Kirkman, Robert

About the Author:

Robert Kirkman began his career in the comics industry by writing self-published titles before moving on to work for Image Comics and Marvel Comics.

 

AVERAGE REVIEW SCORE:

3.2 out of 5

(11 books)

Invincible: Family Matters

(Art by Cory Walker)

The first volume of the Image Comics superhero series, co-created by Kirkman and Walker.  High School student Mark Grayson is the son of powerful superhero Omni-Man and begins to develop superpowers of his own.  He soon meets the Teen Team and begins helping them to fight crime.

Costumed superheroes have been around for decades and some of the more famous ones are very deeply ingrained in popular culture.  Therefore for a brand new spandex-clad vigilante to have some real impact, he or she has to do or be something very different to what we've seen time and again with the likes of Superman or the Avengers.  Here Kirkman categorically fails to deliver that.  Not only is there nothing unique or particularly interesting about Invincible, but his father is clearly just a carbon copy of Superman (in fact, the notes in the back reveal that Omni-Man was originally actually called Supra-Man).

Every opportunity to create something with a bit of depth or originality is studiously avoided to the point that I began to wonder if this was actually intended as a parody.  If it is, then it's neither a clever nor funny one.

I should clarify that I didn't hate this book.  It was perfectly fine as a superhero graphic novel and I would otherwise have given it a 3 out of 5, but the fact that it is so shallow and unoriginal really does have to be held against it in a world already full to bursting with costumed superheroes.  Remember the 80s when authors like Alan Moore and Frank Miller were doing interesting new things with the idea of superheroes?  That's what a creator-owned niche series like this should be aiming for, but instead it plays it safe.  Far too safe.

2 out of 5

 

Invincible: Ultimate Collection - Volume 6

(Art by Ryan Ottley, Cory Walker and Cliff Rathburn)

Collecting issues 60 to 70 of Invincible, this book sees the titular superhero having to fight in the Invincible War against his psychotic duplicates from other dimensions, then face off against the brutal Viltrumite agent Conquest, prevent a Sequid invasion and, through it all, battle with the darker side of his nature.

This is only the second Invincible book I've read, with the first being the deeply underwhelming debut book 'Family Matters'.  In the seven years between the publication of the two books, it's safe to say that the character and the series has matured greatly and gained far more depth than they began with.  Naturally, there was a bit of a disconnect in reading books this far out of sequence, but that's only to be expected (I work in a charity shop; the graphic novels that get donated are the graphic novels I read, sequential or not).  However, once you're up to speed that, after his dad turned supervillain and was driven off of Earth, Invincible is now the world's most powerful hero, things really kick off.  In fact, when the squad of evil inter-dimensional duplicates attack, the rest of Earth's heroes are almost no match for them.  However, it's a good chance for some Image Comics crossovers the likes of which Marvel and DC, with their bigger rosters of heroes, have been doing for decades.  Among those who cameo are Spawn, Witchblade, the Darkness and Savage Dragon.

Following the defeat of the rogue Invicibles, the story becomes more personal for the 'real' Invincible as he struggles with the morality of whether it's better to allow supervillains to live to threaten another day or if he should kill them and end the threat once and for all.  His emotional state is further unbalanced when the psychotic villain Conquest (think General Zod, but more vicious and unhinged) punches his fist through Atom Eve, Invincible's beloved girlfriend.  Genuinely this is one of the most visceral superhero books I've read and, considering how bland the character was to begin with, the series needed that to give it unique stakes in an already-crowded genre.

The book winds down with the build-up to the final confrontation with the Viltrumites, the super-powered race of psychos that both Conquest and Invincible's father are members of.  We don't get that confrontation here, but unlike 'Family Matters', this book actually left me wanting to read more, so perhaps I'll seek out the next book in the series.

4 out of 5

 

Marvel Zombies

(Art by Sean Phillips)

Following on from events in Ultimate Fantastic Four (included in 'Marvel Zombies: Dead Days', reviewed here), Magneto attempts to survive long enough to combat the hordes of superheroes and villains who have been infected with a zombie virus.  Driven by insatiable hunger but retaining their intelligence, the zombies are a terrifying foe but may have met their match when Galactus arrives to consume Earth.

