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The Walking Dead vol. 21: All Out War (Part Two)

August 3, 2014

When we left off in the battle between Rick’s forces and Negan’s “Saviors,” things were not looking too good for the former’s side.  Things had started off great with the zombie-driven assault on Negan’s fortress, but then the man’s forces rallied and staged a devastating attack on Rick’s home.  In lesser hands, this downward trend for the book’s longest-surviving character and his followers would’ve continued to the very end until they pull out a last-minute save to defeat their opposition.  The hands of writer Robert Kirkman, artist Charlie Adlard, and inker Stefano Gaudiano, are not lesser ones.  As a result, the remainder of this “All Out War” is thrilling to see unfold.

The main feeling that I got while reading this volume was that I was reading it too slow.  I wanted to know about how Rick was going to turn the tide and ultimately assert his dominance over Negan NOW!  However, if I had just skimmed through the volume I would’ve missed out on all of the setup and twists that made the ultimate conclusion so satisfying.  Things like what happens when Dwight’s plans are overheard by someone who isn’t in on them, or how Negan uses the zombies to give the weapons of his followers an unpleasant added effect.  We also get to see the real struggle between both sides in this conflict continue as the Saviors nighttime assault on Hilltop is a real surprise to Rick’s crew, but they display some clever on-the-spot thinking that helps turn the tide.  Most series struggle to get a good balance between having opposing forces in a conflict actually struggle against each other, as opposed to one side steamrolling the other until the end.  That’s not the case here and the war is all the more satisfying for it.

Not trying to burn through this volume also had me appreciating the quieter moments in the conflict, as they help illustrate what’s at stake here.  Seeing everyone at Rick’s compound stop to bury their dead and then leave the place they’ve struggled so hard to defend was genuinely affecting.  As was Ezekiel’s bedside confession to Michonne about his struggles to man up in this battle, but in a more amusingly warm fashion.  There’s even one moment where we learn a significant personal detail about Jesus that’s both refreshing in the matter-of-fact way in which it’s delivered, and delightful in the way that it’ll piss off any fundamentalists who would object to anyone with his name being like that (assuming they read this title, that is).

Things aren’t perfect here, as there are a few things here that could’ve benefitted from one more review at the editing stage.  There’s a moment where Eugene tells everyone that he’ll be able to get them out of a zombie-enclosed car, but we never see what it is or how they’re able to get up on the building with the sniper shooting at them.  A couple pages later, we cut from Jesus kicking in a guy’s head on one panel, to Negan growing at one of his subordinates in the next panel on the following page.  So maybe it was just that issue that could’ve used more editing.  However, it still doesn’t excuse the whiplash I got from seeing Rick change his mind so many times regarding Dwight’s allegiance.

These are still minor issues in the end, and it’s doubtful you’ll be thinking about them when the climactic fight between Rick and Negan gets underway.  It’s one that starts off with words, rather than weapons as Rick makes one final impassioned plea to show that fighting is unnecessary and that they can achieve so much more by working together.  I won’t spoil the effect his words have on Negan, but the real surprise is that this encounter leads to what is easily one of the most ruthless things Rick has done in the course of this series.  Seeing him do that… I was honestly shocked because it seemed almost unnecessary at the time.  Yet as we see in the final pages it actually makes a certain kind of sense and left me with the feeling that Rick ultimately made the right choice here, harsh as it was.

It does leave the door open for Negan to bedevil everyone at a later date, but I’m not too worried about that.  Kirkman and co. have shown that they’re well aware of the tropes and cliches of the genre and prefer to give them a good twist whenever they can.  We can all see what the obvious route for Negan would be from here, and after seeing this series develop over twenty-one volumes now I feel confident in saying that it’s not the path that will be taken here.  I don’t know where “The Walking Dead” is headed in the wake of “All Out War,” and that’s probably the most exciting part of this volume.  Continued, consistent quality tends to inspire that reaction in me.

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