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Marvel Comics’ Adaptation of The Gunslinger

August 31st, 2012
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After pausing in my reading of Marvel Comics’ Dark Tower mini-series to read Stephen King’s Dark Tower short-story, “The Little Sisters of Eluria” (click here for my review), I was ready to resume my reading of Marvel’s Dark Tower comics.

The Little Sisters of Eluria — Adapting a short-story into a five-issue mini-series makes a lot more sense than squeezing an adaptation of a lengthy novel into a seven-issue mini-series (as happened when this Marvel Comics series of mini-series began, with the publication of The Gunslinger Born, an adaptation of much of Stephen King’s fourth Dark Tower novel Wizard and Glass).  The pacing of this adaptation works well, and the art by Luke Ross is extraordinary (particularly in the exterior “cowboy” sequences in the first issue).  They make a curious mis-step by revealing, right away at the start of issue #2, the true nature of the sisters (something Mr. King wisely kept in reserve until later in his short-story).  Spilling the beans on that mystery so early in the tale takes away a lot of the energy and drama of the story.  Since we know Roland will survive this story set in his youth, one of the most compelling aspects of the original story was the mystery of the sisters and the mounting dread felt by Roland as he begins to discover their true nature.  Giving all those answers right away to the reader, as this comic book adaptation does, spoils all of that suspense.  It’s a perplexing choice.

The Battle of Tull This might be my favorite of all the Dark Tower mini-series, primarily because of the absolutely perfect artwork of Michael Lark and Stefano Gaudiano.  Michael Lark is one of the finest comic book artists working today, and his gritty but incredibly detailed artwork is absolutely perfect for the rough-and-tumble “world that has moved on” of The Dark Tower. His depiction of the now-adult Roland is absolutely perfect, presenting Roland exactly as I had imagined him.  I love his choice to leave Roland’s face in almost-constant shadow throughout the mini-series.  This gives Roland an air of mystery and menace that is critical to the character, even though he is the “hero” of the tale.  The one thing that gives me pause is that there’s a weird jump between the Roland we have seen in all of the prior mini-series, and the Roland we see in this one.  This Roland is not only visually different — even in the previous mini-series, The Little Sisters of Eluria, Roland was still a boy, whereas here in The Battle of Tull he is unquestionably a man — but also a different character, much harder and tougher.  In Eluria, Roland was reluctant to kill his enemies (even when they were shambling Green Mutants), but here he is brutal in his actions, massacring a whole town in the story’s climax.  I would have preferred to have seen a more gradual development of Roland over the course of the many Marvel Comics mini-series, rather than such a jump when they arrived at their first direct adaptation of the first Dark Tower novel, The Gunslinger.

The Way StationWith this mini-series, we are deep into a direct adaptation of the first Dark Tower novel, The Gunslinger, and I’m really enjoying things.  It’s great how Robin Furth, Peter David and the team are giving this story the space to breathe, by spreading their adaptation of the novel out over several mini-series (rather that squishing it all into one, which I felt resulted in the very first mini-series, The Gunslinger Born, being too rushed).  Laurence Campell’s art is solid though a significant step down from that of Michael Lark, who I wish had stuck around for more than just one mini-series.  The highlight of this mini-series, for me, was the peek into Jake’s old life in New York that we get in issue #2, which does a great job at fleshing out the brief description we’re given in the novel.  It’s compelling, and really hooks the reader into this “new” character of Jake (though of course if one has read the novels, he’s not a new character at all, but rather a beloved key character, finally making his appearance in the comics).

The Man in Black — As I write this, this mini-series is not yet complete, but I’ve quite enjoyed the first three issues.  Alex Maleev has stepped in on the art, and his work is magnificent.  (I still feel Michael Lark’s art was the most perfect fit for The Dark Tower, but Mr. Maleev comes very close!)  Key to the success of Mr. Maleev’s work is that, like Mr. Lark, his depiction of Roland is dead-on perfect.  World-weary and mostly in shadow, this Roland is a Gunslinger with a capital G, not to be trifled with.  I loved the flashback to Gilead of old in issue #2, and the different art style Mr. Maleev employed for those pages.  I’m surprised by how much I’m enjoying these adaptations.  I had thought that once the comics arrived at the events chronicled in Stephen King’s first Dark Tower novel, The Gunslinger, I’d be bored.  But I feel these latest mini-series have far more energy and momentum than the later mini-series in the first “Gunslinger Born” series of minis.  Despite the excitement at seeing events fleshed out that were only hinted at in the novels, I thought those later minis were sort of aimless.  The strength of these latest mini-series only attests, I guess, to the power of Mr. King’s original novels.  I’m not sure if Marvel is planning on further mini-series, but for now at least I am still along for the ride.

My journey towards the Dark Tower isn’t over yet!  I’ll be back next week with my thoughts on Stephen King’s return to this world with his eighth Dark Tower novel, the newly-published The Wind Through the Keyhole…

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 TowerReturn to the Dark TowerThe Little Sisters of Eluria

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