What I’m Reading: The Walking Dead: Safety Behind Bars

The Walking Dead: Safety Behind Bars is the third collection of the Walking Dead, collecting issues #13-18. Of course, now the Walking Dead is a huge phenomenon with the TV show and action figures and lunch boxes (?), but it started off back in 2003 as an independent comic series by unknown author Robert Kirkman.

I started reading with issue #69 in early 2010, although other comics nerds had been telling me for a long time it was a series I had to get into. I resisted because zombies were so trendy at the time and I was pretty much burned out on zombie stories. But when I did give TWD a chance, picking up an issue on a whim, I was hooked right away. The characters are so well-written, so flawed and recognizably people you could actually meet, that it becomes harrowing to see them put into the impossible and scary situations they encounter. At some point, I went back and got a couple of the early collections to see how they ended up where they were later.
At the beginning of this volume, Rick, the leader of a small band of survivors after the zombie apocalypse, has come across a prison. This appears to be perfect, because once the zombies inside are cleared out, there’ll be a double row of fences to keep others out, plus the prison must be well-stocked with canned goods and blankets and things. A complicating factor turns out to be that not all the prisoners have turned, and so there are four hardened criminals who have been living there for months, shut away in a part of a cell block that the zombies couldn’t make it into. At first they’re relieved to make contact with people from the outside world–but after awhile, they decide they don’t want to share the premises with Rick and his friends. At one point, one of the criminals, a convicted murderer, tells the others that their visitors are too damaged by the horrible things they’ve seen to live in a civilized way.
I have one friend who says his girlfriend has been known to scream out loud when reading Walking Dead comics. I’ve never done that, but I can see how it happens. Kirkman’s pacing is perfect, and he’s not afraid to kill off major characters at any time. Sometimes the dread at turning the page wrests with a desire to see how an issue turns out, and I find myself wondering if I really dare see what terrible thing happens next. And yet, I can’t stop myself and have to find out how it ends up. If you can handle that kind of tension, Walking Dead might be a series you want to follow. Start with Volume 1: Days Gone By. I bet you’ll be hooked.

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