Visualizing Mid-World: An Intro to the Dark Tower Comics

I’ve never been much of a comic book reader. In fact, I can count on one hand the number of comic books I owned in the first 3+ decades of my life (unless you count Mad Magazine). While many of my childhood peers were reading comic books, I was more likely to have my head buried in a novel. I’ve never had anything against comics; I just never got into them, which was kind of odd considering how big a fan I was (and still am) of TV shows and films based on comics. They basically circled the periphery of my existence without ever making landfall.

But that changed when Stephen King licensed Marvel to tell a new series of stories from his Dark Tower universe in comic book format. As a huge fan of all things that serve the Beam (Dark Tower reference, look it up), I had to check these out. I waited until each series of issues was available as a collection in snazzy hardcover format and snatched them up. The series, released in five volumes, is very well done, with impressive imagery that brings the world of the novels to life. My only complaint about the comics is that I wish they were longer, but I think that’s to be expected as a comic newbie who is used to reading lengthy novels.

In the following paragraphs you will find mini-reviews of the five volumes. I stayed mostly spoiler-free, but the reviews assume that the reader has already read the novels and knows the back story that’s being told here. If you haven’t read the books but plan on doing so, I would recommend holding off on the comics until you have gotten through at least the fourth book of the Dark Tower series.

The first volume in the series, The Gunslinger Born, is taken from my favorite novel in the Dark Tower series, Wizard and Glass.  It was great to revisit that story and see the world of Roland’s youth brought to life via the striking images on the pages. However, as stated above, I would not recommend this to those who have not yet read the Dark Tower books, for while this volume does a nice job of capturing the tone of King’s books, it basically reads like a greatest hits version of Wizard and Glass (which is understandable given that book’s length). The result is that much of the depth and emotional impact gets lost, particularly with the tragic ending that in this version felt rushed. That being said, it’s definitely recommended for fans of Wizard and Glass wishing to re-experience that story in a different medium, as well as for Dark Tower completionists.

The next volume, The Long Road Home, is the first of the ‘new’ stories (i.e., material that was only hinted at in King’s books). It picks up immediately after the events of The Gunslinger Born, depicting the journey home to the city of Gilead as Roland’s friends attempt to free his consciousness from the magical sphere known as Maerlyn’s Grapefruit. This is followed by Treachery, which deals with the intrigue and duplicity infecting Gilead upon Roland’s return, while also fleshing out the tragic story of his mother that was briefly touched on in the novels. Both volumes are worthy additions to the Dark Tower saga.

In The Fall Of Gilead, the s**t really starts to hit the fan. It’s hard to say too much without giving away spoilers, but anyone familiar with the Dark Tower series already knows that it does not end well for the protagonists. However, knowing what’s coming doesn’t lessen the heartbreaking impact of the events that unfold. Some people complained that the art was not as good in this volume, but I am not enough of a comic book afficionado to speak to the artwork, so I’ll leave that for others to judge. My primary interest is the story, and this may have been my favorite of the five volumes.

The final volume, The Battle of Jericho Hill, is the story that Dark Tower fanatics have been waiting for: the tragic end of Roland’s ka-tet at the hands of the Good Man’s army on Jericho Hill, and it certainly delivers on the tragedy. It does seem to happen rather quickly, though, leading you to wish for a longer format to tell this story, but it does an admirable job within these constraints.

Following the release of this series, Marvel embarked upon a new series that tells the story of the Dark Tower from book one, beginning with The Gunslinger: The Journey Begins. I haven’t yet decided whether to get these since they won’t be adding anything new to the canon, but I probably will because the hardcover compilations make great collectibles and it’s always a treat to see talented artists bring the books to life. Besides, with Ron Howard’s ambitiously conceived Film/TV project falling through, it’s looking less likely that we will see the Dark Tower series brought to the screen anytime soon, so these comics are the best we’re going to get.  And what better way to pass the time between now and the April release of The Wind Through the Keyhole?

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