Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born

The final issue of Marvel's first mini-series adapting Stephen King's Dark Tower novel series is out this week, and overall I have been sadly disappointed in the much-hyped product. Although I was cautiously optimistic at first, the series has played out in a such a rote, reverential way that it lacks all passion and excitement. I realize that Marvel are incredibly excited at the prospect of working directly with King, but it seems to me that they've been so careful and respectful that they've drained all the innovation out of the comics they've ended up producing.

It's even sadder because so much of the creative team is incredibly talented. King has his ups and downs, and has done a lot of repeating himself in recent years, but he's still a great storyteller, and this series in particular picks up on a thread from one of the earlier Tower novels (before they become annoyingly self-referential and indulgent). Writer Peter David is a comics master with a strong history of writing adaptations (none of which I've actually read, though). And artist Jae Lee has been responsible for some of the most beautiful images in comics in the last 15 years or so. Short of having King pen the adaptation himself, this is pretty much a dream team.

And yet all that professionalism may be why it falls short. David works so hard to mimic the folksy, archaic tone of King's prose that he goes way too far with the made-up words and phrases, and the narration sometimes reads like a painful King parody. Likewise, Lee supposedly drew and re-drew some pages multiple times, and while many of them look gorgeous, they lack the kinetic energy of his more sketchy, chaotic work. Lee has always been closer to Bill Sienkiewicz or Sam Kieth than to John Cassaday or Greg Land, but here he seems to be trying to mimic the pretty photorealism of the latter two, and it's sapping the vitality from much of his work.

Then there's the story itself, an expansion of an episode in the fourth Dark Tower novel, Wizard and Glass. It offers essentially nothing new to add to the Dark Tower saga, nor does it make a case for the transition to comics as something special or valuable for this particular tale. The back-up features, which expand on elements of the DT world's mythos (in text pieces written by series plotter/King associate Robin Furth) are dry and boring, and read like appendices to bad, overly detailed fantasy novels. Furthermore, they do so much overexplaining that, once again, they take the fun out of what started out as pulpy, exciting fantasy/Western novels.

Maybe this overdoing of everything is just a symptom of what the DT franchise has become; this series is certainly no worse than the interminable, meandering final DT novel. But with all the hype and the long production cycle and the talent involved, I think I was hoping for something more than airy, emotionless walking on eggshells around a living legend of a writer whose best work has always been messy, raw and unplanned.

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