Even if the previous volume was called “The Whisperer War” it was basically the first half of a two-volume story. Where that volume focused on the actual threat presented by the Whisperers themselves, this one addresses the “Zombie A-Bomb” they left behind. Oh, and the impending threat of whatever the Saviors have planned for Alexandrea. You can feel the wheels of the plot grinding a bit more than usual as these events play out. That’s an annoyance, but far from a deal-breaking issue as vol. 28 also has plenty of surprises and sequences of genuinely affecting sentiment to draw you in from beginning to end.
Things begin with thousands of zombies bearing down on Alexandrea. Rick does his best to rally the townspeople and batten down the hatches, while Andrea, Michonne, Jesus, Eugene and everyone outside try to divert the horde elsewhere. Both efforts are… modestly successful with the zombies overrunning the town and Rick winding up trapped in a house with Negan, and one of the aforementioned four outsiders winding up bitten. The good news is that the cavalry is on the way as the Saviors roll up to the settlement with a lot of guns. All because they’re here to lend a helping hand, right?
While the Whisper-led assault and zombie horde have been driving the plot for the past two volumes, it’s hard not to feel that the real story here has been Kirkman’s efforts to try and rehabilitate Negan into a character you . It’s a thought that would’ve been impossible to entertain after he made his debut by bludgeoning Glenn to death. Yet it’s always been in the realm of possibility after Rick refused to kill him at the end of “All Out War” so that the character could live on and see them build a better world without him.
Now, Rick may have planned this so that it functions in a punitive way for the character. Better that Negan live on and see his vision of leadership fail in the face of a better one. The thing is that it appears to have had the opposite effect. Negan realizes that he was wrong and now wants in on contributing to the community that Rick has built. It’s not an unreasonable development, but it’s one that’s going to demand a lot of work in order to get a longtime reader to buy into.
Kirkman has put in all that work and more. Between this volume, the previous two, and the recent “Here’s Negan” hardcover he’s given us a far more developed take on the character than we’ve ever seen before. This is also without sacrificing his ruthless, violent, and profane nature. He’s still the same Negan we’ve seen for years now. It’s just that now we get to see what he’s like when he’s working for the good of someone else’s group rather than his own interests.
There’s always the possibility that he’s playing a VERY long con and will eventually turn on Rick at some point. In fact, Kirkman even plays with that idea at one point in this volume. At this point, however, such a turn would feel like a waste of everything that’s been done with the character. I don’t expect him to ever be buddy-buddy with Rick or anyone else in the main cast, but I can believe that they’d be able to work together for the greater good. There’s always the possibility that he could revert to type and I’d expect Kirkman to milk moments where that can happen for maximum tension. It’s what he does when Negan makes his big pitch to the Saviors. As the outcome there makes clear, we’ve turned a page on his arc and are now in uncharted territory.
While Negan’s arc may be the biggest part of these past few volumes, something else happens in this volume alone that merits special attention. I’m talking about the death I, uh, very strongly implied back in the second paragraph. Without giving too much away, it’s handled in a way that’s both appropriate to the character and all that they’ve contributed to the comic. In fact, it hits another character in a particularly hard way that really left me concerned for their mental state. The whole sequence involving the buildup to this character’s death, their actual death, and the aftereffects of their passing is incredibly long as well as a grueling and wrenching ordeal. I know that’s a terrible way to phrase a compliment. It’s just that anything less would’ve felt like a disservice to the character and all that they’ve contributed to the series.
As good as much of this volume is, there’s one area where it drops the ball. That would be in regards to its handling of Sherry, Dwight’s ex and the current leader of the Saviors. While I thought that her idea of waiting for Rick’s inevitable triumph to make her move in the previous volume was clever, Kirkman really fouls up her motivations here. At first it looks like she’s going to have the Saviors take over. Then when she gets a moment alone with Rick to hash things out, we find out that she just wants to extricate her group from the system of mutual protection and trade they have between Alexandrea, the Hilltop, and the Kingdom.
This… doesn’t make a lot of sense and her actions only get less rational when she starts to attack Rick. Things go sideways in the encounter and suddenly Rick is left with a lot of explaining to do to the Saviors. Negan winds up handling most of it and offers his own interpretation of Shelly’s actions. It’s an explanation that’s fine for what it is, but doesn’t come off like something that was set up organically in regards to her personality. Essentially, Shelly’s arc can be boiled down to “crazy person leads the Saviors and nearly ruins things for everyone.” It’s not a good look for the character and a real misstep from Kirkman in terms of characterization.
No missteps are to be found in the art from Adlard, as you’d expect. He does an excellent job in building up the tension when the zombies march to Alexandrea and eventually overwhelm the gates. You really feel the desperation of the crowd as things go from bad to worse here. Adlard also breaks out the sixteen panel grid to impressive effect on a couple of occasions: Once to show how everyone inside and outside the town is coping with the invasion, and then as various characters pay tribute to the one who passes away. Just to emphasize, Adlard does as much to sell the emotion and drama of this volume with his art as Kirkman does with his writing.
By the end of the volume things have calmed down considerably, even though the final page still leaves me concerned for one character’s mental state. Hell, the entire cast has been put through the wringer over these past two volumes, but it’s made for some pretty great entertainment as far as I’m concerned. Not everything that was attempted here was a success, but the fact that I’m now looking forward to seeing how Negan interacts with the cast from here own out outweighs those issues.