Arguably Stephen King‘s supreme masterwork, The Dark Tower is one of the most beloved series of novels ever written. They certainly captured this reviewer’s imagination – The Dark Tower remains my number one favorite book series of all time. As with any beloved franchise, when one hears they are making a comic series (and possibly film and TV series) from the source material, fans can get… nervous. So when I heard Marvel had decided to start a series of comics based on Roland’s past as portrayed in The Dark Tower IV: Wizard and Glass, I was skeptical. But the series was so well-written (overseen by King’s Dark Tower assistant Robin Furth), and the art was so imaginative and vivid, and most of all, the story was so faithful to King’s novels, that I fell in love with it. Those early issues served as the perfect companion to Wizard and Glass – so much so that I actually read them while reading through the novel, and it complimented the story perfectly. Even so, when I found out Marvel was continuing the series with a full-on adaptation of The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger, I again became over-protective and super-skeptical. The Gunslinger was, of course, the first Dark Tower novel I ever read and, as such, holds a very special place in my heart. But Furth & Co. hit yet another home run with their continuing adaptation of The Gunslinger. These comics are so faithful to the spirit of the original stories and do such a good job of condensing material that I would submit that anyone trying to make a Dark Tower film (Ron Howard, I’m looking at you, bub) should look at these comics as a guide… maybe even just adapt the comics verbatim. They’re that good!
Which brings me to Marvel’s newest Dark Tower release, the hardcover collection of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger – The Way Station. The Way Station continues Marvel’s trend of stellar Dark Tower comic book adaptations – Laurence Campbell and Richard Isanove’s art is fantastic, Peter David’s script is dynamite, and Robin Furth’s involvement in plotting the series and serving as consultant gives the book that genuine honest-to-goodness Dark Tower feel. I was totally immersed in this hardcover collection – so much so that I was able to read the whole thing in one sitting (it’s not that hard to do, considering the book is only 136 pages, including an enthralling introduction by Robin Furth, a collection of covers, and a page suggesting the other Dark Tower comic collections available from Marvel).
The Way Station finds our hero Roland Deschain of Gilead, last of the gunslingers, dying from a double-whammy of sunstroke and dehydration out in the middle of the Mohaine desert as he relentlessly pursues the Man in Black. Roland slips in and out of dehydration-induced hallucinations and feverish memories, all the while his internal monologue – which has realistically become an external monologue due to his lack of water – is quite entertaining. Furth & Co. do a great job of filling in the blanks King left in Roland’s lonely desert stroll. During one hallucination/memory, Roland is in his room as a child listening to his mother sing him a nursery rhyme. When his mother begins berating the young Roland in the dream for killing her years later, Roland is jerked back to reality by the realization that he is being attacked by an actual dust-devil – a succubus that swirls through the desert looking for wayward travelers on the verge of death or insanity. There’s really cool stuff like that littered throughout not only The Way Station comic, but the other Dark Tower issues as well.
Once Roland makes it to the titular way station, he meets young Jake Chambers, a resident of New York circa 1977 who was transported to Mid-World thanks to the dastardly shove he received from the world-hopping Man in Black. Jake and Roland strike up an unlikely bond as the two rest up in the shade and shelter of the way station before once embarking once again, following the trail of Roland’s elusive arch-nemesis. Along the way, they are accosted by a rather attractive demon confined in a “speaking-ring”, narrowly escaping with their lives. This encounter leaves Roland emotionally tormented and he begins questioning himself and his quest. What works about this part of the story is that you see the effect the demon’s words have on Roland – he begins to doubt himself, believing more and more that those who stick around him meet gruesome ends. Because he has taken a liking to Jake – even going so far as to call the boy “Son” – Roland is torn between getting Jake as far away from him as possible or keeping him close for the companionship the boy provides. When the duo finally catches up to the Man in Black, the wily magician uses Roland’s fears to toy with the gunslinger even more. The collection ends with Roland and Jake discussing whether or not its best for Jake to leave Roland, to which Jake decides he will follow Roland no matter what may happen.
I can’t recommend this collection enough. If you’re a fan of The Dark Tower novels and enjoy comics, you should definitely pick this collection up as well as any of the others you can get your hands on. If you haven’t even heard of The Dark Tower, pick these collections up – you’re in for a real treat. The bottom line is: you can’t go wrong with this series!