Robert Kirkman’s THE WALKING DEAD has grown from an independent comic book series to a mini-industry spawning spin-off novels, action figures, national best-selling graphic novel compilations, and, of course, the hit cable TV series now halfway into its second series (and already renewed for a third). Not surprising then that editor James Lowder and Smart Pop Books have gathered a collection of critical essays to this popular series in its two main forms.
What is surprising is how much fun and informative the essays are that comprise TRIUMPH OF THE WALKING DEAD.
Several of the contributions are from academics. But these are professors who obviously spend a good deal of time away from the ivory tower and have observed and written often about the goings-on in popular culture. Thus, Kyle William Bishop of Southern Utah University effectively demonstrates how the use of pathos highlights the terror of the zombies in his essay “The Pathos of THE WALKING DEAD” without a trace of pompous stuffiness.
Likewise, Steven Schlozman, assistant professor at the Harvard Medical School, insightfully shows how science — often the last the bastion of hope in an anxious world — comes up short in the desperate search for what caused the zombie pandemic and its possible cure in “Feel better?”
There are also contributions from those who work more directly in the world of genre fiction. Most notable of these is “Take Me to Your Leader,” by novelist Jonathan Maberry — certainly no slouch when it comes to zombie stories. He traces the progression of Rick Grimes, the main protagonist of the series, from a man frantically searching for his family at the outset of the zombie apocalypse to the reliable but often reluctant leader of a tribe of fellow survivors.
Jay Bonansinga reveals his experiences of collaborating with series creator Kirkman while co-authoring the spin-off novels in his “A Novelist and a Zombie Walk into a Bar.” These and several other topics — 15 essays in all — are led off by an appreciative, but all-too-brief foreword by Joe R. Lansdale.
TRIUMPH OF THE WALKING DEAD successfully manages to do what any collection of its sort intends: Help us understand why the series is so good (and successful), while enhancing our enjoyment at the same time.
It’s highly recommended, with one caveat: Those just now immersing themselves in the graphic novels on which the series is based should be warned that some of the examples used in these essays are unintended spoilers.
Then again, think of how impressed your friends will be next time you argue about either the TV or comic series, and you draw references from some of the literary and esoteric sources used in this collection. —Alan Cranis