Marvel's ambitious adaptation of the Stephen King series moves into the novels proper, well sort of...
Credits & Solicit Info:
Stephen King's The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger - The Journey Begins
Collects Dark Tower: The Gunslinger - The Journey Begins (2010 Marvel) #1-5.
Based on the story by Stephen King.
Adapted by by ROBIN FURTH and PETER DAVID.
Art by SEAN PHILLIPS and RICHARD ISANOVE.
Cover by SEAN PHILLIPS.
A BOLD NEW CHAPTER IN STEPHEN KING'S THE DARK TOWER SAGA! Twelve years have passed since the fateful Battle of Jericho Hill and the fall of the gunslingers. Since the Affiliation's resistance against John Farson became little more than a faint memory. Since the friends that stood by young Roland Deschain burned to ash in the Good Man's razing of Gilead. But Roland survived...and now he stalks the desert, hunting the spectral Man in Black in his quest for the Dark Tower. Join Robin Furth, Peter David and Richard Isanove as they welcome superstar artist Sean Phillips (INCOGNITO) into the ka-tet of creators entrusted by Stephen King himself to bring the adult adventures of his most personal creation to life!
Hardcover, 136 pages, full color.
The Dark Tower and I have a strange relationship. I love what I've read (for the most part), but I really have a hard time with it. First of all, the story is very dreamlike, it never really seems lucid. It wafts in and out of the consciousness of the writer, from awesome western fantasy lore to faint fairy tale remembered.
Part of it may be the odd narration that is on display in this very volume. The story starts out segueing from the last volume of the comic, Battle of Jericho Hill, into an adaptation of the first novel of the series. We are going from the prologue material into the story proper. The narrator of all the books is present telling us about where Roland is at the outset of The Gunslinger. Then Roland begins to tell his story to Brown and we would assume Roland is telling the tale; but it's not, it's the hip fantasy version of Waylon Jennings as always. It's a little jarring, but not that different from the way it has been.
So this is the novels proper, right? No, not so much. As with the previous five volumes, this story expands on what is present in the stories of Stephen King. When the flashback story told to Brown begins in the comic, it stretches further back creating a more seamless story told in the comic to date. It's been a long time since I read The Gunslinger, but there is definitely material present here that I don't remember. Mostly because, to the comic reader, the battle at Jericho Hill and the fall of Gilead are real stories present in their mind. At the outset of the novel, they are passingly mentioned.
Honestly, I never got past the first novel. The Drawing of the Three has been an insurmountable wall for me in the past, but the comics make me want to read more. Especially with the mention of Randall Flagg's name... also known as Walter O'Dim, the Man in Black, Captain Trips... yeah; The Gunslinger, The Shining and The Stand are the books that make want to read more Stephen King even after travesties like From a Buick 8 or The Dark Half. I guess I hope for more of that brilliance. One day, I will brave through the second volume and maybe the comics won't seem so dreamlike.
Adding to that R.E.M. like feel to the stories is the juxtaposition of timelines, more present here than in the preceding volumes. The story of Gilead's fall was told in chronological order, but immediately as the proper story begins we are thrust to the end of that tale and then to a youth predating the tales told there. Time has about as much meaning as the vague memories of a man named Jesus in the tale. A farmer has a hard time telling whether Roland is two weeks or two months behind his prey, that Godlike Demon that ruined his world.
Then there are the quite literal ghosts haunting him. From Not-Men invisible till death to the astral projection of a dead cook in cahoots with Farson. The past haunts Roland as he transitions from an emo youth to a vengeful savior. The best parts of this volume see him vainly try to recapture a love from his past in a new town.
The comics, for this reader, work much better in these collected volumes. There isn't an episodic nature to the story. These are chapters being broken into smaller units and when told in single issue format, there isn't enough hook to keep the story fresh from month to month (or more). In a larger chunk, the story is easier to digest; less time is spent trying to remember what happened before, even at the outset of a new story. Being the adaptation of the first novel, this seems like as good a starting point for those weary of five preceding volumes, although who knows what will be lost as the story progresses by not having that foundation of the story of Stephen Deschain and the end of his kingdom.
Being the better way to read the format, the presentation leaves a little to be desired. This does not wear the "Marvel Premiere" tag, but it certainly suffers from the format's faults. Immediately, in Furth's introduction as the words bend around to the crease, it is obvious that the gutter-loss that plagues Marvel's preferred hardcover format will ruin another comic reading experience. Fortunately, it looks like some creators have come to terms with the inferior presentation and the word balloons and narrative boxes in the comic are offset easing the actual reading of the book. However, the art becomes a problem when pictures spread across pages and details disappear or line up incorrectly.
It's such a shame too, as the art is certainly one of the draws here. Phillips brings his chunky designs and Isanove adds details in the inks and digital colors so that the feel of the book remains remarkably close to the work of Jae Lee in the previous 30 chapters. It is a brilliant pairing that is marred by another oddity. Somewhere in the middle of chapter four, Isanove goes M.I.A. In fact, Phillips is listed as sole penciller in the solicitation information for issue (or chapter) five and from that previously mentioned point in the preceding segment to the end, the art becomes less consistent and the coloring takes on a more traditional hue, but a less finished look.
It's odd that a book so concerned with details should be failed by the same in its presentation. While the story is enthralling and, even if less than we have come to expect from Criminal or Incognito in the end, Phillips' art delivers. It's a book worthy of reading, if only Marvel would show that they cared.
Review by: Lee Newman
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