Carl continues to grow into his role of de-facto main protagonist while Rick takes a back seat, appearing in only a few pages of the newly released 23rd volume of Walking Dead trade paperbacks. Creator Robert Kirkman deserves a lot of praise for keeping the series fresh after all this time and all the mainstream attention garnered from the critically acclaimed AMC TV Series and Telltale Video Games. I really can’t overstate how much I love The Whisperers, sinister humans finding safety living amongst the undead hordes in disguises made from their rotting flesh, as a villain concept. I’ve seen/read/played quite a lot of zombie fiction in my time and I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s truly frightening to imagine and I can’t wait to see it adapted one day for the series. People are going to be blown away.
We join Carl as he takes up residence at the Hilltop to be a blacksmith’s apprentice under Earl, reconnecting with Sophia they run afoul of two boys who beat Carl in the back of the head with a brick and attempt to rape her, Carl initially seemingly running away like a coward but returning soon after to save Sophia and nearly kill her attackers with a shovel. Maggie is relieved that Sophia is safe but critical of Carl’s handling of the situation, and is pressured by the assailants’ parents to punish Carl severely for his actions, possibly exiling him. Both the boys and Sophia are in critical condition and unable to corroborate Carl’s version of the events, so just to be on the safe side Maggie locks him in jail until the whole thing can be straightened out.
There he finds an unusual cell mate in Lydia, a Whisperer captured by Jesus after he and his group were ambushed by a pack of them and managed to barely survive. Jesus takes her hostage to learn more about their strange way of coping with the undead menace and prove to some who have encountered “talking” zombies that they were only people in disguise.
Carl and Lydia bond over shared tales of growing up in a world turned zombie infested hellhole, so much so that he convinces Jesus and Maggie to set her free and attempt to join their society, Sophia also awakens at this point and absolves Carl of any wrongdoing, though the parents of their attackers are still angry enough to concoct a plan to murder Maggie with the help of disgraced former Hilltop leader Gregory. He can’t even manage to poison Maggie correctly though and gets a kick to the gut from Jesus for his trouble, all while Lydia treats Carl to his first sexual experience.
In a conversation afterwards, Lydia reveals to Carl that she doesn’t want to return to the Whisperers, due to the fact that they force her to commit sexual acts against her will, and just in time, the Whisperers show up at the Hilltop en masse, looking to trade Lydia for the two members of Jesus’ group thought dead in the prior skirmish. Carl is understandably distraught but Lydia ultimately decides to reluctantly re-join the Whisperers and her mother, their leader, Alpha. Sometime later Maggie searches for Carl and is unable to find him, he’s snuck out of the Hilltop and is in pursuit of the Whisperers, to join them? Fight them? Stealthily rescue Lydia? That has yet to be seen…
The end of this collected edition brings us to issue 138 and it’s truly amazing that The Walking Dead is now arguably better than it’s ever been. The focus on Carl is a strong decision, proving that the once whiny kid is now ready to tackle this awful world, the only one he’s ever known, with his own sense of justice and moral compass, as opposed to his father who may have now gone soft in his old age, what with letting Negan live in an example Carl sites himself. Me and my fellow trade waiters have a long road until September when Volume 24 drops to see where Carl’s literal and figurative hero’s journey takes him next.
The Walking Dead Volume 23: Whispers into Screams was released on May 12th via Image Comics.