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“Ka is a Wheel” — Returning to The Dark Tower

August 13th, 2012
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Over the course of the last two summers, I made my way through Stephen King’s magnus opus: the seven-book Dark Tower saga.  It was magnificent, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  But somehow I knew when I finished book seven that I wasn’t quite done with the Dark Tower series.

My original entry-point into the world of The Dark Tower was Marvel Comics’ prequel series, The Gunslinger Born. I read and enjoyed Marvel’s series of miniseries, chronicling the tragic back-story of Roland Deschain, the Gunslinger who was the central protagonist of Stephen King’s novels.  After reading the books, I was eager to go back and re-read the comic series, to see what I made of it after now knowing the full story that Stephen King had written.  But somehow I never quite got to it this past year.

When summer arrived, though, I started to get a Dark Tower jones (since I’d spent much of the past two summers reading the Dark Tower novels), and so I decided to pull out those comic books and dive back in.  It was certainly fun to read through these stories now knowing the full picture of the saga.  I enjoyed being able to identify the disparate scenes, story-threads, and references from Mr. King’s seven books that the Marvel team (including Mr. King himself, Robin Furth, and Peter David) were able to pull together for this chronological re-telling of Roland’s youth.

I still feel that the first mini-series, “The Gunslinger Born,” is way too crammed with material (adapting such a long chunk of Mr. King’s hugely-lengthy fourth Dark Tower novel, Wizard and Glass), while several of the other mini-series (particularly “The Long Road Home”) are far too leisurely paced for my tastes.

I also remain disappointed by the story’s conclusion in “The Battle of Jericho Hill,” as ten years are packed into six issues, making me feel like we skipped a lot of good stuff.  I also felt that, after surviving for a decade on their own after the fall of Gilead, Roland and his men are far too easily defeated at the end.  And that no real explanation is given for Roland’s miraculous survival of the slaughter is a real jaw-dropper.  (The novels implied that he was wounded but mistaken for dead.  But the comics show him getting shot up all to hell, and the bad guys seeing that he is dead, before he somehow awakens/resurrects.  Really weird.)

Still, I love the idea of weaving different scenes/moments from the books into a chronological presentation of Roland’s youth, and I admire the ambition of telling the full story of what Stephen King merely hinted at in his books: the Fall of Gilead and the destruction of the Gunslingers.  I also really got a lot more out of connections to the books (such as the sight of an impaled Billy Bumbler in “The Long Road Home” issue #3).

Re-reading these comic books sucked me right back into the amazing world that Stephen King had created.  Luckily, after finishing those comics, I found that I still had many new corners of the Dark Tower universe to explore.  Marvel had continued to publish several additional mini-series that I’d not yet read.  The first of these, under the new title The Gunslinger (rather than The Gunslinger Born) was “The Journey Begins.”

This mini-series loosely adapts the beginning of the first Dark Tower novel, The Gunslinger. It also provides some additional wrap-up for some of the story-lines and characters featured in the first series of mini-series, particularly Cort’s daughter Aileen.  Only mentioned briefly in the novels, in the comics Aileen had been fleshed out into a central character, and though we thought she was dead in “The Battle of Jericho Hill,” it turns out that she was just mostly dead.  It requires a rather significant suspension of disbelief, but in the end I was satisfied with the suitably tragic end Aileen meets by the end of the mini-series, and I appreciated getting a bit more closure on her story.

Artist Jae Lee was gone, but replacing him with the amazing Sean Phillips (who has been doing such astounding work over the past few years, collaborating with Ed Brubaker on Sleeper, Criminal, and Incognito) was a master stroke.  Mr. Phillips’ rough lines are perfect for Roland’s world that has moved on.  Phillips’ drawings have just the right amount of grit and dirtiness in them to capture the mood of Roland and the desolate environs in which he finds himself.

The next Marvel mini-series was an adaptation of the one Dark Tower short story that Stephen King wrote: The Little Sisters of Eluria. Since I’d never read that short story, I decided to track it down before reading the comic book adaptation.  I’ll be back here next week with my thoughts on that story…!

Josh’s Dark Tower Reviews: Entering The Dark Tower — The Dark Tower Book I: The Gunslinger – The Dark Tower Book II: The Drawing of the Three – The Dark Tower Book III: The Waste Lands — The Dark Tower Book IV: Wizard and GlassThe Dark Tower Book V: Wolves of the CallaThe Dark Tower Book VI: Song of SusannahThe Dark Tower Book VII: The Dark Tower

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