Friday, May 4, 2012

Too Much of a Good Thing? Subtlety and The Dark Tower Comics

A few weeks ago, a good friend and mentor handed me the first issue of The Waystation volume of The Dark Tower comic, knowing how much I loved Stephen King's amazing seven-book epic series.  It was the first one of the comics that I had read from the series, and my first response was that I loved it.  The art, with inks done by Laurence Campbell and colors by Richard Isanove, does a fantastic job of capturing the darkness and grittiness of the Roland's quest across the desert, and the comic medium is creatively utilized to emphasize certain key aspects of King's epic. 

Take the opening line of The Gunslinger, which appears about 5 or 6 pages into the first issue of The Waystation: "The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed."  These words appear in a panel that fills the entire horizontal space of the two-page spread, a page design that emphasizes the expansiveness and eternal nature of the desert.  It's also fascinating how Roland's face is in shadow in almost every scene--nowhere do we see his entire face in the sunshine, despite the issue taking place in the desert.  It's a wonderful visual reinforcement of the mystery surrounding Roland's character, as well as a suggestion that he isn't the perfect hero.

If you're interested in seeing this artwork for yourself, the whole Waystation volume is coming out in hardcover in late June.

But while reading this comic definitely made me want to get my hands on other volumes of this comic series (hello Omnibus collection!), it also made me wonder--is this too much of a good thing? [note: there will be major series spoilers from here on out]

The initial reason that I ask this question has to do with the content of the issue itself.  The very first panel says, "There's an old phrase--can't rightly say I ken where it comes from--called 'deja view,' or something like that.  Means you're lookin' at something that you swore you seen before...And Roland Deschain, last of the gunslingers, well...he's kinda the expert at that."  We then see Roland talking with the man named Brown, a conversation that strongly hints that Roland had been here, in this exact moment, before.

Now, for those of you who have read the whole series, this scene will make total sense.  But for those who haven't, my fear is that this foreshadowing is too heavy-handed, and that the ending of the whole series, which I found extremely satisfying, won't have the same payoff because the approach to it isn't as subtle as in the original novels.  Even for those who know the ending (such as myself), I wonder if this theme of deja vu gets emphasized too much, taking away from the delicate way in which King balanced the plot of his original novels.  One of the most amazing parts of the original novels is how I keep recognizing pieces that fall into place, even upon multiple rereadings--the word "RESUMPTION," for example, that appears before the very first page of The Gunslinger.  I worry that emphasizing this theme in the comic will destroy the joy of discovery within the novels themselves.

Certainly, my fears are not shared by everyone.  Robin Furth, consultant for the comic, writes in the note at the end of the issue, "If we could combine a sense of deja vu with a sense of Roland being somehow exempt from the normal laws of time and space, we could recreate the scene in Brown's hut but also make it new.  Not only would we be echoing the themes that Stephen King wove into his rewrite, but this scene would allow us to recap our story so far, and to subtly inform new readers about the important concepts found in Mid-World."  For some, this comic might be the perfect introduction to the epic, as well as a helpful guide to the main themes of King's novels.

But this isn't the case for me.  And even though I think the comics are well done, based on what I've seen, I am very wary of the impulse that Furth describes "to make it new"--when something was so wonderful in the first place, why is this necessary?  Although in principle I love everything to do with The Dark Tower, is this another way in which the comic is too much of a good thing?

As I write this, I'm already recognizing that my position isn't terribly consistent with other things I've said in the past--I'm a big fan, in general, of movie adaptations that take creative license with books in the pursuit of teasing out the greater truths of the book (the later Harry Potter movies, for example).  Maybe the difference here is that I still feel like there is more that I can discover on my own about The Dark Tower series, that my own quest through the series isn't over, and that, rather than having its meaning fixed for me, I would prefer that it remain open and full of possibility.