Written by Robert Kirkman
Drawn by Charlie Adlard
Published by Image Comics
Alright, here’s a bit of a late review, this comic-book came out July 1st, but I couldn’t get it then because this was only released in comic-book stores. For some background for the uninitiated, Robert Kirkman shocked the comic-book industry last July when he ended his mega-successful comic-book series The Walking Dead with with issue #193. This was particularly surprising because not only had there not been any warning or indication beforehand that this would be the final issue but he had even had three or four issues past this solicited for order and had talked about how he was building up to some major change in the series starting in #200. A prominent rumor was that, after he’d shockingly killed off lead character Rick Grimes in issue #191 (and, unlike the fakeout in the TV series, Rick was really dead), that Negan would be returning to the series and would become the new lead character.
As I said back in November 2017 when I reviewed the special one-shot issue HERE’S NEGAN, I wasn’t a regular reader of the The Walking Dead series. But I loved the character of Negan on the TV show and that lead me to getting some of the issues that Negan appeared in. And the idea of Negan becoming the new lead of the series had intrigued me, to the point where I was likely to start regularly reading the comic to see how that went. In fact a lot of readers speculated, based on it’s short and vague solicitation: ““THE FARMHOUSE” Out in the countryside, trouble is brewing for a certain someone.”) that issue #193 was actually going to feature the return of Negan, who hadn’t been seen in the comic since issue #174, to the series. But that didn’t happen and the series ended with the final issue giving us a flashforward to the future, where the Walker threat had largely been contained and humanity had rebuilt a growing and stable pre-industrial society. Negan was referred to but not actually seen.
So here we are two years later and once again Kirkman shocked the industry but suddenly announcing this new special issue. Like many industries, comic-books have been impacted by the Coronavirus, as the main distribution company ceased operations and most stores had to close due to various state-wide quarantine order. With some states re-opening (pre-maturely in my opinion, but that’s another topic) , there’s been a lot of concern on how to get fans back to comic-shops. So Kirkman said he decided to create this issue specifically to help comic-book shops, an incentive to get fans excited about shopping again, and so this issue was only released in print, not digitally, and was only shipped directly to comic-book retailers who were allowed to keep all the profits from the sales. I think this was a nice gesture on Kirkman’s part, I appreciate his motives. But I also think it was ultimately misguided.
Okay, I’m not going to go off on a long rant about the state of the comic-book industry, but I think the Coronavirus exposed a significant weakness in the modern sales strategy. The industry has focused for decades on the sales model of selling individual comics primarily in specialty stores that focus on comics. It’s not like when I was a kid and first discovered comics at places like 7/11 and grocery stores. Now you have to go to a comic-book store if you want to buy new comics, which cater to the already existing hardcore readership but isn’t conducive to catching new casual readers. The industry and readers have been reluctant to embrace new trends like digital sales, because of the mantra of “supporting retailers.” So when the coronavirus hit and the distributor shut down, most of the major publishers even agreed to not release any new comics digitally until things re-opened, because they didn’t want to hurt the physical retailer stores. So what should have been a wakeup call to the industry that it was time to seriously reconsider their sales model instead became about digging their heels in the sand and sticking with what they’d been doing.
Look, I switched to buying comics digitally 7 years ago. So even if there was no coronavirus and this issue came out, then at best it would have made me go out to store to buy that comic. But it’s not like me buying this one comic would suddenly change my habits back to buying print comics. I would have most likely gone into the store and bought that one comic and left, and then not gone back. And, in this case, since I know the virus is still ongoing, I’m still restricting my travel to necessary places. Outside of going to work and back Mon-Fri, I’ll stop for groceries and gas when needed. That’s it. So, no, a comic-book store is not worth the risk right now. So to get this issue I just looked on Ebay, and was lucky enough to find someone selling a copy at cover price. With shipping and tax it cost me around $13 for his issue
I guess I’m about to get into spoiler territory here, although I assume that the vast majority of people who will bother to read this particular post, or already fans of the comic-book and therefore know most of this history. Or maybe you’re just a fan of the TV series, which events are sometimes drastically altered from the comic-book. Nevertheless, consider yourself forewarned.
So, first off, in The Walking Dead comic, after helping Rick and the others defeat The Whisperers, Negan was given his freedom. They wouldn’t put him back in jail, where he’d been for two years before escaping, but he couldn’t stay in their community, so he was sent away. Maggie secretly followed him and confronted him, with the intent to kill him as revenger for him killed Glenn. When she caught him, Negan showed genuine remorse and begged her to go ahead and kill him, because he knew he deserved it. Seeing how broken he was, Maggie decided instead to not kill him and just left him alone. And he’s never seen in the series again. 2 years later, in the final issue, a now-adult Carl Grimes, who works as a messenger throughout their new society, makes a stop at a house that’s said to be out of the way, to drop off some supplies. The house has a tombstone in the front yard that says “Lucille” on it, but no one answers when Rick knocks on the door, so he leaves. A flashback near the end of the issue shows a still-young Negan putting flowers at that grave. And that’s where we were left.
NEGAN LIVES takes place an unspecified amount of time after The Walking Dead #174, but long before the future that is seen in #193. Negan is still living in the empty house in the abandoned neighborhood that Maggie found him and left him in, and he’s absolutely miserable. He regularly visits the makeshift grave that he buried his bat “Lucille” in, and talks to her, as if he’s talking to his dead wife, even though he flat-out says that he’s an atheist and doesn’t believe in an afterlife. He hates being alone and says he wishes he were dead, but also hates that he’s too scared to kill himself.
Then one day after he returns to the house, he finds an attractive young woman named Lucy there. At first, because of her name, he wonders if she’s even real, or if he’s hallucinating. But she’s real, she says she’s alone and asks for some food, so Negan cooks some meat (which he tells her is rabbit, but it’s implied that it’s likely a dog) and they eat together. Then at it gets dark and colder Lucy starts coming on to him. But Negan’s too smart for that, as he immediately figures out that this most be some kinda trick, and that she’s probably not really alone. And it turns out that he’s right, as two men appear, they’re Lucy’s accomplices, and they plan to kill Negan and take his house.
And I guess I’ll leave it at that, without further spoilers. Except to say that Negan survives, which should already have been obvious that he would since we know he’s still alive in the future, but I won’t give away the details. The book ends on a note that’s both final, while also leaving the door open for some possible future adventures. Although Kirkman swears in an article in the back of the book that this was just meant to be a one-time thing and he has no plans to ever follow-up again, although he admits that things could change, just as he didn’t have this book planned when he ended the main series. So who knows.
Overall the book is okay, I guess. But I can’t say that it feels spectacular or anything, not like the “special event” that it’s meant to be. This book easily could have been the issue of The Walking Dead that fans expected #193 to be, pushing back the end of that series to #194. But the biggest problem for me is that it’s not the version of Negan that I really love. I wanted to see the return of the badass wisecracking foul-mouth fearless Negan, albeit with his homicidal tendencies curbed. I know he’d been through a lot and had changed, especially after confronting the horrible things he’d done in the past, but I feel like sometime after Maggie left him that he would have snapped back a bit. It’s hard to image that he would just settle in living by himself, I would expect Negan to keep searching until he found a new group somewhere, and would probably rise to being thier leader, as he is a natural-born leader. Maybe even restarting the Saviors again but without the brutality this time. That’s what I wanted to see.
As it stands, this book feels like it’s only something I’d recommend to the hardcore collectors, if you’ve bought all of the previous issues of the main series, or even the large compendiums, then I guess you need this issue to keep your collection complete. Otherwise, it could easily be skipped.