There are times during The Walking Dead when it’s obvious Robert Kirkman is having a sly chuckle. He’s well aware that titling his 22nd Walking Dead volume A New Beginning toys with comics cliché, echoing a title used so often previously when a creatively redundant series is re-booted. The Walking Dead’s never hit that point, and this lives up to the title imaginatively, jumping forward an undisclosed period from the end of All Out War Part 2, and straight into how the plans outlined there are playing out. Based on Carl’s growth it seems a few years have passed rather than a few months. There’s a visually impressive beginning from Charlie Adlard, again able to draw zombies in their hundreds shambling across the plain, and creating an astounding spectacle from them.

That’s not the mood of this book as a whole, however, which is more a case of Kirkman laying out a utopian vision, or as near as it gets under the circumstances. The herds of zombies seen at the start are shown to prove a point. There was a time early in the series when a two or three zombies on their own proved dangerous, yet now the collective we’ve followed can deal with hundreds at a time. That Alexandria community are partially seen through the eyes of some newcomers, and Kirkman offers an interesting contrast of people who’ve fended for themselves arriving somewhere idyllic that seems too good to be true. “These people are hiding something, and we’re going to find it” is just the line Rick Grimes would have used fifteen books back. Those explorations lead to some interesting places, and Kirkman’s still able to sucker readers after all this time.

Negan is such good character it’s pleasing to see his malign presence remains, and is used to good effect as an almost satanic tempter, offering a comment here, and a whisper in the ear there, having all the time in the world to sow discord. As he’s been the focus of so much of what’s been related in the previous three books, the drama has moved away from the zombies, but they’re back for A New Beginning in a clever way reflecting the title. They’ll feature more in Whispers Into Screams, but for the final couple of chapters there’s something intriguing and positively freaky going on, and the ending is nice contrast to the confidence of the beginning.

Several plot threads remain dangling in what’s another very satisfying dose of character-based drama. It’s available with the previous book in hardback as The Walking Dead Book Eleven.