The Books Are Better: The Walking Dead (1)

I was at military school when the first season of The Walking Dead (TWD) premiered. No one had access to cable, but on Thanksgiving break I used my sister’s Hulu account to watch the first episode. Later I bought the season on DVD. Before then I was a fan of the comics the show is based on. It was 2010 and in the comics, Rick and company were about to enter Alexandria, which did not happen until Season 5. I knew what to expect, but Season 1 was a fantastic adaptation of Volume 1. A year later came the trailer for Season 2 and I hoped for another exceptional bit of television… until I sat down and watched it.

I touched on the subject of show versus comics on a friend’s blog some time ago. I got into the broader differences, but here I want to get into the minutia of each season and the volume it follows. I would like to try and analyze the whole series, maybe two or three per new post. It will give me something comic-related outside of Punisher to write about and give you new stuff to read.

Here we go

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Themes

If you look at the front covers of TWD book collections there is the subtitle “A continuing story of survival horror.” That one sentence epitomizes what the comics are all about. It takes ideas from the original Dawn of the Dead from George A. Romero and takes them to their logical extreme. What if a zombie apocalypse actually happened and how would it affect real people, who have never known starvation or been in a survival situation? That is and has been TWD since its publishing 15 years ago.

Being real people means the characters have emotional baggage. They find love, lose it, move on, and go crazy. All the while the characters are in a constant fight against the elements, starvation, and hordes of undead. How they cope with this new reality informs who they become and how they act towards fellow survivors. To quote the comic’s tagline, “In a world ruled by the dead, we are forced to finally start living.”

Being character oriented and set in a hostile world, TWD does not shy away from putting survivors in danger. While zombies are slow and easy to kill, they are never taken lightly. The same can be said for other survivors. More often than not characters are killed or horribly maimed, no matter how long they have been around or how much you like them. Everyone is expendable in TWD. This is not the Mad Max apocalypse; it is The Road with zombies.

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TWD Season 1/Volume 1

This is the only case where the show is better than the comics. Unlike most new shows TV-TWD started out very well with film-quality production values. Thanks to director Frank Darabont and his crew, there is an atmosphere of widespread catastrophe that a lot of zombie movies fail to nail down. The world is quiet and empty where the dead have replaced the living. The sense of isolation even following live characters is so prevalent. Episode 1 alone has this feeling of hopelessness bearing down on you as Rick wanders the desolation in a daze.

On top of that, the first season is actually scary. Like a good monster movie there is an escalation to the threat. We do get a zombie in the cold open, but we do not understand the extent of their presence until later. After Rick wakes up, there is a great scene where he comes to a pair of chained doors and hands start reaching out from the opening, the sound of moaning growing louder behind them. This does take away from a great moment in the comics, but is very well utilized in the show.

The rest of the season’s frightening moments center on claustrophobia and how even open spaces contain veiled threats. Taking place in and around Atlanta, Rick and company contend with tight streets and alleys packed with zombies. Add on the scarcity of resources and vulnerability of most of the characters, even small encounters are dangerous. The zombies are a very real threat and you feel it from start to finish.

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The atmosphere and horror is where TV-TWD surpasses the comics. Unless you are Junji Ito, it can be difficult to scare readers with static images or convey a feeling a constant dread. What author Robert Kirkman does is show horrific and disgusting things and puts the characters in dangerous situations. Granted, the art is beautifully disgusting, but it is hard to feel real horror and tension in drawn pictures.

The writing of the comics is also very technical aside from dramatic moments. Take the dialog from the original Dawn of the Dead about the characters trying to secure the mall and that is 60% of the comics. After all, it is a survival horror. This is where the show decides to balance the drama and the technical equally with neither overshadowing the other. This is the first and last time TV-TWD gets it right.

Where the comics were superior is in the characters Shane and Lori. In the show Shane is the archetypical bad-boy that was a perfect fit for actor Jon Bernthal. Lori, played by Sarah Wayne Callies, is a headstrong matriarch looking out for not only her son Carl, but also everyone in camp. Both fall flat compared to the comics in ways indicative of the series core themes.

