|The Dark Tower -- The Gunslinger: The Man In Black #1|
On the stands at your local comics shop this week: the first issue of the new Dark Tower arc from Marvel Comics, The Gunslinger: The Man In Black. This five-issue series will be wrapping up The Gunslinger, which has been a fairly satisfactory take on the King novel.
In this newest issue, series plotter and consultant Robin Furth has an essay titled "Wind Through the Keyhole, Continuity and the Dark Tower Comics." It's an interesting read, and I wanted to share some of the conclusions Furth comes to with some of you who might be interested in the comics, but not actually familiar with them. (Incidentally, there is a certain element of Book VII -- the ending of it -- that I will be discussing, so if you haven't read the books, I'd recommend that you GTFO of here for the time being. I'm doing you a favor; trust me.)
Look, I know: this is a geeky thing to worry about, especially for a casual fan. However, it's the type of thing that can drive
psycho obsessed weirdo hardcore fans like me a little nutso. If you ever want to immerse yourself in the swampy waters of canon-fights, just become a Star Trek or Doctor Who fan, go to a sci-fi convention, and sit around; you'll find out, and it won't take long.
Stephen King fans have had to deal with virtually none of this. After all, the man writes books, so, like, anything he says is, by definition, canon. The worst we've had to deal with is the occasional question like whether Jack Sawyer pops up in The Tommyknockers.
The Dark Tower comics changed that somewhat. In struggling for an answer, I've more or less adopted the stance that the comics represent either an earlier incarnation of Roland's life, or a later one. The novels are the novels; the comics are the comics, and while they might be telling a version of the same story, they are not telling a version that takes place in the same chronology as the novels. Even early on in the first arc of the comics, there were enough small differences that I felt very secure in this hypothesis; it also kept me from having to worry overmuch about the canonicity of the comics.
However, as the series went on, the changes became larger and more prevalent. Once the series hit its second arc, in fact, the series was going places that the novels never went. This -- along with the excellent Jae Lee art, and the appendix-like essays that served as backup stories -- was the primary reason for a Towerphile to enjoy the series.
Personally, I very much enjoyed the second and third arcs ("The Long Road Home" and "Treachery"), both of which felt like stories King himself might theoretically have told. Given the fact that King was credited in each of these comics as "Creative Director and Executive Director," it seemed like a logical assumption that he was, at the very least, reading the comics and signing off on each issue as being worthy of being called The Dark Tower. This raised the possibility in my mind that the comics could, theoretically, be seen as divulging hitherto-unknown details about Roland's youth and the larger society in which he grew up. This meant it was possible that I could then apply that new knowledge to an understanding of the events of the novels themselves.
The next two arcs -- "The Fall of Gilead" and "The Battle of Jericho Hill" -- dramatized events that had been obliquely referred to in the novels, and had been painted by King as extremely important events ... but to me, the comics versions of these stories failed almost completely. I could probably give you a huge number of reasons as to why that is the case, if I took the time to review each issue, but that's a task for another day; for now, I'll settle for simply saying that those arcs didn't feel like Stephen King to me. His name was still on them, but I suspected then -- and suspect now -- that he had only the minimal amount of involvement.
Much later, when The Wind Through the Keyhole was released, there were minor details which blatantly contradicted certain events of "The Fall of the Gilead," and as a result rendered its entire storyline -- and, by process of association, the events of "The Battle of Jericho Hill" as well -- irreconcilable with the novels. To be specific, it is mentioned that Roland, upon returning to Gilead after the events of Wizard and Glass (including his matricide), spends a huge amount of time playing nursemaid to Cort, whom he wounded gravely when he used the hawk David against his teacher. In the comics, not only is Cort up and ambulatory upon Roland's return, Roland is thrown in jail after he mistakenly kills Gabrielle. And yet, in The Wind Through the Keyhole, Steven Deschain sends his son to Debaria to deal with the skin-man ... so, clearly, as far as Stephen King is concerned, the events of "The Fall of Gilead" did not happen, at least not as depicted in the comics.
This made me breathe a sigh of relief, because it means I can hope for King to someday write the definitive version of those events. It may well never happen, but it means at least that even if it doesn't, I don't have to accept the less-than-satisfactory events of those arcs of the comics as THE version of the story.
At this point, I suspect that many of you probably have headaches from all the vigorous eye-rolling you've been doing, and I can't blame you; it's easy to get up your own ass a bit when you start worrying about canon. But hey, someone has to be worried about keeping track of all this stuff, and that isn't what blogging is custom-made for, then color me shocked.
In any case, Robin Furth herself sheds some light on these matters in the backup section of the newest issue of the comic:
"When I think about the differences between the novels and the comics -- and there are many of them -- I always keep in mind Jake Chambers' famous phrase, 'there are other worlds than these.' The Dark Tower contains many levels, and within those levels are parallel worlds which mirror each other, but which are not exactly alike.
"I always view the Dark Tower comics as existing in one of these parallel worlds. If the Dark Tower novels exist in Tower Keystone, or the central world of the Dark Tower universe, then the Dark Tower comics exist in a spinoff world, one which is very similar to, but not exactly the same as, the one where The Gunslinger, The Drawing of the Three, The Waste Lands, Wizard and Glass, and the rest of the Dark Tower novels take place."
So, there you have it from Furth herself: these are not the events of the novels (or even a prequel or sequel to them detailing one of Roland's numerous other attempts to gain the Tower) but a parallel version of them.
I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this revelation, but I will say this: it will definitely keep me from worrying so much about how to read the comics. They are officially their own entity, it seems, and ought to be considered that way.
Well, that's about all the fanboy-type wanking I feel like engaging in for the time being. I think there is probably still more to be said on the subject of the comics, but for now, this geek is calling it a day.
After thinking about it for a bit, it occurred to me that I probably ought to give a bit of credit where credit is due for the origins of this particular post. It was inspired in part by the most recent episode of the Gunslinger Quest-Cast, an excellent podcast wherein the hosts are revisiting the books and offering up their commentary on various issues contained therein.
They've made their way up to The Waste Lands now, and in the latest episode talked for a bit about a line from near the beginning where Roland says -- or maybe just thinks to himself -- something about how he never expected to see a female gunslinger. This strongly implies that there has never been a woman wearing the guns, a detail which does not jibe with the comics. I'd totally forgotten about that, and never thought of it while reading the tales of Aileen becoming a gunslinger. (By the way, for the record: I think that was an excellent addition to the story on Robin Furth's part. I seem to recall her making the argument that having Aileen become a gunslinger actually makes Roland mentally prepared for Susannah when she arrives. Works for me!)
I had those thoughts in mind when I read Furth's essay in the recent issue, and the combination made me think there was a blog post in the idea.
So, any of you fellow Towerphiles who have found your way here, go check out the Gunslinger Quest-Cast. You'll be glad you did!