The Walking Dead – Vol.1 & 2: “Days Gone Bye” and “Miles Behind Us” Review

So for many years I’ve been seeing people say or being directly told that the original comic version of The Walking Dead is far better than the TV series, and frankly in recent years I have been wondering “what was this story like with Rick still in it?” so I’ve taken the plunge and brought the first compendium, though I’ll be reviewing them in batches of two volumes rather than all eight that made up the mammoth book at once… that would take some time to review! So let’s look at the original comic version of events, both the opening story and the Hershel farm part as well (they really stretched that one in the TV series didn’t they?)

Synopsis (of Vol. 1 “Days Gone Bye”):

Deputy Sheriff Rick Grimes and his partner Shane are in a shoot-out with an escaped prisoner when Rick is shot in the shoulder and falls into a coma. A month later, Rick wakes up in a hospital, but finds it abandoned and soon wanders the streets only to find either the dead, or the walking undead…

*spoilers appear from here on out!*

The Good:

A familiar shot no matter which version of The Walking Dead you’re talking about!

First thing’s first: I really love the artwork here. It’s kept in black and white for atmosphere (and financial reasons too!) is well shaded and detailed, the faces are somewhat cartoonised but the bodies are regularly proportioned and there are several pages where the same panel repeats several times in a row but has subtle changes in expression that manage to get across so much without the use of words. It’s impressive and made it quite the addictive read as the story flew by.

Speaking of the story, it does follow similar beats to the TV show (or rather the other way around, but you know, coming at it from a TV first perspective…) in that Rick is shot and falls into a coma then wakes up in a hospital in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. That was something that took me by surprise actually, I thought the TV series never using the word “zombie” came from the comics, but nope! I guess it was a decision from the TV execs as they’re referred to as zombies frequently here. Anyway after being saved by the first survivor Rick meets in Morgan and his young son Duane Rick searches Atlanta for his family only to be surrounded by the undead but is saved by Glenn, who takes him back to a small encampment outside the city where his wife Lori, son Carl and old partner Shane are all alive and well.

Ah, the good old days… Well, a bad day in the good old days.

We spend a few issues with this group, including Dale and his RV, Andrea and Carol, the latter of whom I believe may as well be a completely different character than her TV counterpart from what I hear, which the same can be said for Dale who has already survived longer than his TV counterpart just two volumes in… Anyway, Shane loses his mind quite quickly here, confronting Rick in a forest and threatening to kill him only to be shot in the neck by Carl, who claims it was “different to shooting the dead ones”, which was quietly unnerving. So that happened a lot quicker too, Shane didn’t even make it to Hershel’s farm in the original. It’s fun to see this sort of thing, it’s like watching an alternate timeline…

The zombies arrive en masse and they all cram into the RV and head off, Lori announcing she’s pregnant to add to the stress. Along the way they meet Tyreese and his daughter Julie who prove to be friendly strangers and soon help Rick clear out a closed off housing estate that they try and settle in (but fail when they find out it’s full of zombies…) This leads to Carl being shot by Otis the farmer while Rick and Tyreese are off hunting and then to the gang arriving at Hershel’s farm. Things play out in a similar manor to what I’m used to, substituting Tyreese for Shane in the TV version, with Hershel keeping zombies in a barn hoping a cure would come and chastising Rick and co for shooting them, only for the undead to break free and kill a bunch of people, including some of Hershel’s children. A bit before this Glenn begins sleeping with Maggie, Hershel’s daughter, and while the strict farmer lets him stay (after a lot of convincing) he tells everyone else to “get off his land” after Rick insists he and his fellow survivors stay in the house rather than in the barn.

This leads to Rick and co. discovering the prison that will play a key role in the next batch of volumes…

The Bad:

You know, it’s funny how no one ever said the word “fuck” during the TV’s zombie apocalypse…

It was a pretty enjoyable read actually, but I will say you don’t get a lot of time to get to know a lot of the characters. That’s changing now as the farm story took the time to show us a few love triangles and obviously Rick, Lori and Carl are well defined but otherwise it feels like key figures like Dale, Andrea and Tyreese are quite one-note at the moment. From what I hear the whole Prison story arc is often pointed out as going on too long even in the comics so maybe the break-neck speed will change next time and I’ll see these two volumes in a new light, but for now it felt some characters are just … standing around and reacting.

There is also a character called Allen whose wife Donna is killed in Volume 1 and so he spends the second volume in deep depression, only his twin children keeping him from suicide and at one point calling Andrea a c**t for trying to break him out of it. It’s very dramatic and well written (and drawn!) don’t get me wrong, but I don’t know, I just didn’t get on with it. Instead of feeling sympathy for him it got to the point where it was just “oh him again”. Seems harsh, but maybe it was too real a drama for my escapist zombie comic…?

Overall Thoughts:

It’s surprising to find out how much they expanded Shane’s role in the TV series… It’s also weird how I just noticed none of my four pictures contain any zombies… I’ll try better next time?

I really enjoyed reading these first two volumes of The Walking Dead. While I’m not going to say I’m now one of the converted and I’ll be shouting about “how better the comics are” but I will say the whole Hershel / farm part of the story was definitely handled better, and just in general I really like the art style and storytelling here. Looking forward to the next duo!

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