Comics-Shane is basically Rick with darker hair and a larger build. There is nothing much in the way of personality that differentiates the two until after the zombie apocalypse. As mentioned before these are real people forced into a survival situation where everyone is on constant alert. Under these conditions, people will show you who they really are, and Shane shows himself to be jealous and envious of Rick. He’s a husband and a father who has all the right answers when it comes to leadership, something Shane knows he does not have, and he wants it all.

In the show, Shane does not seem concerned about leading and differs to Rick more often than not. The jealously is still there, but the actual shift from normal Shane to envious psychopath is fast in the comics, like it would be for real people. He wants what Rick has and Shane had it until Rick miraculously showed up at camp. Shane’s change in personality was so immediate that when he tried to kill Rick in Issue 6, a very young Carl blew his neck out without hesitation. In the show, Shane does not get what is coming until Season 2 after the remains of his character was butchered.

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With Lori’s character in the comics, she is still a devoted mother and wife, but what is missing is the vulnerability. Call me sexist all you like, but when you’ve spent a chuck of your life growing up in a stable world and become a mother mere years before a zombie apocalypse, you are going to need help. Comics-Lori is focused on taking care of Carl and nothing else. She cares so much about him that because Carl is just 9 years old, she does not want him anywhere near guns, despite being the most useful tool at the moment. And when zombies eventually attack the camp, Carl has to save her.

Now, I am not saying it is a bad thing that TV-Lori is not dependent on men, but it makes more sense that she needs help while taking care of her son. And this may sound offensive to some people, but men usually do not expect anything of women because men tend to do the heavy lifting on their own. We do our part and women do theirs. That is just logic and TWD comics are very logical. In the show, it doesn’t feel right at all. TV-Lori strikes me as just another character that “don’t need no man” and does her own thing, including ignoring her son.

More on that when I cover Season 2.

The last issue with TV-TWD is the ending. On the season finale, Shane is still alive before Rick and company go to the CDC to find answers. They do not get their answers beyond things they already knew before the building self-destructs and the group moves on to find shelter. In the comics the CDC is never mentioned and once Carl kills Shane, the group moves on.

Honestly, I do not find anything wrong with the group going to the CDC. In fact, it makes a lot of sense if you are trying to figure out how to stop the zombies by scientific means. The group does not know if they are dealing with a virus or something biblical. They have no idea and the best place to find answers would be one that specializes in civilization-killing diseases. It is not a bad idea, but the way it happens in TV-TWD is rather corny given the tone of the show. Other than that, the first season is still great.

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And that was the best start to a new show probably ever. Performances were great, especially Andrew Lincoln, and the effects are to die for. All of the zombies are wonderfully gross with make-up on par with Tom Savini’s work on Day of the Dead. They look like actual dead people undergoing necrosis like the comics. As days go by on the page, zombies appear more and more rotten. The earliest issues have zombies with color still in their eyes before it goes cloudy with time. Season 1 of The Walking Dead was truly the best the show was ever going to get…

Editorial 37: Muh Domino

Like Bryan Singer and Holocaust porn I am obsessed with how Fox ruined the X-Men. Other than X-Force, I never cared for that part of Marvel Comics. They never clicked with me, but when it comes to the X-Men movies, I am like a hardcore fan. The MCU set a standard that was not only achievable and infinitely more appealing than what was the norm until 2008. When I look at what Fox has done in comparison, I am dumbfounded they cannot grasp basic aesthetic and tonal concepts that would vastly improve the films. And while the man responsible is more or less out of the picture, the bleak seriousness of the Singer-Verse persists and it has affected one of my favorite characters.

Prepare for some high quality autism.

Domino is a mutant with the power of probability manipulation, a passive ability where she creates her own luck. It happens in random, small bursts where she will hit a target via ricochet or score big at the tables. In terms of character, there are a lot of places you can take the idea of a person who basically gets whatever they want. Based on what has been written, Dom is a fun-loving free spirit, living life fast and loose as one of Marvel’s many mercenaries. She is a great action character and her premiere cinematic incarnation in Deadpool 2 (DP2) looks like pure dog shit.

