What Comics Should I Read If I Liked The Walking Dead?
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The Walking Dead has reached a degree of cultural ubiquity that comics and graphic novels usually struggle to achieve. Perhaps more impressively, it’s managed to do so without the kind of massive marketing push that Marvel has thrown behind its superhero adaptations. Instead, The Walking Dead has capitalized on a combination of a strong adaptation into a TV series and an excellent videogame interpretation.
While successful adaptations aren't uncommon in themselves, it's been excellent to see the success with which both the AMC show and the series of Telltale games funnel their audiences back into the comics. The result is an audience of people who suddenly find themselves excited about comics, but who haven’t read anything like The Walking Dead before. Obviously, there’s nothing quite like The Walking Dead, but there are plenty of other comics to recommend to someone who, having finished the zombie comic series, they just don’t know what to read next.
If you enjoyed The Walking Dead for its post-apocalyptic setting and its approach to society after the collapse of civilization, then Y: The Last Man has plenty to suit your appetites.
One morning, Yorrick Brown wakes up to discover that he is the last man left alive. For reasons unknown, every man on earth has died while he slept. Brown is left to navigate a planet populated only by women alone (with the exception of his capuchin monkey, Ampersand). It’s a fascinating setup, and one that offers strange insight into a post-apocalypse in which the population is still relatively high, but destined to fall precipitously in the near future.
The series seems to flit back and forth between being a series of manic adventures and a collection of ruminations on what would happen if half(ish) of the world’s population were to suddenly die off. Watching the young and frankly irresponsible Yorrick grapple with the idea that he might suddenly be the last man on earth is a strange treat. The truth is that there's a little bit of that irresponsible youth in all of us, and seeing how it reacts to the sudden collective weight of humanity falling on its shoulders is fascinating.
All jokes about one man’s responsibilities to the species aside, it’s an excellent read.
Take one part Quantum Leap, add a dash of The Twilight Zone, sprinkle in a little Interstellar, blend it all with the breakneck pace of a Mad Max movie, and you’ve got Black Science. This is the story of scientist Grant McKay. Self-destructive, brilliant and reckless, McKay cracks the secrets of inter-dimensional travel and sets out to explore parallel universes beyond our reality.
Of course, great stories aren't usually about things going right. Before you can say ”Schrödinger's cat,” things go terribly wrong, and a maiden voyage turns into a fight for survival as McKay and his team are sent careening from one surreal, nightmare dimension to the next. Packed with amazingly realized worlds, stunning artwork, and the highest of high stakes, you'll have a hard time putting this one down.
Writer Rick Remender is a diabolical genius, creating characters that you actually care about and then putting them in the most stomach-churningly dangerous situations. Just like The Walking Dead, this is an “anything goes” type of story, where no character is truly safe, so don't get too attached to anyone, and hold on for the ride.
Where The Walking Dead succeeds in large part by dint of its ability to breathe new life into the lifeless corpse of zombie fiction, 30 Days of Night succeeds similarly with its spectacular treatment of vampires. Whatever the reason, 30 Days of Night’s movie adaptation didn’t spur audiences to go back and read the comics in quite the same way as The Walking Dead has, but it'd be a shame to miss it.
30 Days of Night is set in the town of Barrow, Alaska. As you might have guessed from the title, Barrow is so far north that its midwinter night lasts a full month. While the vampires of the comic lack many of the weaknesses traditionally ascribed to the aristocracy of the night, exposure to sunlight remains fatal. Given this weakness, a healthy population of vampires descends on the town to engage in a month-long feeding frenzy on its terrified inhabitants.
Where 30 Days of Night really excels is in its rejuvenation of vampires, a threat that has essentially become a known-quantity for much of the modern movies and literature surrounding them. Whether we like it or not, the vampire has been somewhat neutralized by the overwhelming amount of literature about them; we know the rules, the stake through the heart, garlic, running water, no invitations to the house, and so forth. So, when we’re presented with scenarios like 30 Days of Night’s, the question becomes… what can you possibly do to combat this supernatural predator, particularly when they travel in a pack?
For those of you who don’t read many comics, 30 Days of Night is a recommendation made all the stronger for the fact that it’s a relatively contained story. Of course, if you enjoyed The Walking Dead for its long-form narrative, that sense of a contained story could be everything you're trying to avoid.
