The world just got a lot bigger.
Most would argue that it’s always a good thing to meet new people and expand your horizons, but that’s not really true in the world of The Walking Dead. For every noble, self-sacrificing survivor that joins Team Rick, there’s another bloodthirsty psychopath hardened by years of living on the edge. That uncertainty fuels the series’ latest story arc, “New World Order.” Michonne, Eugene and their team have made first contact with a group known as the Commonwealth. The question of whether they’re brokering a critical new alliance or waltzing right into the lion’s den gives this new arc all the weight and urgency it needs.
Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard play that uncertainty to great effect here. On the surface, this is a very straightforward, dialogue-driven chapter of the series. The duo find room for a bit of obligatory zombie carnage, but by and large this is a story about two groups warily coming to terms with one another. Kirkman’s script doesn’t need to rely on overt moments of darkness or foreboding. The simple unfamiliarity of these Commonwealth characters is all we need. Again, there’s no way of knowing if this group is a major piece of the puzzle in terms of restoring civilization or the latest major threat to the survivors at Alexandria.
If anything, new character Lance and his fellow Commonwealth-ians come across as the sane, levelheaded ones in this issue. Lance projects an image of slick, assured, corporate efficiency, whereas Eugene is the unhinged traveler ranting about meeting his long-distance friend, Stephanie. From Lance’s perspective, why should he trust these people? Between Lance and the recent addition of Princess, this series is making good strides when it comes to introducing distinctive, memorable new faces.
The introduction of the Commonwealth brings with its other benefits, as well. Given the ragged, post-apocalyptic nature of this universe, it’s pretty rare to see the modern comforts we take for granted in our world – clean, washed clothing, functional technology, etc. There’s a real novelty to seeing a bit of the old, civilized world creep back into this book. Eugene and friends may as well be the apes from the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey, flabbergasted at being confronted with knowledge and enlightenment for the first time. Adlard plays that clash between decay and order to full effect in this issue. There’s a great deal of stark interplay between the white uniforms and bright lights of the Commonwealth and the moldering darkness of the world around them.
The real high point of this issue, however, comes at the very end. Kirkman is certainly a writer who’s honed the art of the dramatic cliffhanger over the years. This issue’s twist easily ranks among the most unexpected and compelling of the bunch. If the debut of the Commonwealth wasn’t enough to get this arc off to a strong start, this cliffhanger would do the trick.