Issue 96 of The Walking Dead is one of the more flawed entries in the series. If you’ve come for the zombie action, well, you can forget it because there’s not a single walker to be found. If you like lots and lots of talking, like, where speech bubbles take up most of the page, then you will be delighted. In theory. I generally like the talky bits well enough but the one rule you should try to stick to when doing a low-key story is that what the characters are saying should make sense and be true to who they are. This is where 96 not only fails, but completely goes off the rails.
Okay, I know we don’t know much about the Hilltop people, but it seems a tad ridiculous that the community would be pissed at Rick for killing Ethan. Yeah, he’s a stranger and apparently Ethan was a cool dude, but no matter how beloved he was, the man just STABBED YOUR LEADER and attacked Rick when he tried to stop it. That should forfeit all good will toward the guy. Instead, they’re all so upset that they even get angry when Rick turns up at the funeral, and one feels it necessary to punch him.
It gets worse. Jesus and later, the leader, Gregory, (who has somewhat miraculously survived his stabbing), reveal to Rick and company that the Hilltop doesn’t so much have a trade agreement with the kidnappers who motivated Ethan to kill as much as they are victims of severe bullying. Jesus’ plan all along has been to make contact with other groups so they could help ease the burden of having to give half of their supplies to the evil group who call themselves “The Saviors.” Carl, and then Rick offer to take care of the bad guys and thus take their place as the recipient of the supplies. Gregory and the Hilltop people are so obsequious and helpless that they naturally think this is a good idea. So instead of the “Larger World” of networking and helping each other out, Rick has actually stumbled into a group of wusses who are living a real life version of Pixar’s A Bug’s Life.
Then, even worse, the characters we know start acting strangely. Rick, who has been more reluctant than necessary to make this trip, suddenly has to deal with his own people and their left field insubordination. Michonne, super badass Michonne chooses to be scared of what she saw. The person who was raped and tortured by The Governor is now scared that these people FROZE UP when their leader was attacked. “They were terrifying.” Uh, ok. Andrea has suddenly become one of the Mean Girls, calling them pathetic and unworthy of dealing with. Rick then gives a long speech about how he’s the leader because he’s an optimist who sees the possibilities here. It takes six pages, five of them gigantic full spreads, to make this rambling point. Rick, nobody asked you why you’re the leader, nobody cares at this point, years into their journey together.
And so the issue ends on Rick’s (latest) big speech and the gang is now going to head off to build a mechanical bird, possibly. Or more likely, brutalize the bad guys the way they did the cannibals. Or meet them and get the other side of the story. And Jesus is going too because he’s still a badass, even though he spent the whole issue meekly apologizing for the wusses he hangs out with. Must be more to the story of how he “barely escaped” the Saviors. Doesn’t seem like a guy who kills zombies while pretending to be handcuffed should be afraid of anyone.
Finally, the oddest thing of all. The front cover says this is the “conclusion” of the Larger World arc. I don’t really pay much attention to arc titles like they’re seasons of a show, but this would be a weird place to end if I did think like that. The ending of an arc should be an epic event like when they were forced out of the prison or the zombies busted the walls down back home. This arc “ends” on a big speech like Bob Saget talking to DJ at the end of a Full House episode. Ugh.
Please be awesome, Issue 100. 3 more to go til then.