Saturday, September 7, 2013

A Review of "The Stand Vol. 1: Captain Trips"

When the time rolled around to blog about The Stand, my initial plan was to cover first the novel, then the miniseries, and finally the comics; and  that seemed like a good plan.  However, I found the novel to be too daunting to deal with in the way I wished, at least for now; my plan was to cover the entire thing, chapter by chapter, and if I had pursued those intentions, I'd still be working on it.  The result would have been a book about The Stand.  It's a great idea, and I think I could, in theory, do a good job with it.  But I think I need a bit more discipline before tackling it; so it's been shoved to the back burner, and there it will sit for what will probably end up being several more years.
However, I figured that while I was still in the vicinity of the novel (having reread it earlier this summer), it would make sense to go ahead and plow through the retrospectives on the miniseries and the comics.  I did the posts on the miniseries a few weeks ago: they can be found here, here, here, here, and, sort of, here.
And so, here we are, launching the reviews of the comic-book adaption.  I've been looking forward to doing these; I read the series issue-by-issue when it came out, and occasionally found myself extremely frustrated by the pace, which (I thought) didn't work well on a month-by-month basis.  As a result, my enthusiasm for the series was extremely muted, and when it concluded I felt more or less indifferent to the whole thing.  But by that time, I had launched this blog (the first version of it, at least), and I knew that at some point in time, I'd sit down and reread the entire series.  I wondered if the compressed time-span would make a difference.

The answer to that question is yes.  I still have problems with some of it (almost entirely focused on certain aspects of the art), but overall, I found it to be a very enjoyable piece of work.  It hangs together quite well, both as an adaptation of the novel and as a series of comics.  And frankly, the fact that Marvel was able to finish the series using the same writer, artist, and color artist on every single issue is amazing.  Compare this to the fact that this year, over at Vertigo, editorial was unable to keep a creative team together for a mere seven issues of their Django Unchained adaptation.  They made some horrendous decisions in terms of who to bring in a fill-in artists, and it (for my money) ruined that adaptation.  Comparatively, on The Stand, Marvel kept the same core trio for THIRTY-ONE consecutive issues (the entire run)!

Even if I didn't like the adaptation, I'd be impressed and gratified by the consistency.  I thought that was well worth praising a bit right here at the outset, in case I forget to mention it later and end up taking it for granted.  It definitely should not be taken for granted.

So, let's dive in and start the dissection.  The format is going to be like this: one post for each of the six collections (or graphic novels, if you prefer), plus one concluding post for the Omnibus edition.  Within each post, I'm going to cover the issues that are collected in that particular edition, complete with cover galleries and synopses; I think I'll give you a complete rundown of what the issues contained on a page-by-page basis.  That strikes me as being a valuable reference tool.  The synopses/summaries won't be overly detailed; I assume most people reading this already know the story.  Giving the basics as a point of reference seems okay-ish to me, though.

Either way, after summarizing each issue I'll turn to the graphic novel itself and we'll just see what happens.  I'll think my thinks and tell you about them, and where we go is wherever we go.

Sound good?  Well, then, let's hit the road; Vegas is a-waitin'...

cover to the premiere hardback edition, art by Lee Bermejo and Laura Martin

I'm not a fan of that cover, to be honest.  It's bound to make people think that Randall Flagg IS Captain Trips, unless they already know better.  And while I like the middle image of Flagg, I don't really know what the two on either side are trying to communicate.

Speaking of the perils of communication, what do we think about Captain Trips as a title for Vol. 1?  Personally, I'm not a fan of that, either.  Then again, I'm not a fan of "Captain Trips" being used as a moniker for the superflu; so maybe I'm just biased, but I can't quite grasp why anyone in-story would call the superflu by that name.  If I understand the nickname correctly, "Captain Trips" is a designation you give to someone who is really, really high, possibly on a regular basis.  I mean, drooling-on-themselves, unresponsive, semi-catatonic high.  Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead was either an origin point for this, or was so commonly in that state of affairs that he was given the nickname and it stuck.  Dude has a biography titled after it.  (I'm tempted to buy a used copy, just to see if it sheds any light on this issue.)  I don't see any Garcia connection; maybe there's some sort of a Grateful Dead pun that I'm missing out on.  But it seems more likely that the idea has to be that the superflu has knocked people on their ass the way a super-duper jolt of LSD might do.  Except for all the snot and the tube-neck and whatnot.  I don't know; it doesn't quite make sense to me.

As such, I think that this title is a little counter-productive.  Scripter Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa does not make the concept clear.  How could he?  Stephen King -- probably assuming that people in 1978 would get the reference -- didn't make the concept clear, either.  At least not for me.  And my guess is that a lot of people are confused by it.  Some of them may not even know they're confused; they may not get that it's a reference, they may just think it's some weird nickname for the flu, and that that is its only significance.  Either way, I assume Jerry Garcia fans resent the connection; harshes their mellow, even.