The Ultimate universe often felt like someone (mostly Mark Millar) had the thought 'What would it be like if our beloved Marvel heroes were horrible people?'.  Here Kirkman approaches the Marvel Zombie universe with the thought 'What would it be like if our beloved Marvel heroes were truly despicable monsters?'.  Unlike a lot of zombie fiction, the Marvel Zombies aren't brainless eating machines; they actually retain their intelligence and personalities the whole time.  But aside from Spider-Man occasionally seeming a bit sad that he ATE MARY JANE AND AUNT MAY, our heroes are generally pretty okay with the murder and cannibalism of their friends and loved ones.  This really didn't work for me at all.  I mean, Hank Pym is a morally questionable character in general, but that doesn't mean I want to see him keeping Black Panther alive so he can lop off a limb any time he gets peckish.  It's just a really uncomfortable and unappealing take on the Marvel superheroes.

If all of the above does tickle your twisted fancy, then so be it, but truth be told, once you get beyond the novelty of seeing characters you know as decaying zombies, there's very little substance or plot to the rest of the book.

2 out of 5

 

Marvel Zombies 2

(Art by Sean Phillips)

The second book of the series sees the cosmic zombies Spider-Man, Luke Cage, Giant-Man, Hulk, Phoenix, Guardian, Wolverine, Iron Man and Firelord returning to Earth in search of Reed Richards' dimensional teleporter so they can continue their feast in another dimension.  After forty years, they are surprised to discover humans still alive on Earth, led by Black Panther and aided by the zombies Wasp and Hawkeye.

I wasn't overly impressed with the first Marvel Zombies book, but here at least Kirkman actually goes to the effort of creating a plot beyond 'superheroes become zombies'.  Here we're given a colony of human survivors to root for and the interesting possibility that, even after everything they've done, some of the zombies may be able to overcome their ravenous instincts and rejoin the good guys.
Still, even with all those improvements, this book is still little more than a novelty.

3 out of 5

 

The Walking Dead: Volume 1 - Days Gone Bye

(Art by Tony Moore)

Police Officer Rick Grimes awakes from a coma to find the hospital and streets abandoned.  He soon discovers that, whilst he was unconscious, the zombie apocalypse has happened.  Searching for his wife, Lori, and their son Carl, Rick ventures to Atlanta where he encounters not only the undead but also a group of desperate survivors.

'The Walking Dead' is something of a phenomenon but, never having been the biggest fan of zombie stories, I had never read any of the comics or watched any of the TV show.  However, I was glad to give it a go, starting where it all began...

This book didn't blow me away really.  Not that it's not enjoyable, it is, but it's also largely just a retreading of familiar zombie apocalypse story notes.  In fact, I'd be curious to find out if this or the film '28 Days Later' was made first, because the coma-patient waking up post-apocalypse storyline is suspiciously similar.  However, if you like your zombie tropes then I'm sure you'll love it.

For me, it was an enjoyable but not groundbreaking start to the series but which ends just when the characters have developed enough to become interesting.  (In regard to this last point, I should note that in the introduction to this book, Kirkman himself states that this is something he'd always found frustrating with zombie movies and it's why Rick's story keeps going in numerous later volumes).

3 out of 5

 

The Walking Dead: Volume 2 - Miles Behind Us

(Art by Charlie Adlard)

Rick Grimes and his fellow survivors of the zombie apocalypse set out to find a new home; somewhere they can settle in safety and wait out the fall of civilisation.

As expected, the characters we've already met get developed a bit more in this book and, because this series is very much character driven rather than events driven, this makes for a much better book all round.  Here Rick and company try to find sanctuary, first in an abandoned community and then on a farm with other survivors, but each attempt carries its own complications and, therefore, casualties.

The focus of this book is very much the highlighting of how the post-apocalyptic world changes such otherwise everyday concepts as family and love, with each of the characters dealing with their own emotional trials, be it the loss of loved ones, the struggles of trying to raise children in the new status quo or simple young love itself.

4 out of 5

 

The Walking Dead: Volume 3 - Safety Behind Bars

(Art by Charlie Adlard)

Having found an abandoned prison, Rick Grimes and his cadre of survivors set about trying to turn it into a fortified new home for themselves.  However, there as still some zombies in the complex and, worse, four of the former inmates.

