Stephen King's Dark Tower: The Battle of Jericho Hill
written by Stephen King, Peter David and Robin Furth
illustrated by Jae Lee
If there’s an overarching theme in The Dark Tower comic series, it’s a theme of loss: It happens early, frequently, and painfully, for both the characters and the reader.
The collective writing team behind Tower has managed to craft a deeply emotive, Tolkien-esque journey across a surrealist world of weapons and blood. Cults worship at the altars of abandoned gas stations, evil armies dig up futuristic weapons to tinker back to life, and our band of noble heroes fights back with nothing but their trusty six shooters and peerless skills.
By the time Battle of Jericho Hill occurs, evil has won—and the evil is merciless, arrogant, and far past any sort of redemption. The Good Man, along with his wizards and generals, are effectively the darkest and cruelest characters to be found in comics today. As they slowly take over the planet, the heroic Gunslingers travel the world in search of the Dark Tower itself, which will somehow make things right again. After a decade, the Tower remains lost, the Gunslingers are haggard, and the world is physically cracking apart.
Even from the pages of first book, every character is easy to fall in love with, even if their roles in the story are short-lived. The combination of the shadowy, misty artwork and distinctly written personalities gives everyone a convincing veracity, and their journeys become very easy to empathize with. When they eventually all become mortally wounded, one by one, the loss is palpable. Stephen King might sometimes be associated with quickly penned, throwaway fiction, but the Tower series feels significantly epic.
Jae Lee is one of the few artists in comics whose skill at creating effective, classical-looking layouts is matched by his ability to depict a perfectly imperfect human form. This is especially noticeable in the sweeping battle scenes that exist throughout the book, and the subtle, effective differences between drawing a 14-year-old character and a 23-year-old character. The entire series generally lacks background art, adding to the hazy, slightly ill universe that the story occurs in. Every iota of energy not spent depicting scenery is poured into the emotive bodies and faces of the characters, and none of it is wasted.
All of this comes together into one of the most effective comic series running today. It takes a patient reader, but these collections always feel rewarding.
The Tower series is violent and sad, while retaining a great deal of elegance. Battle of Jericho Hill doesn’t contain any sex or profanity, but there are plenty of shootings, stabbings, and parts getting exploded or lopped off. Ultimately, it’s a beautiful and gritty story, and it’s quickly moving into some increasingly amazing narrative territory, so it’s something that shouldn’t be missed.-- Collin David