Tensions are slowly building in The Commonwealth.
As long as The Walking Dead has been on the stands, I can’t be the first reviewer to make a lame joke about how the series is walking when it needs to be running. But that complaint really sums up all the comic’s woes at the moment. Once again, the newest issue showcases a promising status quo but fails to get the plot moving and begin that crucial next step.
If anything, issue #184 works to diffuse the tension built up in the previous chapter. The story opens with a riot as the citizens of the Commonwealth lash out at the police and Michonne is caught in the middle. That conflict gives the book exactly the adrenaline boost it’s been needing, but the chaos fades as quickly as it began after a handful of pages. Each month, the series circles a little closer to revealing the insidious truth about life in the Commonwealth, but each time it backs away before delving too deeply. There’s a sense that something big is brewing here. But even a year after this new setting and its cast of characters have been established, we barely seem any closer to the heart of this conflict.
Once the chaos dies down, the focus reverts to exploring various character relationships both new and old. These character moments are all handled well, whether it’s the subtly deepening tension between Rick and Pamela or the unlikely bond forming between Princess and Mercer. Eugene’s material stands out more than anything, however. His idealistic ambitions for restoring another key component of civilization help the series reclaim some of that hopeful excitement that was so apparent in the immediate aftermath of “All Out War.”
Charlie Adlard, Cliff Rathburn and Stefano Gaudiano are able to juggle the shift from frenetic action and conversational scenes easily enough. There’s a grim brutality to the former that helps enhance their impact. Adlard also shows some clever framing choices later on, drawing visual attention to the gulf between the rich and poor of the Commonwealth in a more effective way than the sometimes stilted dialogue can manage. On the downside, Adlard’s figure work can be a little repetitive, with some familiar poses and facial expressions being reused here.
In short, there’s some strong material driving this latest issue forward. It’s not the individual moments where The Walking Dead is struggling right now. Rather, it’s the lack of forward momentum and tangible progress to the series’ larger narrative.