Saturday, May 21, 2011

Yer Ties to Reality Are a Might Shaky: "The Little Sisters of Eluria" #3

I'd hoped to have this review posted earlier in the week, but sadly, blogging about Stephen King comics don't pay the internet bill, much less for food and gasoline.  Sad when work keeps you from doing what you'd like to be doing, but that's life, I guess, and mine ain't too shabby compared to the lives a lot of people get stuck leading, so the complaining officially stops ... now.

Actually, the complaining will be starting up again real soon, because I don't much care for issue #3 of "The Little Sisters of Eluria."  Hmm; hypocrisy is no good, so let's think of what's about to happen less as complaining and more as explication of dissatisfaction.  Yeah ... that sounds better ...

My first problem with this issue is with the cover.  Now, don't misunderstand me: taken on the basis of its own merits, it's a really good cover; the silhouettes of the slow mutants are dramatic and creepy, and Richard Isanove's colors -- the hues of sunset, the dusty greyness being stirred up by the battle -- are a great complement to Luke Ross's pencils.

But these wagon-train scouts are not gunslingers; they are, in fact, scouts (which, you see, is why I called them that).  We'll get more into this in a bit, but I've got to take issue with the idea of the scouts being armed with guns at all, and they certainly ought not to have been featured on the cover of the comic firing away like that, as if it was graduation day in Gilead. 

It's okay, don't worry, I'm not about to explode in nerd rage over it ... I'm cool, it's fine.  It's just that a cover like this lessens -- and it's up to you to determine whether it's to a greater degree or to a lesser one -- the impact of seeing Roland wielding his shooters.  It undercuts the entire series of comics, in fact, so, despite the excellent artwork, I am defnitely agin it.  Ain't fur; agin.  Why am I typing in hick pidgin?  Dunno; will stop now.

So that was my first thought about the issue; the cover -- fine though it is on its own -- simply sets the wrong tone from the get-go, and in my opinion, #3 never recovers.

And heck, since we're already here, let's just go ahead and dive into my main problem with it: the gun-wielding scouts, one of whom (John Norman) has ended up in a bed next to Roland, pretending to be his brother and telling him the story that comprises the bulk of the issue.  I know there are other guns in Middle-Earth --

[Heh.  Time out.  See what I did there?  I typed "Middle-Earth" instead of "Mid-World."  That's a typo, of course, but it's one which amuses me, so I'm going to just leave it as is.

Digression ends ... now.]

I know there are other guns in Mid-World than the ones the Gunslingers use.  The most obvious examples are the guns possessed by Jonas, Depape, and Reynolds in Hambry, and perhaps there are others that my mind isn't recollecting immediately.  For the most part, though, guns in King's Dark Tower stories are wielded by Gunslingers, and by Gunslingers alone.  If they are so readily available that these scouts -- who are not (as far as Robin Furth and Peter David are making evident) special in any way, but are merely run-of-the-mill hired hands -- have them, and have enough ammunition to engage in a shootout with slow mutants, then what does that do in terms of impacting the way we view the notion of the Gunslinger?

In my mind, Roland was always something like a Jedi.  In The Empire Strikes Back, it's not like every asshole on Hoth can slice open the undercarriage of an AT-AT ... nosir, it's basically only Luke Skywalker who can do that, because only Jedi (and Darth Vader) get to have lightsabers, and he's the only Jedi on the planet.  Sure, Han Solo is competent enough to gut a Tauntaun with a lightsaber, but could he have lasted more than five seconds in a duel with Darth Vader?  Please; no fucking way, he'd've been demolished. 

Which is why I'd be forced to call bullshit if there were a bunch of rebel scum soldiers running around in the snow decapitating stormtroopers with glowy laser swords that go whum ... whummm ... whum when you swing 'em about.  It might be plausible that they could do it, but it's not consistent with the story conventions that had been set up to that point that they would have the opportunity to do it.

Same deal in Marvel's "The Little Sisters of Eluria."  I don't want to see scouts with guns in The Dark Tower; I only want to see Gunslingers -- and maybe a few villains whom the Gunslingers must then dispatch -- with guns.  It's kinda part of the appeal.  So to see these hayseeds with guns and rifles, blasting away like they're character's in God's favorite first-person shooter ... that's what I call a false note.

I'm surprised that Robin Furth decided to go down this road when plotting this arc of the series.  I'm going to speculate that the demands of turning The Little Sisters of Eluria into a five-issue arc may have made something like this inevitable.  After all, you will notice that very little of this issue's story comes from King's novella; the final six pages, and that's about all.  The issue's main focus is the backstory of John Norman, the telling of the tale of how he came to be an invalid in the care of the Little Sisters.  It may have proven to be a trial to stretch the story from four issues into five, and if Marvel mandated five -- something I'm merely speculating about, bear in mind -- then perhaps that pressure just knocked her off her game a bit.  Or maybe she knows what she's doing better than I do and there's some valid reason for the plot point that I'm simply not thinking of; if that's the case, then please, somebody, point it out to me.

Back to John Norman.  The barest details of his backstory are in King's novella, from which I now quote:
"Speaking in a low voice, John Norman told Roland what he knew of what had happened to him.  He, his brother, and four other young men who were quick and owned good horses had been hired as scouts, riding drogue-and-forward, protecting a long-haul caravan of seven freight wagons taking goods -- seeds, food, tools, mail, and four ordered brides -- to an unincorporated township called Tejuas some two hundred miles farther west of Eluria."   ... "The trio of which John was a part had been riding drogue, about two miles behind the freight wagons, when the green mutants had sprung an ambush in Eluria." ... "He and the other drogue riders galloped into Eluria, but the fight was over by the time they got there.  Men had been lying about, some dead but many more still alive."  ...  "Norman and the other two had tried to fight.  He had seen one of his pards gutshot by an arrow, and then he saw no more -- someone had cracked him over the head from behind, and the lights had gone out."  (Chapter IV)
You may notice a couple of things here in comparing King's story with the comic.  Firstly, the ambush in the hills does not happen in the novella; the trap is not sprung until the wagon train reaches Eluria itself.  Secondly, though it is clear that a fight occurs, there is no mention of gunplay being a part of it. 

