Story by: Robert Kirkman
Art and Lettering by: Charlie Adlard, Stefano Gaudiano, and Cliff Rathburn
Cover by: Charlie Adlard and Dave Stewart
Variant cover by: Arthur Adams and Nathan Fairbairn
This is a jam-packed issue! Using a sixteen-panel grid, Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard fit as much as they can into this issue—and into each issue of six-part Whisperer War. It’s definitely a change of pace from the comic’s usual feel, as the design is a bit crowded and chaotic, but it also seems to be mirroring what the characters themselves are feeling. I felt a bit anxious and claustrophobic reading it. In this first part, Rick and Dwight devise their tactics to combat the Whisperers. Negan also makes his return, and Rick realizes he may be an asset after all.
In issue 156, we saw Negan expertly manipulate Alpha. During a moment of true weakness, Negan made his move and killed her. I mean, he really killed her. He beheaded her and took his trophy back to Rick to prove his loyalty. (As much as I liked Alpha, someone really needs to stab her in the head before she becomes a walker.) As he tells Rick, “If I wanted to get my revenge, think about the opportunity I just passed up. I was with them for barely a week, and I got close enough to do this. You think I couldn’t have become their leader? I passed up a ready-made army I could have jammed up your pee hole. Instead, I’m here offering up everything I’ve learned. And I literally took the head off their organization.” He has a good point. However, this could definitely be a long con on Negan’s part. He may be doing the same thing he did with Alpha with Rick. Negan is smart; he knows trust isn’t going to happen overnight. He has to get everyone Rick trusts on his side first.
Rick sends Negan to fight on the front lines with Dwight. Instead of fighting alongside his comrades, Rick realizes he’s an “old man” and is much more useful letting others carry out his plans. He gathers representation from Alexandria, the Hilltop, and (begrudgingly) the Kingdom. They position themselves at the northernmost point, where they’ll have the high ground and four fallback points. Their plan is to hold off the Whisperers’ initial attack and make their move once their lines are broken—and leave no survivors.
Kirkman smartly tries to differentiate this war from “All Out War.” As Rick says to Dwight, “This isn’t going to be a land war. We’re not fighting for territory. There won’t be an effort to hold positions, boxing the enemy out. . . . I’m trying to say this shouldn’t be as complicated as when we fought Negan. There was a lot more at stake.” With the recent turn of events, I’d say there’s plenty at stake. And, I’m not sure what Rick is talking about, because it seems to be way more complicated. And it all started because they crossed the Whisperers’ border. So it is pretty much about territory—to the Whisperers at least. Also, Negan didn’t have a giant herd of zombies. I think Rick is in over his head.
Last issue was Negan-centric issue, and it was nice to get a little break from him this time around, so his appeal doesn’t get old. Kirkman could potentially be evolving his character, but it’s still too early to tell. Negan is a master manipulator. Beta is on his way to kill them all, and Negan set the events in motion—even if he claims it wasn’t his fault. It could all be part of his plan—to create more conflict between the two groups while he sits back and enjoys the show. As Kirkman teases in the Letter Hacks, all of the people featured on the last page “will have drastically different lives five issues from now. If they’re still living.” So Gabriel, Dwight, Laura, Negan, Magna, Michonne, Jesus, Maggie, Herschel, Carl, Lydia, Dante, Aaron, William, Eugene, Andrea, and Rick are all in danger. It would be something if Lydia killed Negan for killing her mom—or Carl did for Lydia. Anything can happen.
For a congested design, Adlard offers a lot of variety. Each major group is represented in this issue, and he makes it really apparent who we’re seeing, which can be difficult with so much going on. He doesn’t complicate it with too much detail, keeping it pretty clean and simple throughout. He cleverly shows the passage of time (about a week) through Negan’s scruffy face. We also get some nice wide-angle shots of Alexandria, the Hilltop, and the Kindgdom. I really enjoyed the panels with Beta—the scream he lets out as he finds Alpha’s headless body is really moving. The panel with Dwight looking over the map while he gives orders is also one of the best in the issue.
For the six parts of the Whisperer War, Arthur Adams and Nathan Fairbairn have created six variant covers, which all connect, much like the comic’s volumes. Adams’s and Fairbairn’s cover, featuring Michonne, with katana in hand as she battles a horde of zombies is stunning. Looking at all six of them in all their glory is nothing short of a masterpiece. Adlard’s cover—featuring Alpha and Rick—is striking. Dave Stewart’s colors especially make for an intense and emotional scene. The red sky behind Alpha overlaid with the yellow tones in Rick as he stands in front of his people is a powerful image to behold.
We’ve finally made it to the Whisperer War! And as we see at the end of this issue, Beta doesn’t waste time in getting his revenge. The horde is too close for comfort. Kirkman is packing a ton in these six issues, and I hope they don’t seem too rushed. It’ll be interesting to see how everything plays out in the five to come.