The cracks are showing in the Commonwealth.
The fundamental problem with The Walking Dead right now is that the series seems to be going nowhere fast, despite the wide-open canvas the current status quo provides. That all finally seems to be changing in issue #183. This latest chapter sheds a deeper light on life in the Commonwealth and the downsides of living in the most “civilized” society in the post-post-apocalypse. This abrupt shift in tone and focus doesn’t immediately solve all the series’ woes, but it’s a definite step in the right direction.
Right off the bat, Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard make one inspired storytelling choice by electing to focus issue #183 entirely on Michonne. Recent issues have taken a fairly jumbled approach by constantly bouncing between numerous characters and plot threads. The added sense of consistency here is a definite plus. Not to mention the fact that Michonne is by far the most compelling member of the main cast right now. Between her reunion with her daughter and her efforts to leave her violent life behind and return to a world she thought had been lost forever, there’s plenty of room for her to grow in the months ahead.
This issue doesn’t squander that potential. Kirkman and Adlard explore the many ups and downs of her newly lavish existence as a hotshot Commonwealth attorney. In one of the more emotionally affecting scenes in recent memory, the reader is able to see Michonne and her daughter enjoy an idyllic vacation and be reminded of just how much humanity lost when the undead arose. In most stories, this material would be the stuff happy endings are made of. But whatever ending The Walking Dead will eventually find, it’s not sun-drenched lakes and tender family reunions.
While the series has offered hints as to the dark underbelly of Commonwealth life, this issue truly begins exploring the gulf between the dream leaders like Pamela sell and the reality for most citizens. Between rampant police brutality and staggering income inequality, life in the Commonwealth is uncomfortably close to real-world America. That allegory is clearly the point, though it’s a little more blatant and on the nose than it really needs to be. Still, it’s good to see the Commonwealth storyline finally developing some weight.
Adlard and collaborators Stefano Gaudiano and Cliff Rathburn are in strong form with this new chapter, capturing the Walking Dead universe at its best and worst over the course of the story. The clean, wholesome innocence of the early pages is almost heartbreaking considering all the rampant misery that preceded it. At the same time, the darker, more unsettling tone of subsequent pages serves as a stark reminder that life in this world is far from back to normal.
The only downside to this issue is that it did leave me wishing (more than usual, anyway), that the Walking Dead were published in color. That really would have pushed the vacation scenes to a whole new level. The same goes for the chaotic action of the final pages. Anytime the art emphasizes elements like sunlight or fire, the limitations of the black-and-white format become more apparent. Still, Gaudiano’s ink washes do their part to add contrast and depth to the art.