So for me, a different title for this first arc of the comic would have preferable.  Project Blue, maybe? Rough BeastsThings Fall ApartThe PlagueThe Fall?  (That last one would have a certain symmetry with "The Stand.")  America Shits the Bed?  I dunno.  I think I might vote for Project Blue.

Don't get me wrong; Captain Trips as a title doesn't bother me all that much.  It bothers me just enough that I wanted to mention it, though, and that being concluded, let's move on, and take a look at the contents of the individual issues.

The Stand Sketchbook

published July 2, 2008

Not technically a part of Captain Trips, I figured this comic was nevertheless worth covering briefly.  It was a promotional tool that comic-book shops used as a giveaway, in the hopes of getting customers interested in buying the actual series when it hit shelves a couple of months later.

There's nothing here that could be considered essential.  It was basically a sneak-peek at what the book was going to look like.  For fans, though, it's worth checking out.  There are lots of sketches (some color, most black and white), including character sketches with quotes from members of the creative team.  Here's a badass promo image of Flagg that was used as a cover for the second printing of Captain Trips #1:

art by Mike Perkins and Laura Martin

For those of you who are intrigued by this, don't feel as if you need to track down a copy of the sketchbook itself; all seventeen pages of it appear at the back of the Captain Trips graphic novel.  (Or, at least, they do in the hardback copy I own; I assume the paperback editions include it, as well, but I can't say for sure.)

The Stand: Captain Trips #1

published September 10, 2008 (cover date December 2008)

regular cover, art by Lee Bermejo and Laura Martin

variant cover, art by Mike Perkins and Laura Martin

sketch variant cover, art by Mike Perkins

The covers for this premiere issue are a bit of a mixed bag for me.  I like the Lee Bermejo one; his take on Flagg is menacing and powerful.  I'm less enthralled by the Mike Perkins variant, and indeed -- spoilers! -- I have major issues with the way Perkins depicts Flagg throughout the series.  That element is one of my most serious gripes about Marvel's adaptation.  We'll get into that a lot more as these reviews progress, but the short-hand version of my malcontent is this: what is Flagg doing with his hands?  Beckoning to us?  I don't find that take on Flagg to be even the tiniest bit scary.

Good news for you: if you do find it to be scary, you're going to love Perkins' design for Flagg, and you will see a lot more of it.

The contents:
  • Page 1: epigraphs from Blue Öyster Cult, Bruce Springsteen, Country Joe and the Fish, and Edward Dorn.  (This page was not included in the graphic novel.)
  • Pages 2-4: Charlie Campion wakes his family up and the trio go on the run away from Project Blue.
  • Page 5: advertisement for Samurai Legend.  (All ads were removed from the collected editions, as is always the case.  I will not bother to mention that every time.)
  • Pages 6-8: Stu and the other men at Hap's gas station; Campion crashes the car
  • Page 9: ad for Duma Key
  • Pages 10-11: Fran and Jess in Ogunquit; Fran tells Jess she is pregnant, and that she does not want to marry him.
  • Pages 12-15: in Arnette, Stu and company pull Campion out of the car and see how sick he is (also discovering his family's corpses).
  • Pages 16-21: in Brooklyn, Larry reminisces on his recent rock 'n' roll successes and personal failures, and then has a talk with his mother.
  • Pages 22-23: in Arnette, Norm Bruett is getting sick.
  • Pages 24-27: Joe Bob Brentwood talks to Hap, Stu, and Vic and tells them about pathologists showing up.  Stu suggests closing the station for the day.  [Note: page 25 is an ad for a Marvel comics adaptation of The Wizard of Oz.]
  • Page 28: ad for Marvel's Universal War One.
  • Pages 29-32: pages from The Stand Sketchbook, featuring character sketches of Stu, Frannie, and Larry.

The Stand: Captain Trips #2 

published October 8, 2008 (cover date December 2008)

regular cover, art by Lee Bermejo and Laura Martin

variant cover, art by Mike Perkins and Laura Martin

promo image for sketch variant cover, art by Lee Bermejo [sorry for the poor quality; I couldn't find a larger image of this one]

That Lee Bermejo cover is very cool; he did some great work on this series.  He only completed the first three arcs (out of six total) before moving on to other projects, but don't fret; Tomm Coker, who took over cover duties, did great work, too.

The Mike Perkins variant introduces us to the love/hate triangle that forms between Frannie, Stu, and Harold, and never you mind that none of them ever appear in New York.  Doesn't matter.  It's just a design thing.  In fact, Perkins did a variant cover for each of the five issues of Captain Trips, and when put together the five form a single montage image.  Do I own those five variant issues?  I do not.  Maybe someday.

In fact, I don't own a single variant cover from the entirety of The Stand.  I'm only occasionally interested enough in variant covers to buy them.  I probably didn't even know that Marvel was doing variants at the time The Stand began, though, or I probably would have sprung for them.  Probably not the sketch variants, though; those are cool, but not cool enough for me to buy a third issue of a single comic.

