95% spoiler free, as always.
No previous volume of The Walking Dead has been as aptly titled as the seventh, The Calm Before. An utter disappointment that in no way reflects the overall quality of Kirkman’s groundbreaking zombie comic book series, The Calm Before has almost nothing going for it.
The underlying conflict between Rick Grimes and his wife Lori concerning the integrity of their marriage (one that has been a vital plot point for the series since volume one) is finally addressed between the characters. Instead of an explosion of pent-up emotion, the scene is little more than a fizzle of apathy. Carol, a character long suspected of having lost her sanity due to the horrors of an apocalyptic life and the infedelity of her “boyfriend,” has read as a dead-end character for quite some time now. Prone to acts of random lunacy including the proposition of a “three-way” marriage and suicidal tendencies, this dead-end character finally meets her end. But the effect of killing off such a pointless character elicits feelings of gratitude rather than grief for the reader.
There is an informal marriage, a birth…and that is all that is really worth mentioning from the entire arc. It could actually (and tragically) be skipped altogether, and the reader would have little difficulty in picking up volume eight and continuing the story from a point worth continuing. How is it so assured that volume eight will be better than The Calm Before? The answer is in the one redeemable moment of volume seven, which is its final two pages. In them, an old but not forgotten figure returns to leave their mark on Rick Grimes and his fellow survivors. If you know who this character is, than you know that there is absolutely nothing worse that could have happened to the prison dwellers and that their lives will never be the same after and during volume eight.
Of course, this review is not entirely fair. There are some action sequences in this volume that are worth seeing, such as the sword wielding skills of Michonne as she once again saves the day. Michonne continues to be one of the brightest elements of The Walking Dead, a character who is physically strong but emotionally defeated. She is a warrior who has been left profoundly wounded and alone after the events of The Best Defense. Hopefully Robert Kirkman will not kill her off anytime soon as she seems to have so much more room to grow and a near infinite amount of stories left to tell. There is also a compelling revelation on the part of Dale, a main character from the beginning of this series. Dale’s relationship with Andrea comes to a crossroads as he feels worthless as his age and debilitation finally catch up with him. These moments with Michonne and Dale are small glimmers of drama in an otherwise stale story arc.
Last but not least, opinions on the artistry of Charlie Adlard, the penciler and inker of The Walking Dead, remain entirely subjective. Either you like his simplistic, cartoonish style or you don’t, and put up with the story because of the fact that you enjoy the story. Opinions aside, there are instances in The Calm Before where his artwork appears to be rushed and sloppy. The most obvious example of this is when a group of survivors are playing basketball in a frame that is from an airial perspective looking down at the court and the players. The characters in this instance are oddly disproportioned, appearing more like the work of a grade school art class than of a professional comic book illustrator.
Despite this largely negative review, The Calm Before is no reason to quit The Walking Dead. If the last two pages (specifically the very last full page illustration) are not enough to get you psyched for the next volume of this series, than you should probably check your pulse because you may well be a member of the walking dead.