Monday, July 13, 2020
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Marvel Unveils King’s ‘Tower’

What do a frowning medieval cowboy, a smartass ex-coke junkie from the 1970s, a fiery, legless, 1960s-era black woman and a 12-year-old social outcast of the late 1970s have in common? Very little, you might say. Yet they come together to deliver Stephen King’s most amazing tale ever put into bookstores. And it is not even a horror story.
Stephen King, author of more than 40 novels and creator of horror classics such as “It” and “The Shining” may have an infatuation with the macabre and terrifying, but that is by no means the limit of his literary ability. Any King fan will tell you that his magnum opus goes far beyond what any mere campfire story can explore. King started writing his life’s work back in the 1970s, and it took him over 30 years to finish it. “The Dark Tower,” a seven-book series following the twisted journey of the enigmatic gunslinger Roland Deschain, a man who smiles little, says little and quite literally lives for only one reason: finding the Dark Tower. Roland travels through damned lands, alternate universes and different eras all in the name of reaching the Dark Tower and preventing it from falling, which would mean the end of existence.
Along the way, Deschain’s destiny becomes entwined with those of the aforementioned characters and he develops a significant and tense relationship with each of them that is not quite friendship, yet deeper and more trusting. However, he must eventually decide if and when it is necessary to deceive and betray these people he loves for the sake of reaching the Tower.
Many of King’s other works include allusions to elements of the “Dark Tower” series and sometimes end up directly affecting its storyline (e.g. “Insomnia” and “Hearts in Atlantis.” Remember the low men?). By the time King published the final installment of the series in 2004, he had gained a massive following of faithful fans similar to that of the cult classic “Donnie Darko.” Think of the “Dark Tower” series as “Darko” with more shooting, and trips between a scarred world and the alternate realities the movie alludes to so subtly.
Last year, King, in conjunction with Marvel Comics, released the first arc of the graphic novel adaptation of King’s magnum opus. The graphic adaptations will total seven arcs and delve into unexplored periods of Deschain’s life before he embarked on his quest for the Man in Black and, much more importantly, the Dark Tower at the center of everything. The graphic novels are plotted by the only person who may know more about the Dark Tower series than King himself: King’s personal assistant Robin Furth. Peter David is in charge of creating the dialogues of the graphic adaptations, and Marvel’s own artist Jae Lee (no relation to Stan Lee) brings the tale to life in ink and color.
The first arc is titled “The Gunslinger Born,” and is actually the recap of Deschain’s childhood journey into Mejis that the sixth book of the “Tower” series, “Wizard and Glass,” explores in depth. It brings to colorful, wicked life Roland’s mission in Mejis, where he meets and loses Susan Delgado, with his friends Cuthbert and Alain. It more or less covers the key elements of the trio’s experiences in the corrupt town, right up to the point where Deschain is forced to watch Delgado burn from afar.
The second arc, the first installment of which was released on March 5, is titled “The Long Road Home” and picks up right where the first arc left off. Deschain falls into a coma-like stupor from the trauma of watching, through the magic of the fatally alluring Grapefruit, the townsfolk burn Delgado alive. Cuthbert and Alain have to carry him along as they are forced to flee into the desert from Mejis with the Big Coffin Hunters in pursuit.
As you can imagine, King settled for nothing short of excellence to translate his literary life’s work into a new medium. This is the first time the “Dark Tower” world has transgressed the pages of the novels to something else (and it won’t be the last; Google “Dark Tower movie” for a nice surprise). David does a fine job in staying true to the style of the fictional High Speech that is commonly used throughout the “Dark Tower” world, and Furth flawlessly keeps the story flowing from one situation to the next.
Lee’s artistic style suits the “Dark Tower’s” atmosphere of subtle horror and fascinating mystery very well, but at times he uses an excess of shadowing to the point where you wish he had laid off of it just so you could see more of what Deschain looked like as a kid, or what Walter O’Dim, the infamous Man in Black of many names and faces, looks like. He also, quite unfortunately, sticks with the style that is prevalent in “realistic comics,” where characters usually speak with their mouths closed. This means the reader doesn’t see as much emotional evidence on the character’s faces. While Lee’s gothic art style indeed seems to focus a lot on shadowing, it nevertheless accurately depicts the sinister, twisted environments and wildlife of Mid-World, and portrays the characters just as King’s words in the novels would have you see them, right down to struggling patch of bristles on young Deschain’s chin.
The graphic novels serve as a delicious treat for readers. Whether you are a “Tower” junkie, a rabid King fan who hasn’t read his magnum opus yet, or even a casual reader who enjoyed a few of his books, the “Dark Tower” graphic novels will more likely than not prove to be intensely satiating. But you won’t understand much of what’s going on unless you read the actual series first. It’s sure to take you on a twisted, gripping ride that will have you looking at the world around you in different ways after each book right up to a conclusion that will blow your mind and make you want to open book number one again. After you recover from that, go out your favorite bookstore, buy “The Gunslinger Born” and watch as Mid-World unfolds to life in front of you. Just don’t expect Spider-Man to save the day.