Story by: Robert Kirkman
Art and Lettering by: Charlie Adlard, Stefano Gaudiano, and Cliff Rathburn
Cover by: Charlie Adlard
Variant cover by: Arthur Adams and Nathan Fairbairn
Just like the others in this arc, this issue is fast-paced, jumping around to different characters and their role in the Whisperer War as part of a sixteen-panel grid. Each issue adds more and more suspense as we make our way through the six-part story. Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard know exactly how to get your adrenaline pumping! In this fourth part, Dwight’s plan to infiltrate the Whisperers plays out, while Whisperers make it to the Hilltop.
A major highlight of the issue is when Dwight, Laura, and Michonne begin to make their way through the Whisperer and walker horde. In issue 159, Dwight split the fighters into four groups (while wearing walker suits to blend in): (1) Jesus will lead a group east, (2) Michonne’s will go west, (3) Magna’s will go north, and (4) Dwight’s will trail behind the rest to pick off as many Whisperers as they can. So far so good—and kudos to Kirkman’s writing and Adlard’s artwork. The panels with the close-ups of the walkers and Whisperers are some of the best. Kirkman also reminds us that the walkers aren’t just monsters—they were once people—when Laura says, “We spend so much time fighting them, running from them . . . it’s easy to consider them something else . . . it’s easy to forget how sad all this is. What happened to these people is a sad thing.” Although the walker suits will help in the effort to win the war, wearing them all the time is disrespectful. The relationships between the people during this apocalypse is probably what makes this comic so great. Seeing how the characters respond to and evolve because of this life-altering experience makes the story—no matter how fictional—applicable. The Whisperers are just the latest iteration of how people chose to survive. There will be others. The heroes in this story—Rick, Carl, Michonne, Andrea, Dwight, and so on—have the ability to hold on to even a little bit of their humanity while being surrounded by so much death. And most of them are able to hold on to a lot of it. Even in a world where you could literally die any minute, Maggie refuses to move on from Glenn, as she clings to the memory of her husband, which still makes her happy. Negan, who is numb to most emotions and people, cherishes a baseball bat named Lucille because of the memory of his wife. It makes you wonder how people would truly respond if any sort of pandemic ever did happen during the 21st century. The juxtaposition of Rick and co. and the Whisperers make for an interesting contrast. Would we cling to the emotions and feelings that make us human, or would we be like the Whisperers, living among the dead, and dead inside? Kirkman also weaves the theme of nature versus nurture throughout. Not even Alpha could remain emotionless. Her humanity kicked in and ended up getting her killed. A kid like Carl, who grew up and matured during this apocalypse, values family and friendship, as if he were living a normal life. Sure, he’s a bit rough around the edges, but although he’s been socialized to survive at all costs, he’s still just a kid who wants to be loved. And, as we see in this issue, even Lydia, who has endured physical and emotional trauma living among the Whisperers, is able to turn a new leaf and call the Hilltop home. Although this world is in stark contrast to the norm, the characters still innately require safety and belonging. A downside to the issue is that we don’t get to see Negan’s reaction to losing Lucille. How will losing Lucille impact him? Will he be different? This raw human emotion would’ve fit perfectly in this issue.
Using a sixteen-panel grid can naturally feel a bit congested, but the design choice is a smart one for this arc. There’s a lot going on with our characters, and the design represents how hectic everything truly is. Adlard adds a variety of shots to the pages to keep things interesting and keeps the line work pretty simple for the most part. The panels showing the volleys of flaming arrows flying toward Carl are some of the best in the issue.
Adlard’s cover features Carl and Lydia. He sticks with the primary colors red and yellow we’ve been seeing throughout the arc. Behind Carl is Earl, the blacksmith at the Hilltop. Again, this represents humanity and the characters striving for a normal life. Arthur Adams and Nathan Fairbairn’s variant cover features Rick in all his teeth-gritting glory as he swings at a Whisperer. It’s interesting that Rick has his cane in hand, rather than a gun. Perhaps this represents his strength—he’s not as weak as some suspect.
This issue continues to push the story forward, as our characters are spread throughout to fight a common enemy. There are only two issues left in the Whisperer War! What will become of Negan? Is Lydia really OK with her mom being dead? Who will be the next casualty of war? How will the war end?