Stephen King's Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born
written by Stephen King, Peter David and Robin Furth
illustrated by Jae Lee and Richard Isanove
The Gunslinger Born is a difficult but worthwhile trip to take. As just one segment of Stephen King’s magnum opus, The Dark Tower, a series that consists of seven books written over a period of 22 years, this introductory collection focuses on a “flashback” style segment of The Dark Tower IV : Wizard & Glass—the fourth book in the series of novels. It gets less confusing from here. Mostly.
This first Dark Tower comic collection is not light reading. It’s about as complex as a story can get without becoming impenetrable, with familial relationships twisting through unseen histories, magicians and warriors bearing multiple names and appearances, and mysticism clouding the reality of the entire tale—but once you manage to penetrate the deeply engrossing surface, it’s a completely rewarding comic experience. Like many good works, it’s worth reading through a second time just to solidify who and what everything is. It’s not exactly War & Peace, but it works hard to establish a complicated, rich mythology and you need to keep up.
Peter David interprets King’s prose into a format appropriate for the comic page, full of a strange dialect that may take some time to get used to, but lends the story a weird flavor of otherwordly authenticity. It’s Old West-meets-Future Weird as told by a mysterious third person, and it’s fun. I can’t speak to how closely these events follow the book, but entities such as this should be viewed independently anyhow.
At its core, Gunslinger follows Joseph Campbell’s idea of a monomyth, following a masculine entity on a quest. The primary hero, Roland, is a teenager who begins the tale by progressing through a violent series of lessons with a decidedly unmagical teacher and progresses into an increasingly strange and magical world, defeating many enemies along the way and ultimately succumbing to love—leaving the hero in a place that the monomyth doesn’t explore in an excellently bleak conclusion. It’s hard to tell if the hero develops as a character, as he’s almost always portrayed as someone of intense, unflinching, subtle power. Thankfully, this doesn’t make it any less interesting to watch. Subsequent collections explore King’s larger mythos and heroes as they continue on their journey.
Jae Lee’s typically deep, accurate, stunning artwork creates a highly atmospheric, absorbing world. Everything is dusty and thick, with sharp shadows highlighting spidery lines that spread through everything, or obscuring huge swaths of detail, all arranged in an artfully cinematic layout. It’s not often that coloring of a comic page is especially noticeable, but the hues chosen here are perfectly matched to the mood of every scene. It’s a model of excellent comic artwork that respects the traditions of comic artwork while pushing them in a unique direction.
The Gunslinger Born is a comic for teenagers and older, as if the theme of guns-as-scared-objects was not enough to indicate that. It’s bloody, it’s sexy (without explicit nudity), and it’s salty: Everything that the weird, wild west should be. Above all else, it’s a comic of surprisingly excellent quality, even if you’re not a fan of Stephen King, and it’s a worthwhile read.-- Collin David