Before I get into: no, it is not because the actress is black. Zazie Beetz is pretty good on Atlanta and I have hope she will do Dom justice. However, whoever picked her make-up and outfit should lose their job forever. DP2-Dom looks like a cross between a spinster stuck in the 70s and an extra from a Mad Max rip-off like Land of Doom. If there were ever a time and place for Singer-Verse tight leather, it would have been perfect for Dom. Instead we get a failed Black Widow cosplay made by someone who is colorblind. There are blue patches on the sides, a flesh-colored stripe down the middle that was clearly unnecessary, and lots of dirt-stained vinyl.

DP2-Dom is a microcosm of the problems with Fox’s X-Men. It is devoid of class and style and reeks of embarrassment. The people that make these movies hate the material and do everything they can to distance themselves from the comics. There were moments when the X-Men films embraced their origin. X-Men First Class was a step in the right direction and Deadpool could not have been better. DP2 looked like it was keeping up the momentum until I saw what they did to muh Domino.

There is a lot that goes into character design in comics. First and foremost is the color scheme. Everything has to match and look good on the page. You can have a terrible looking costume and make it great with the right choice of color. I am not a fan of Wolverine’s traditional outfit, but the use of color makes him look awesome. The same can be said for Mitch Gerads’ Punisher with a combination of tan, black, and white. What matters is how color is arranged into the character design. The MCU understands this and translates the costumes directly from the page to screen.

Like other characters Dom has a simple three-color combination. This changes depending on the artist, but the usual scheme is ash-white, black-blue, and black. The arrangement of color is typical Marvel character design, particularly in regards to the X-Men. If you need to make a ton of different mutants, easiest way to do it is change their skin color, hair color, or put some weird marks on their faces. In Dom’s case she has a giant blue-black spot over her left eye and ash-white skin. Her lips and hair are also blue-black, giving her a geisha look that was common among 90s era characters. The black in Dom’s design lies in her costume, though this changes between artists.

Most Marvel characters are visually striking, but what sets Dom apart is her high contrast. Her color scheme is heterochromatic with intense light and dark shades, allowing her features pop. Her emotions are clear as day thanks to her blue-black lips and her left eye practically glows surrounded by her signature spot. The high contrast also makes Dom aesthetically pleasing. Her features are not too busy or outlandish. She is beautifully simple and stands out among the Marvel pantheon with little to no effort. I would go so far as to say her design belongs up there with the likes of Captain America and Iron Man.

So, what did DP2 do to Dom? They gave her a gaudy ‘fro, did not paint her skin, and put some white shit around her eye. I gather the thought process behind the make-up was to add contrast based on the actress’ natural skin tone. However, the tone of white they used does not pop enough to qualify as contrast. The spot should have matched her hair or a darker color that would have stood out. Muted is the operative word here because nothing about DP2 Dom’s design pops. I also have no clue why they went with a fugly-ass ‘fro that would be impractical in a gunfight. It is more of target than a hairdo.

I can just feel the laziness in her design. No one bothered to paint her in the standard colors. I understand if Zazie Beetz did not want to be painted; Jennifer Lawrence hated being Mystique so much, she was barely in full make-up. If it is so irritating wearing body paint, then why are so many actors in the MCU okay with it? From what I know, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, and almost everyone else in the Guardians movies wear body paint without complaint. It is not even that much: just the face and hands. That is all Dom needs unless she is wearing something other than her costume. It is so easy and I cannot believe the make-up department was that lazy.

A faithful incarnation of Domino would have not only been easy to pull off, but fit perfectly in line with Deadpool 2. Again, this is not a matter of casting choice; this is all about aesthetics and the continuous failure of Fox to shake the pedophilic stench of Bryan Singer from their X-Men. I am going to see Infinity War this week and I hope, when Thanos uses the Infinity Gauntlet, he merges the MCU with the Singer-Verse and erases it in favor of something to be proud of.