Stephen King’s The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born Hardcover

Welcome to Stephen King's living, breathing world.

Welcome to Stephen King's living, breathing world.

Creative Director: Stephen King
Script: Peter David
Plot: Robin Furth
Artist: Jae Lee
Inker/Colorist: Richard Isanove
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Associate Editor: Nicole Boose
Editor: John Barber
Senior Editor: Ralph Macchio

Stephen King is no stranger to comic books.  I can confirm, for one thing, that he has at least read Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series.  Whether or not he read the whole thing, I can’t say for certain, but he definitely knew his stuff when writing the foreword to “Worlds’ End”.  What came through in King’s foreword was not only his deep respect for Neil Gaiman as an author, but also for the comic book medium itself.  It should, then, come as no surprise that King enlisted the services of two notable comic book artists to illustrate his long-running series and “magnum opus” The Dark Tower, Dave McKean and Bernie Wrightson.  Then I read King’s afterword to The Dark Tower, and discovered that he’s also read and loved Watchmen, Preacher, and V for Vendetta.  All of this bodes well for a Stephen King graphic novel.

The Dark Tower, as a comic book adaptation of a Stephen King novel, is a difficult book to review.  If it’s well-written (and it is), who gets the credit for it?  Stephen King, who wrote the original novels?  Peter David who wrote the scripts?  Or Robin Furth, who plotted the thing?  Well, if I had read the original novels, I’d be able to tell you!  But I haven’t, so I’m just going to have to thank King for the source material, Peter David for his speechcraft, and Robin Furth for his encyclopaedic knowledge of Mid-World (apparently he knows more about the world of Dark Tower than Stephen King himself!).  I’ve also been informed that The Gunslinger Born is a prequel after some fashion, beginning the story in chronological order for the first time, and so in many ways, this is new ground for the series.

Mid-World – the world of Dark Tower – is an interesting milieu of cultures.  The gunslingers are Old West, but their dialect is known as the High Speech.  The consistency in language really contributed to this feeling of a living, breathing world.  There are wizards and mystical orbs of power, but they still need oil supplies to refuel their World War I tanks.  The unusual placement of familiar objects is all at once surreal and fantastical, but with echoes of reality.  It feels as though Mid-World has always existed, and is simply being revealed to us bit by bit, rather than being built from the ground up.

The Gunslinger Born follows a pretty simple mythic structure.  A boy named Roland Deschain undergoes a rite of passage to become a man, then leaves his family and sets out on a perilous journey with his mates (or his ka-tet).  The gunslingers are an Arthurian Order, Roland falls in love with the damsel in distress, and all the while a dark lord is preparing his army.

The presentation of this comic is probably the most cinematic I have seen, so I have little doubt that this will work brilliantly as a feature film under J.J. Abrams’ care and attention.  The characters are beautifully drawn by artist Jae Lee – again, playing on that grounded surrealism – while Richard Isanove’s colours are moody and atmospheric.  My only qualm with the art, and indeed, the entire book is that the backgrounds are a little too samey from panel to panel.  One the one hand, it maintains this consistency of place and atmosphere, but still, it’s a little minimalistic given the stunning foreground detail, and it did wear me down eventually seeing only one background colour per page.  I know it’s cinematic, and I know it’s fantasy, but it’d be nice to have a hand-drawn background every once in a while.  Still, the book is gorgeous.

As someone who’s never made it through a Stephen King novel, I can honestly say this was an enjoyable read with an enticing world and interesting characters.  The Dark Tower is a great touching point for anyone who’s new to the medium and wants to read a story without the baggage of continuity.  It’s also a great place to start for Stephen King fans who want to gain an appreciation of graphic storytelling, to see what it can do with their favourite story.

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