Stephen King's The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger, Vol. 1: The Journey Begins
written by Stephen King, Peter David and Robin Furth
illustrated by Richard Isanove and Sean Phillips
Roland Deschain, now an adult and without a friend left alive in the world, wanders across the dry, dark landscape of a place that may or may not be an apocalyptic version of our own world. The Journey Begins has stories nested within stories: a much older Deschain sits down and tells the story of his teenage years to a strange man in the desert, which then digresses into a story about his childhood, and cycles back around to his adult quest for the Tower. All of these stories fill in small and interesting details from aspects of previous Dark Tower collections and Deschain’s singular, oppressively tragic life.
The Journey Begins maintains the pace and feeling of the previous tales: dark, sad, on the precipice of disaster and death, and plotted to feel like an epic trek through a thick fog that renders everything in off-colors and high contrast, shrouded in magic, lost technologies and nature’s rebellion against humankind. It’s one of the most visually emotive and appropriate books out there, because nothing good ever seems to happen to Deschain, and the art is suitably dark and precise. The art style initiated by Jae Lee early on is faithfully continued, retaining a similar aesthetic—with no small help from the excellent colorists.
These stories diverge from the core of Stephen King’s Dark Tower novels, adding King-approved wrinkles to the mythos of the Tower series, so it’s not your typical visual retelling of an existing work, but a genius elaboration meant to expand a fascinating world. We get a better look at the invisible Not-Men, who use some kind of futuristic equipment to render themselves unseen, and the hideous Slow Mutants, who are the violent result of some unspoken evolutionary disaster, and we’re introduced to the “Billy Bumbler”, a semi-articulate raccoon-creature. It’s all an excellent surrealist vision of an anti-futuristic landscape like no other, rendered perfectly in word and image. It’s an absorbing experience, which is a great gift for a comic to grant a reader.
The entire Dark Tower series is violent and bloody, but its denizens are generally elegantly spoken. Minor and circuitously implied sex aside, The Journey Begins is a great continuation of an ongoing series that’s completely worth reading, even if this chapter is almost entirely about Roland’s abject lack of progress toward the thing he desires most. Even when telling stories about the frustrations of nonstories, The Dark Tower can hold its own against any other comic series.
-- Collin David