"The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed." Those words opened the first book of Stephen King's "Dark Tower" series, and they open the chilling, richly-drawn "Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born." This intense comic series reintroduces readers to a younger, less cynical Roland, and the harrowing tale of how he became a true gunslinger.
It opens with the gunslinger and the man in black, endlessly pursuing and pursued across the desert, and introduces us to their timeless natures.
Then the comic takes us back many years, to when Roland of Gilead was a teenage boy. He and a bunch of other boys are being tutored by Cort, a bondsman who knows all the fighting tricks, and is supposed to teach them to be gunslingers -- or be exiled forever. And when Roland sees his mother in bed with his father's wizard, Marten, he angrily goes off to take Cort's final challenge.
But when his father comes back to Gilead, he reveals that Roland has been manipulated by Marten. To save Roland's life, he is sent to Hambry on an undercover mission for the Affiliation. There he meets Susan Delgado, a beautiful girl who's been bought as the mayor's gilly. As you can guess, they fall deeply in love.
But Roland is still unaware of the dangers that surround him, or a horrific conspiracy to destroy Gilead and the gunslingers -- led by the distant, demonic Crimson King. As Roland's ka-tet splinters, they are framed for the murder of the local mayor -- and the resulting battle will begin the destruction of everything Roland loves...
"Gunslinger Born" is basically adapted from the flashbacks from Stephen King's "Wizard and Glass" novel, so fans of the book will probably already be acquainted with the tragic story of Roland's past. But it's almost as striking in comic form as in book form.
Part of that comes from Jae Lee and Richard Isanove. A lot of adaptations fall flat ("Anita Blake", anyone?), but their detailed artwork gives vibrant life to the story -- sun-dried fields, ruined buildings, ominously darkened chambers, and faces that seem to be riddled with shadows. There are moments of beauty (Roland and Susan's only tryst) and others of pure ugliness like Roland's fight with Cort, or the face of the shadowed, bloody Crimson King.
But artwork alone doesn't make a comic book good. Robin Furth and Peter David recrafted King's unique prose for this -- the dialogue is spare and understated, while the narration has an ironic, regretful quality, as if Roland himself were telling the readers of his story. It's even peppered with the language of this postapocalyptic world ("... set your watch and warrant on it.")
And we get to see Roland back when he was a brash teenager, very different from the grizzled gunslinger at the start. He's strong, brave and honorable, but also very naive. And we get to see other characters from his past -- his careworn father, the malignant Marten, his first ka-tet of teen boys, and his first, tragic love Susan.
"The Gunslinger Born" is a haunting, dark comic book experience, nearly as intense as the original text by Stephen King. A brilliant piece of work.