The Gunslinger has established himself as one of the most fascinating and compelling characters in modern fiction, yet much of his past is still a mystery.
The ending of an epic story, whether it is a movie, TV show, or book, is both a blessing and a curse. There is a joy that comes at reaching the end of a long journey coupled with the sadness that something wonderful and magical is now over. I remember finishing the last issue of Neil Gaiman's Sandman and wishing there was more. I remember as the lights came on in the theater at the end of Return of the King I looked over my friends and had to ask the pathetic question, "Now what the hell are we supposed to do?" There is no series out there that this ambivalent reaction is more applicable to for me then Stephen King's masterpiece The Dark Tower. I began to read the Dark Tower when I was in junior high. It finished when I was in my sixth year of college. That series was an investment in my time that spanned over ten years and as much as I wanted to reach the end, to see the Dark Tower with Roland The Gunslinger and finally conclude this epic, there was a part of me that would have been happy if it went on forever. So you can no doubt imagine my excitement and the anticipation of fans everywhere when Marvel announced that Stephen King was going to be releasing a new Dark Tower series in comic book form chronicling the early years of Roland the Gunslinger. This book was the promise that while the epic may have concluded, there were still stories left to be told.
Dark Tower #1, while containing original content, was not technically written by Stephen King. He was the Creative and Executive Director. A man named Robin Furth, an expert in the Dark Tower mythos, was credited with plotting of the first issue, and acclaimed writer Peter David wrote the script. Essentially, King came up with the idea, Furth put it in its context, but Peter David turned it into a comic book. While this collaborative hodgepodge of contributing talent may evoke the cliché that a camel is a horse designed by a committee, that is certainly not the case with this book. David's expert comic knowledge is able to weave the story into its new medium without losing any of King's unique and recognizable voice. All the creators involved in the process do justice to the epic mythology that has been established and maintain the levels of quality and storytelling that make the Dark Tower such a force in contemporary literature.
The first issue of the seven-part series focuses on a period previously discussed in King's first novel in the series, The Gunslinger. A young Roland Deschain, just a boy but still showing the signs of the great man he will become, is training to be a Gunslinger along with his friends, Alain and Cuthbert. The Gunslingers are an order of warriors who maintain the peace and protect the people of Mid-World. In order to earn the right to wear the coveted guns, Roland must defeat his teacher Cort in single combat or face banishment should he be defeated. Despite his youth he takes this test far earlier than others and succeeds at besting his vicious teacher with the help of his trained hawk. Roland, now a man in the eyes of his people, is ready to face both the internal and external enemies that stand against him and his father, the leader of the Gunslingers.
The story itself is nothing new for anyone familiar with the Dark Tower series. However, it is setup for what will no doubt shed new light on the history and youth of Roland. The Gunslinger has established himself as one of the most fascinating and compelling characters in modern fiction, yet much of his past is still a mystery. While the fourth book in the series, The Wizard and Glass, is focused almost entirely on Roland's youth, there are still gaps in the mythology. Hopefully the comic miniseries will answer some of the lingering questions that remained at the end of the seventh book.
The comic also comes with some with some additional bonus material that both fans of the Dark Tower and new readers will find interesting. While Cort appeared in most of Roland's memories and flashbacks to offer words of advice when the Gunslinger was unsure of his path, he had another teacher equally important to his training named Vannay. While Cort trained the young Gunslingers how to be warriors, Vannay trained the young pupils how to sharpen there minds and the learn the histories of their world. Dark Tower #1 includes an original short story written by Robin Furth, in which Vannay instructs Roland and his friends in the geography of Mid-World and the significance of the Dark Tower. It is a fascinating story for fans and provides a necessary background for people who are new to the world.
Jae Lee and Richard Isanove provide the splendid artwork for the book. I have been a fan of Jae Lee ever since he did the first Sentry miniseries; his pencils are dark and moody and fit perfectly with the tone of the story. Isanove's painting over Lee's work adds a sense of epic depth that further reinforces the strength of David's narrative. This is clearly an artistic team whose goal is to do their job well without getting in the way of the larger mythology already established.
I'm probably not the most objective reviewer for this book. I'm afraid I am such a huge Steven King and comic book fan that anything created that combined those two forces together I would be unable to resist. Yet despite my already blatant bias for this book it is entertaining and promises original content that Dark Tower fans have been craving. Moreover, I think it hints at enough of the greatness of the novels that a new reader will feel invited to explore King's world and not turned off by all that has come before. This book is definitely another feather in the cap of both comics in general and Marvel in particular.