomes a more credible character for it. His initial appearance was quite amusing as you had to figure that someone would set themselves up as a king if given the chance in this post-apocalyptic world. Here, we find out the reasons why and the fact that Ezekiel has been so successful in the role make perfect sense.
While this is going on, Negan pays a surprise visit to Rick’s encampment for his tribute and moves solidly into the “villain you love to hate category.” The main point of comparison in outright villainy in this title is, of course, The Governor who was portrayed as being just straight-up crazy from his introduction with virtually no room for any kind of character depth. He was an example of the kind of bad guy you just hated.
Negan is different because, as was pointed out in a previous volume, there’s a warped, brutal logic behind everything he does. He’s not the kind of person who will cut your hand off on a whim or keep zombie heads in fish tanks for his own personal amusement. The man also isn’t a rapist -- he makes sure the women in his harem genuinely want to be there with all of the perks such a position affords. Which is a whole different kind of “disturbing.”
There’s also the fact that everything he does isn’t without some kind of purpose. Killing Glenn? That was all about making Rick’s group fall in line. We get another scene where someone in Rick’s encampment tries to sell him out to Negan, only to find that such duplicitousness is not looked upon kindly. The results of the encounter are shockingly violent, yet take on a horrifically funny when Negan expresses his mock sympathy over “his mistake” in this matter. It’s that wicked sense of humor which also underscores everything he does that makes the “love to hate” part valid in my opinion.
Robert Kirkman also gets points for Negan’s gleefully profane vernacular that show how profanity can liven a scene up when it’s used correctly. It’s also fun to see how the man’s big rabble-rousing speech at the end of the volume goes right over the heads of his subordinates before he has to spell it out for them. Certain people can really learn how to effectively use profanity from how Kirkman writes Negan’s dialogue here.
The rest of the volume is made up of the conflict that erupts between Rick and Negan when the latter’s group returns to find the other one waiting for him. This is where things get messy in the buildup to the main conflict as Rick winds up over-reaching only to find out that his opponent is far more prepared than he thought he was. Negan is also supremely overconfident because of this and that’s what leads to a confrontation where the momentum between sides is shifting every few pages. It ends with clear repercussions for both sides and serves as a great warm-up for the main event.
For the buildup to a twelve-issue storyline, you couldn’t ask for a more effective start than this. Right now I’m less inclined to wonder about whether or not it’s going to be any good, but whether or not the whole arc will be collected in one volume or two. It’s a critical issue, man! FATE OF THE WORLD HERE! Well, not really but you get the idea.