Review by Ian Keogh
Beginning in short stories, The Dark Tower concepts are ones that Stephen King has returned to again and again through his career, producing eight novels to date, beginning in 1982 with the since considerably revised Gunslinger. Considering the sheer amount of plot engendered, it’s marvellous to consider the entire series was sparked by the evocative title of Robert Browning’s poem Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came.
The central character of the Gunslinger mythologises the gunfighter of the old west, recasting him as a timeless spirit of justice embodied in Roland Deschain, initially in the fantasy realm of Mid-World. With King’s blessing, Marvel’s presentation is not a strict adaptation. Robin Furth, once King’s research assistant and author of a Dark Tower encyclopedia (The Complete Concordance) breaks down sequences from the original novels for a chronological telling of Roland’s experiences, but builds a considerable amount of her own story to fill gaps. The knowing dialogue is provided by Peter David, while Furth also writes the plentiful background articles located in the back of the book.
An opening sequence shows Roland’s accession to the position of Gunslinger in the land of Gilead, and also introduces the timeless villain of the piece, sorcerer Marten Broadcloak, a manifestation of the fearsome Man in Black. He hovers more in the background prodding other villains as Roland and his allies are sent on a mission, but the narrative spotlight swivels around all parties giving us a full picture of machination and plotting the core characters lack.
Jae Lee’s art is always sparse, depending on figures far more than background, but always meticulously composed. The minimal staging provides Gunslinger Born with a very theatrical look, emphasised by Richard Isanove’s distinctive painted colours, one shade prominent on each page giving the impression of stage lighting. Where the art is slightly lacking is with regard to visual emotion. Lee’s portraits all accentuate scowling or pursed lips.
The early involvement of a witch deliberately amplifies the Shakepearean in what’s at heart a very well dressed combination of Western and coming of age story, with David adding to the tone with carefully worded and evocative narrative captions, and portentous, formal dialogue. Anyone just used to his sometimes glib, but always amusing superhero dialogue should be impressed at the difference. David’s narrative captions provide hindsight, as if watching a film unfold and directing attention to specific aspects. The plot takes much from Westerns, but those captions maintain a fine tension even if there is an inevitability about one aspect of an opening glimpse into the life of a lone gunslinger. King’s known for horror, and while the mood is there, there’s little of it between the second and final chapters, but you won’t miss it.
Not everything is explained. By the end we know what some people and objects can do, but more answers are required. The Long Road Home is next.