By the time Soul Survivors opens 99% of the American population is dead., with the cast considerably whittled down since the opening Captain Trips. From this point it’s a core half dozen characters sustaining the narrative, along with those they subsequently meet.

In the previous American Nightmares it was Larry Underwood who had to confront the literal darkness, and in the opening chapter it’s the turn of Nick Andros in a rural environment. It’s an interesting escalation of scale, as while Larry’s experience was terrifying enough, Nick has the additional problem of being deaf. Both end up with new travelling companions with their own problems, which is further nice commentary on how disease cares nothing for people society values.

Soul Survivors is very much a transitional sequence, looking in on the previously introduced leads in chapters spotlighting individuals or groups. Each spotlight has its dramatic moments, and serves a purpose within the greater structure, but for anyone who hasn’t connected with the cast it’s slower going. It does, however, highlight a great strength of this version. So much of The Stand’s success is down to Stephen King’s original plot, but Robert Aguirre-Sacasa has turned in a superbly sympathetic adaptation. Those who’ve read the book know very little has been sacrificed, and Aguirre-Sacasa’s methodical process requires far more than just copying and pasting dialogue. Among other aspects, it’s a matter of deciding what needs visual accentuation, what needs to be given possibly greater emphasis than in the novel, and whether some sequences might be better placed for the purposes of an adaptation. The best compliment that can be paid is to note that were King’s name not prominent on the cover this could be read under the assumption it was an original creation. Aguirre-Sacasa is that good.

So is Mike Perkins, drawing some pages that recall the most idyllic summer you ever had, and others to send you scurrying under the bed. He’s very strong on visual characterisation, and as the plot increasingly turns to what people can become, and what they have to become, Perkins is pointing the way with his expressive definition. In the back-up material Perkins writes about his concerns about being faithful. He need have no worries.

Over the course of Soul Survivors it’s clarified that King is dealing with some visceral forces. Randall Flagg, as already shown, is almost a personification of evil, a force of nature who looks the part. The embodiment of his opposite, however, takes an interesting form. A kindly African American woman with a century on the planet behind her embodies good, but the frailty of form is a fascinating choice on King’s part. Abby Freemantle just seems unlike someone capable of dealing with an almost elemental evil.

Soul Survivors is very much the calm before the storm, and has the feeling of a penultimate graphic novel rather than arriving at the midway point. Hardcases is next. Alternatively, the entire series is collected in a hefty Omnibus edition.