Interestingly, in this book it is very much human dangers that Rick and co have to face, with the zombies being a secondary threat.  Several of the group are starting to crack, some are suicidal and one of them is a vicious murderer.  I think this highlights one of the most important elements of all great zombie stories and that is the fact that human beings can't help but be what they are.  Even when cooperation is the only way to survive, people are still capable of acts of unspeakable cruelty and total selfishness.

We also start to see some definite cracks in the otherwise optimistic and decisive Officer Grimes here too, as he tried to find the balance between husband, father and community leader.  I had mixed feelings about this since Rick's cool head is the anchor point of the entire series, but it's good to see him treated realistically.

4 out of 5

 

The Walking Dead: Volume 4 - The Heart's Desire

(Art by Charlie Adlard)

As the group of survivors attempt to make their prison home livable, Rick Grimes' leadership begins to fall apart.

Following on from the last book, in which Rick started to fray around the edges a little, here we see him making more and more ruthless decisions until he reaches the point that his fellow survivors begin to doubt his ability to lead them and his very sanity.  It's not an easy thing to see a character whose side you've been on since day one starts to make questionable and even hypocritical decisions and that's the cas with Rick here.  It does show surprising depth though, revealing that even the best of us are capable of bending our own morality and sometimes doing things that are just plain wrong.

Narratively, as with the rest of the series, there's no overarching plot here and instead the book simply focuses on the characters going onwards from one disaster to the next.  Whilst I understand that this was exactly Kirkman's intent, I have to say that personally I would like to see a bit of narrative progression.  I currently own up to Volume 7 of this series and I'm not sure how I'm going to cope when I just find myself out of Walking Dead but without any sort of narrative break/conclusion.

3 out of 5

 

The Walking Dead: Volume 5 - The Best Defense

(Art by Charlie Adlard)

A helicopter crash leads Rick, Glenn and Michonne out of the prison compound and into discovering another community of survivors.

The book introduces us to the series' first genuine villain, the Governor (whose name is, rather incongruously, Philip).  This sadistic despot is the perfect illustration of Kirkman's intent to make human beings the source of the series' horror rather than the zombies.  I also found it interesting that when we discover the Governor's backstory, it's not entirely disimilar to the darker places that Rick's leadership had been heading, showing us the extreme end of where our hero's descent could have gone.

I'm not sure what I was expecting from a series about a zombie apocalypse, but I have to admit that the grimness of these books is starting to wear on me a bit now.  Basically everything anyone says or does eventually leads to someone suffering horrifically.  This becomes extreme in this book since the Governor's favourite pasttimes are torture, mutilation and rape. 

I know the dark tone serves the purposes of the story, but I wouldn't mind seeing things go Rick's way just once.

4 out of 5

 

The Walking Dead: Volume 6 - This Sorrowful Life

(Art by Charlie Adlard)

Rick, Glenn and Michonne escape from the sadistic Governor, only to find the prison overrun with zombies.

This book pretty much falls into the 'more of the same' category, so if you're invested in Rick and the others by this point, you'll certainly want to read this volume.

The one thing that does make this book stant out is that we finally get to see how much of a crazy badass Michonne is.  When she's not lopping off heads left right and centre with her katana, she exacting on the Governor a pretty horrific revenge for the torture and rape she suffered at his hands.

3 out of 5

 

The Walking Dead: Volume 7 - The Calm Before

(Art by Charlie Adlard)

Rick Grimes' cadre of survivors raid a nearby National Guard base in order to prepare for the possibility of an attack by other survivors.  Meanwhile Lori's pregnancy enters its final stage.

This book is aptly named since it features a period of relative peace for Rick and company, in which we finally get a brief period where the characters are actually allowed to be safe and happy.  It doesn't last long, of course, but the grim tone of the series as a whole definitely needed some hope being reintroduced.

The book ends on a cliffhanger which sees the return of a hated adversary but since this is the last of these books that I managed to acquire cheap, I may never see how things turn out, which is a shame.  "Why don't you just buy the next one?" I hear you cry!  Well, since the volumes of this series are now up in the twenties, my budget simply won't stretch to continuing.

3 out of 5

Collaborations & Anthologies:

Civil War: Marvel Universe (here)

Marvel Zombies: Dead Days (here)

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