Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Graphic Lit: Stephen King's 'Dark Tower'

How far behind am I on posting here? This article originally ran in The Patriot-News back on Feb. 16. That's how far behind I am. Catching up though.

So there I was, hanging out in my local comic book store, five minutes after midnight, on one of the coldest nights of the year, waiting in line to purchase the latest Marvel comic. And on a Wednesday evening no less. What in God's name was I thinking?

Well, I was probably thinking what the 25-30 other people in line were thinking. Namely, how good (or awful) was the new Stephen King comic going to be?

The release of "The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born" -- a spin-off of King's popular "Dark Tower" book series -- had been big news ever since it was announced last year.

Marvel had pulled out all the public relations stops with this one, offering special midnight release parties at select shops across the country, hence my waiting in line when by all rights I should have been in bed.

Curiosity, as well as the need to find a subject for this week's column, led me to the store that evening. This sort of cross-pollination between well-established prose author and big-name comics company is always met with high hopes but rarely translates into many new readers, at least from my perspective. Would this time prove different?

Surprisingly enough (or, if you're cynical, unsurprisingly), King doesn't actually write this series (the comic credits him as "creative and executive director"). That task goes to established comic scribe Peter David, with King's assistant Robin Furth providing "plotting and consultation."

A blend of Western and fantasy tropes, "The Dark Tower" books tell the story of Roland Deschain, a gunslinger on a quest to locate a forbidding tower in a magical and dangerous land.

"Gunslinger Born," which will run for seven issues, provides Deschain's back story. The first issue finds the young Roland training to be a warrior.

Plots abound, mostly involving a nefarious wizard/court adviser who seems to have shacked up with Deschain's mom.

Having never read any Stephen King book, let alone "The Dark Tower" series, I'm somewhat ambivalent about the comic.

The book isn't forbidding to newcomers, but I suspect the better-versed you are in King's mythology, the more enjoyable this comic will be.

Certainly the production values are top-notch. Even the ads seem to reflect a more thoughtful and sophisticated demeanor. There's even a section in the back detailing the geography of this fantasy world to aid clueless folks like me.

Jae Lee and Richard Isanove's art is the best thing about the book though. Lush, dark and moody (Lee seems to have a thing for portraying characters in shadow), it does a fine job of centering you in Roland's world, although it's perhaps too slick at times.

Certain pages seem more like pinup pages than an attempt to tell a narrative. Other sequences, such as a fight between Roland and his teacher, however, are spot-on.

Time will determine just how successful this spin-off is (future "Dark Tower" mini series are in the works, each one focusing on a different character).

Certainly Marvel has gone to admirable lengths to entice King fans into venturing inside their local comic book store.

Whether they come back the second time around is the big question.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2007


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