Ben Templesmith’s artwork is a delicious combination of the muted greys of the month-long night and the raw reds you'd expect from a comic about vampires. If you're anything like us, you'll be tempted to tear through it, but it’s better to give artwork of this quality a little time to breathe. Savor it.
On the face of it, Judge Dredd seems as though it should be more popular than it is. After all, it too has had a strong movie adaptation in the shape of the Karl Urban-fronted Dredd in 2012. Of course, it could just be that it’ll take more than one strong adaptation to undo the damage the 1995 Stalone movie did to Dredd’s reputation, but the comic is no less commendable for all that.
Regardless of its popularity, Judge Dredd is a solid choice for any fans of The Walking Dead who want more of that post-apocalyptic vibe, but in a bit of a different setting. While the overwhelming majority of Dredd stories take place inside the walls of the sprawling Mega-City One, there’s also a rake of stories after Dredd has taken “the long walk” out into the desert, where he embarks on a quest to “bring law to the lawless.”
There, in the “cursed earth,” Dredd engages with characters, settings, and situations that are oddly resonant with The Walking Dead. There are obvious differences, like the blasted wasteland for miles in all directions, the lack of any civilization to speak of, and the fact that almost all of the characters are mutants, but there are harmonies enough to recommend it.
The biggest issue you’re likely to encounter with Judge Dredd is that there’s mountains of it, decades of comics. Given the endless volumes of back story, it can be notoriously inaccessible for newcomers. Moreover, the artwork has changed repeatedly over the years, meaning there's huge variance in the overall look and feel of the series depending on where you jump in.
With all of those disclaimers out of the way, it's still something special. If you persevere and end up falling in love with it, that vast backlog of old Dredd comics starts to look very appealing.
Taking a few steps away from the notions of the apocalypse and monsters, Warren Ellis’ Transmetropolitan takes place in an apparently post-want future in which people’s homes are run by artificial intelligences, and contain “maker” appliances that can combine basic elements to construct objects whole.
Where Transmetropolitan really succeeds is in its depiction of a society that is simultaneously saturated with information and strangled by restricted access. In a strange situation of what seems to be a post-want-but-still-very-capitalist society, the city thrives on novelty. This is true to so great an extent that some of the early comics in the run deal with groups of disenfranchised Venusians, whose culture (and genome) has been commodified and effectively sold out from under them.
It's a classic combination of cyberpunk and sidelong cultural critique, largely delivered from the point of view of Spider Jerusalem, a guerrilla journalist and general-purpose agitator. For anyone who has ever dreamed of being the kind of journalist whose work makes a real difference, Jerusalem will be a figure that makes a lot of sense. In some respects, the comic has started to show its age, feeling very much like a product of a late-90s disaffected culture, but it’s no more excellent for it.
For the most part, though, Transmetropolitan manages to avoid feeling preachy about where we are now, in favor of feeling like a meditation on where technology could take civilization. In that respect, it’s best read in conjunction with another of Ellis’ books, Doktor Sleepless, which effectively forms a bridge between our present and the far-flung future of Transmetropolitan.
DMZ is something of an easy recommendation for a plethora of different reasons. The art is excellent and it moves at an excellent pace, constantly drawing the reader in with hints at the broader structure of a society that we’re introduced to one piece at a time.
Like Y: The Last Man and Judge Dredd, DMZ will appeal to fans of The Walking Dead who found that the most intriguing aspect of the book to be the ways that people adapt and organize in the face of a collapsing civilization. Where DMZ really breaks away from those two is that the catalyst for the breakdown of civilization is not precipitated by the spread of a plague of zombies or the sudden death of half the Earth’s populace. Instead, DMZ takes place in Manhattan after a second American civil war.
Like The Walking Dead, there is a sense that any peaceful moment is hard won and tenuous, and at any moment the whole thing could break down into a state of open conflict. Thanks to the fact that the island of Manhattan is largely abandoned, DMZ has an abandoned setting much like that of The Walking Dead. However, having arrived there from a completely different direction means that the nature of that sense of pervasive threat in that setting is entirely different.
It’s a fascinating read, but perhaps more importantly, it feels somehow closer to real life than most comics in much the same way as The Walking Dead manages to.