I will play devil's advocate to myself, however, and bring up the possibility of interpreting King's text to allow for the possibility of guns.  After all, John is riding about two miles behind the main party, and yet he arrives in Eluria at a gallop; might it have been the sound of gunshots which spurred him and his pards to begin galloping in the first place?  Advocating for the devil now ceases: sure, it might have been gunshots which alerted them, but the screams of the slow mutant's victims would likely have served just as well.  There may or may not have been gunshots, but there would definitely have been screams.

Considering that, it seems unlikely that King had any thoughts that the scouts would have possessed firearms.

So why, then, did Robin Furth and Peter David make this particular choice?  Might it indeed have been at the insistence of an executive at Marvel -- one of the owners of those names inside the front of each issue's cover, perhaps -- who felt that the issue needed more punch?  Maybe si; maybe no.  Whoever had the idea, someone else ought to have vetoed it; it was a bad call, Ripley ... a bad call.  It's one of the rare instances of these comics making a serious misstep.  It doesn't derail the entire story arc -- only this issue of it -- but it was still a poor creative choice, in my opinion (which is by no means unimpeachable, and if you ever catch me pretending that it is, you call me out on that shit right away).

Here's another misstep; this one is less severe by far, but somehow equally disappointing.  In King's novella, we find out a bit more about John Norman:
"When Norman awoke, he and the gunslinger spoke briefly of the young scout's home -- Delain, it was, sometimes known jestingly as Dragon's Lair, or Liar's Heaven.  All tall tales were said to originate in Delain."  (Chapter V)
Delain, of course, is the fantastical land in which King's The Eyes of the Dragon is set.  There is no mention of this in the comics, which is a shame; it would have been a fun tie-in with that novel, and might even have served as a good opportunity to bring in Flagg in some way.  A shame that didn't happen.

Now, lest you think I hated everything about the issue, allow me to state for the record that I did not.  Certainly, there's no need to hold Ross and Isanove accountable for missteps in the story department; they both brought their A-game to the issue, and the wagon-train and gunfight elements are beautifully rendered by the pair of them.  I particularly love the bottom panel on page 6, with the green folk peering down crazily at the unsuspecting wagon-train.  They remind me a bit of the Tusken Raiders in Star Wars, and it's an apt enough comparison.  Apart from that panel, though, there is plenty of other effective artwork to be found, including John's barely-conscious glimpse of the Sisters approaching him after his having been waylaid by the mutants.

Hmm.  That was too positive.  I feel like complaining explicating my dissatisfaction some more.  And somebody -- I don't know if it was scripter Peter David, or letterer Vc's Rus Wooton, whose name is awesomely unpronounceable -- gave me a terrific opportunity to do so.

On page 11, there is some dialogue that has gone astray.  "Y'know," says Abraham to John, "might've seemed disrespectful, what your brother said ... but there were merit to it as well.  Whether he's here or a cemetery, Ray here is dead as dirt.  We got living people still counting on us."  There are two people and two people alone in this scene, and it is clearly (given the dialogue) Abraham speaking to John and not the other way around.  However, the dialogue balloon has been aimed at John, not at Abraham.  This is the type of editorial error that ought never to happen; it's really rather inexcusable.

And it happens again three pages later; it's even worse this time, because the art itself seems flubbed, almost as though Luke Ross just plain failed to draw what he was supposed to draw.  "Jimmy!", John shouts as he arrives in the midst of the fight, clearly glad to see his brother still alive.  "Thank God!  Are the women alive?!  And the drivers?!"  Thing is, "John" is with two other men when he says this, and is clearly already in the town, under attack; John's dialogue has mistakenly been given to Jimmy. 

In the next panel, Jimmy's answering dialogue -- "Two drivers dead.  Them and the womenfolk were taken.  Don't know where." -- is also misattributed, to some goateed scout who is fighting alongside Jimmy.  Making it even worse, you can clearly see both John and Abraham arriving in Eluria in the background of this panel: John, already off his horse, is sprinting toward his brother, and Abraham is in the process of dismounting his horse.

If I may continue to nitpick, the dialogue from which this post's title derives comes in this same panel.  Although I must say ... it's not nitpicking to point out that "might," in this instance, ought to have been spelled "mite."  No, that's not nitpicking; it's editing, which was clearly sorely in need on this particular issue.

Once John finishes telling Roland his tale, the remainder of the issue returns to elements of the story more drawn from King's novella, such as the gunslinger suffering the effects of the Sisters' soup and then finding the reeds Jenna places beneath his pillow.  So the issue does end on a strong note, one of hope, in which we learn -- in case we didn't already know -- that the gunslinger's bacon may yet be pulled out of the grease in time to be saved.  There is, on page 21, another lovely panel depicting Jenna: she is holding the reeds and a candle, looking down on Roland with what I take to be loving pity, or pitying love, or perhaps just resigned despair for her lot in life.

That particular panel is good stuff.  Much of this issue, unfortunately, is not.

Happily, the final two issues fare better (as does "The Dark Bells," the short story which begins in the back of issue No. 3), and as soon as I can, I'll be back with reviews of them.

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