The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born #1


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The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born #1


  • Words: Peter David & Robin Furth
  • Art: Jae Lee
  • Inks: Jae Lee
  • Colors: Richard Isanove
  • Story Title: N/A
  • Publisher: Marvel Comics
  • Price: $3.99
  • Release Date: Feb 7, 2007

The unexpurgated origin of Roland of Gilead begins, with majestic art by Jae Lee, a color palette disappointingly tired, and a ham-fisted script by Peter David.

The Gunslinger Born begins, with Stephen King’s Eastwood-inspired star – Roland, the protagonist of King’s western-fantasy cycle The Dark Tower – earning his right to manhood, his right to be called a gunslinger. Little older than an adolescent, Roland and his fellow apprentices study under Cort – the oldest, toughest, and meanest veteran in Gilead. Yet due to the machinations of a cowardly court wizard named Marten, Roland is maneuvered to press his fate, his fortune, and his ka into an early final exam, in which he, the student, must best his teacher in ceremonial, one-on-one combat; should Roland win, he will be called gunslinger; should he lose, he will be sent into exile forevermore. So begins Roland of Gilead’s commencement….

Surprisingly, it’ll be the non-novel readers that’ll gain the most from this opening salvo. All events within have been previously unveiled, blow-for-blow, within the novels themselves; whatever the value of seeing Mid-World brought to life in comic book form, it will be those fresh to the fabled vista and events of Roland’s childhood that will find themselves spellbound by the introduction to the milieu, characters, and seminally mythic beginnings of the Dark Tower multiverse. The overall arc of Roland’s short time spent in Gilead is an engrossing one, however, and old readers, regardless of their familiarity with the details, will find the ability to read such early tales in chronological order and as a contiguous character timeline, an enticing feature, offering what the novels in all their long, winding, and divergent pathways never did manage to muster.

The art by Jae Lee will easily be the one agreed-upon aspect for both new and old alike; his work on Gunslinger Born – bringing to life the inhabitants of the baronies within a world loosely based upon Arthurian legend and spaghetti westerns – is aptly baronial. His use of chiaroscuro with almost grisaille-styled compositions evokes an environment darkly august and magisterial to the extreme. He’s allowed a fair share of unforgettable splashes, and double-splashes (and if this were the 90’s, you bet your Sweet Aunt Petunia there would’ve been some fold-out triples and maybe a quadruple to boot), and while such picturesque portraiture sets the tone and keeps the book heavily entrenched in otherworldly grandeur, Lee’s greatest performance is procured within the details of the action, in the violence and the harrowing gore, and even yet further within the subtleties depicted as Roland’s world bleakly narrows, as the choices he makes lead him down a road, a life once forked, yet between Mother and Father and Teacher and Wizard and two Brothers-in-Arms, gradually winnowed into the straight line of a revolver’s shaft, a path that leads to the Dark Tower alone.

Sadly, Lee’s extravagant linework is marred by a duo of other components – the first of which is color. Richard Isanove (possibly by no fault of his own) has rehashed his entire oeuvre as used previously in Paul Jenkin’s Origin. The backgrounds, the lighting, the use of reds and oranges to create an overall motif of dusk and the setting of the sun (there’s sublime symbolism for you) as well as earthen browns to evoke a sepia-toned age to the atmosphere – these are all fair conceits for the story, and yet the final product is so highly redolent, so exactingly a tin-type of the color used in Origin – one of the last cardstock-covered, overly-hyped "events" at Marvel – that Jae Lee’s art, under such tincture, takes on a vexing likeness to that of Adam Kubert’s (though I suspect this is almost entirely due to said contrivance of chromatism). For those wholly unfamiliar with Origin (and therefore readers likely unfamiliar with mainstream comics in general – a small number), perhaps this won’t be such a blow, but for all others, this hubristic heisting of hue, lifted from one book to the next, is a far cry from the consideration expected for a project the magnitude of The Gunslinger Born.

Bringing up the rear, then, is problem numero duo – the script. The dialogue is strong, as it primarily lifts straight from the novels and relocates gently such lines as "What a wonder you have done" into comic book balloon clothes. Yet the accompanying, original caption-box narratives are where the book stumbles harum-scarum into becoming a shambolic work of pure amateurism. Peter David is a good comic writer, possibly even a great one; however, he’s never been overly enlightened when penning his latest movie novelization (or other licensed-property contribution he’s managed in the past), not any more so than the next work-for-hire scrivener. When not immersed within his own story, his own plot, his own characters, and his own breakdown of event, David loses nearly all of the idiosyncratic elements of his craft, which his more customized work is infamous (and rightly well-liked) for. With Gunslinger, however, David seems as professionally lost as a fan-boy warrior in fan-fic Valhalla; he comes across as just another axe-wielding maniac. Within the first three splash pages, David inundates the script with over a dozen recognizable, characteristic one-liners pulled straight from the Dark Tower books themselves. Lines such as:

"See this now, see this well…praise the Man Jesus…do ya kennit?...a father whose face must never be forgotten…see him, see these, very well…and say thankee, sai…"

These are only the most egregious and blatant, and they all come tumbling out in caption boxes, one after another after another. In a novel consisting of hundreds upon hundreds of pages, all pure text, such phraseology comes across as flavoring, buried, bolstering but never overpowering, never a replacement for the demands placed upon the storytelling itself. In a comic book, however, where a double-page splash might contain five lines and a sum total of twenty words, such ostentatious overuse of franchise catchphrases becomes a wildly swung morning star bashed repeatedly into a reader’s rashly raised shield. Look! Look! (It says. Bam! Bam!) You’re reading The Dark Tower! You’re reading The Dark Tower!

Of all the myriad strategies to establish a familiar, revered landscape, the sloganeering of another writer’s epigrams is the lowest, most insincere feint to take. King had been quoted as eager to view the script when in the early stages, and gave his personal approval to the final result, and to such I can only assume that King – being so close to his own words, pilfered and realigned for another’s purposes – had far too little perspective to procure proper judgment. Perhaps even David himself suffered such a foible, being a genre writer handling the property of arguably the greatest genre writer in the history of the genre fiction prose novel. Ultimately, the comic could be thoroughly enjoyed – even superlatively so – with only the visuals and the dialogue, sans all narrative. To be fair, David’s script has its moments of artful clarity, especially during the sequences involving Roland alone and brooding, as well as the short sequence with Roland’s mother and the wizard Marten, but overall, a simpler text would have enriched the haunting quality of a dying Mid-World, and of the dreadful, fateful track of Roland’s story itself.

There’s an additional prose short in the back of the book, written by A Concordance author Robin Furth; the tale explores the landscape of Mid-World, and of the paths and the beams and of the Tower itself. It’s basically an excuse to reveal the mythology of Roland’s country, and while Furth is only a middling, beginning author of fiction, her story isn’t difficult to read (though it isn’t fun, either), and the information within is well worth the time to struggle through the often awkward prose.

Ultimately, The Gunslinger Born is not a terribly thrilling comic; it’s beautiful (of which there was never any doubt, not after those previews), but there’s nothing within that isn’t clearly relegated in the books, and those seven novels acquit themselves far better than this. I do believe that those unfamiliar with the source material are the most likely to endorse Marvel’s adaptation, as it is, emphatically, visually stunning, and the story of Roland is a difficult one to tarnish to too unappealing a state. For the fans, though, consider this series a bonus collection of an artist imagining the world of Roland, much like the illustrations that littered the books themselves. It’s a memorable pictorial treat, but a sad, sloppy-second cousin to the epic of The Dark Tower and the character of Roland of Gilead.

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