Monday, May 3, 2010

A Completed Journey - Stephen King's Dark Tower Graphic Novels

This weekend I picked up the last few issues of the 5-part (30-issue, I think?) graphic novel series Stephen King's The Dark Tower, and got to finish the whole thing. It's the story of Roland and his first ka-tet, beginning with him winning his guns from Cort and ending with the disastrous battle of Jericho Hill. It includes the time in Meijis/Hambry, of course.

They were written by Peter David, who's work I often like, based on plotlines developed by Robin Furth, King's research assistant during the final three novels of the series.

I thought the series was excellent. Each issue was about 70% story and 30% "other stuff." The "other stuff" included everything from reflections on the series by Furth and others to pencil sketches of both used and unused artwork. The best ones, though, had backstory on various aspects of the Dark Tower universe - Maerlyn's rainbow, Arthur Eld, poisons, magic, North Central Positronics, etc., etc.

My only regret, and it's a small one, is that I bought each issue as a comic, rather than getting the hardbound collected editions. I'd have liked to put that next to the original novels on my bookshelf. They're about $12-16 (for each of the five) on Amazon. If I had the money, I think I'd buy them anyway, and duplication be damned.

The series was extremely entertaining for a fan of the novels. I'm not sure how it would translate to somebody who wasn't familiar with them, though there seemed to be an effort made to introduce everything that might be confusing to someone who hadn't read the novels or hadn't read them recently.

If that's you, let's recap. The seven Dark Tower novels were begun by King in the early 1970s with his novel The Gunslinger. Loosely based on Robert Browning's poem "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came." It tells the story of Roland Deschain, last in a long line of gun-toting knights in a world that's dying. A world that, as it turns out, is at the center of all universes. It's an ancient world - a parallel world to Earth where civilization progressed to a level that science could do nearly anything, eventually becoming as magic. Then it destroyed itself, and Roland's people live in a distant aftermath of mutants, outlaws, marvelous but dangerous technical relics of the past, and legends great and terrible.

The series begins with the marvelous line, "The man in black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed." In the seven books of the series, Roland battles his way across at least two worlds, fighting everything from crazed robots to vicious bandits, vampires to demons.Along the way, he gathers to him a cadre of close companions, each with their own mental and physical demons to overcome. His ultimate goal, always is to find the Dark Tower, the structure that binds all universes together and which is under assault by the forces of chaos.

The comics, by and large, dealt with little of that journey. Instead, they covered the Gunslinger as a youth and the events that turned him into the hard, callous, unstoppable juggernaut that he becomes. There appears to be a new series beginning that will duplicate the events of the novels (some of them, anyway) in comic form, but I haven't yet decided whether to get those. The thing I liked about the comics was that they weren't (for the most part) just re-hashing the content of the novels. They were religiously based on the ideas and spirit of the novels and King acted as the Executive Director of the series, ensuring that they were faithful to his work. But they delved more deeply into some of King's best characters from the novels - Roland's childhood friends and teachers. His father. His mother. His enemies. Part of the series even goes back to tell part of the story of Arthur Eld, Roland's distant ancestor, and his own ka-tet of gunslinging knights (who are also the ancestors of Roland's faithful friends Alain and Cuthbert). One of King's strengths is certainly his characters, and the Dark Tower series has some terrific ones, ones who aren't necessarily fleshed out in the novels. The comics gave us the chance to meet and explore those characters in more detail.

Of course, one big advantage of the comics - if they're done well - is that you get to visually experience some of your favorite characters. Books let you use your imagination and, often, that's a marvelous way to spend your time. But a really skilled artist may render a character or scene in ways that you couldn't imagine because that's their talent. From the Crimson King in his spider-form to Susan Delgado to the whole court of Gilead, the graphic novel's artists explored the history of King's longest-running character in vivid detail.

The original comics may be tough to find as the series has been running for about five years, however the hardcovers are available at fine local comic stores like Comix Zone as well as at online retailers like

I enjoyed this series tremendously - both the novels and the graphic novels - and I recommend the comics to fans of King's epic series.

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