The contents:
  • Page 1: "Previously in The Stand" recap (omitted from collected editions).
  • Pages 2-3: at Project Blue headquarters, Bill Starkey and Len Creighton discuss the direness of the situation.
  • Pages 4-5: montage of the superflu spreading, beginning with Joe Bob Brentwood.
  • Pages 6-7: Stu refuses to submit to more tests at the CDC in Atlanta.  (Note that his removal from Arnette to Atlanta has occurred off-stage, as it were.  I believe this is also the case in the novel.)
  • Page 8: "Classic King" ad for The Shining, from Doubleday.
  • Pages 9-11: Fran tells her father she is pregnant.
  • Pages 12-15: Nick Andros is beaten up by Ray Booth and friends.  [Note: page 14 is another "Classic King" ad, this time for 'Salem's Lot.]
  • Pages 16-17: Larry wakes up after a one-night-stand with a woman whose name he can't even remember, and when he bails, she screams at him, saying he "ain't no nice guy!"  He goes to the movies and (apparently) sees one of the Nightmare on Elm Street films.
  • Pages 18-19: in Shoyo, Arkansas, Nick wakes up in jail, though not under arrest, and meets Sheriff Baker.
  • Pages 20-23: Stu meets Dr. Deitz, who tells him that he can't give him much info on his situation because it's classified.  [Note: page 22 is a Night Shift ad, another in the "Classic King" series.  Doubleday must have figured this comic would be read by large numbers of people who were not normally Stephen King readers.]
  • Pages 24-27: Stu has a nightmare about being in a cornfield, and is menaced by a man with no face.  This is the first appearance of Randall Flagg, who appeared on the cover(s) of issue #1 but nowhere inside the issue itself.  [Note: page 26 is an ad for Marvel's Samurai Legend.]
  • Pages 28-29: an interview with Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa from San Diego Comic Con 2008.  (This interview is not included in the graphic novel, but is included in The Stand Companion, which is part of the two-volume Omnibus edition.)
  • Pages 30-32: three pages from The Stand Sketchbook.

The Stand: Captain Trips #3

published November 12, 2008 (cover date January 2009)

regular cover, art by Lee Bermejo and Laura Martin

promo image for variant sketch cover, art by Lee Bermejo
variant cover, art by Mike Perkins and Laura Martin

The Bermejo cover of Lloyd and Poke is pretty damn great; very menacing, and satisfying art in and of itself.

I also like the Perkins variant with Larry on the cover.  Remember me complaining about Perkins' design for Flagg?  Well, I've got similar issues with his design for Larry (more on which later), except that I feel Perkins really captures Larry every once in a while.  This is one of those times.

The contents:
  • Page 1: "Previously in The Stand" recap (omitted from collected editions).
  • Page 2: a nurse in the Atlanta CDC has unknowingly contracted Captain Trips, and is romaing the hallways unwittingly infecting others.
  • Pages 3-7: Lloyd and Poke stop in to "make a withdrawal" from a gas station.  Things go poorly.
  • Pages 8-10: Fran tells her mother that she is pregnant.  Things go poorly.
  • Pages 11-14: at Sheriff Baker's house, the Sheriff is ill, and his wife volunteers Nick to serve as an impromptu deputy and go take care of the prisoners at the jail.  Nick does so, then dreams that he is walking through a cornfield, with something terrible following somewhere behind him.
  • Pages 15-17: Larry's mother is getting sick, and to keep from getting on her nerves, he goes and despondently sees a bit of the city.
  • Pages 18-21: Creighton informs General Starkey of a situation with some journalists having found out a bit too much, so Starkey orders that the journalists be stopped with extreme prejudice.
  • Pages 22-23: having been relocated to a CDC in Vermont, Stu notices that his captors are now treating him much more tangibly as someone who is expendable; he wonders if he is ever going to see the light of day again.
  • Pages 24-25: a Q&A with series Senior Editor Ralph Macchio; no, not the one from The Karate Kid.  (Omitted from collected editions, but included in The Stand Companion.)
  • Pages 26-27: script-to-final comparisons for pages 2 and 18.
  • Page 28: an ad for Night Shift.
  • Pages 29-32: pencil-art previews for issue #4.  (Omitted from collected editions; included in The Stand Companion.)

The Stand: Captain Trips #4

published January 2, 2009 (cover date February 2009)

regular cover, art by Lee Bermejo and Laura Martin

variant cover, art by Mike Perkins and Laura Martin

sketch variant cover, art by Lee Bermejo

Another excellent Mermejo cover: his Larry is resigned, weary, uncertain.  I also like the Dutch-angle view on things.

The Perkins variant features Trashcan Man, looking a bit more puckish and well-fed than he will look elsewhere in the comic.

The contents:
  • Page 1: "Previously in The Stand" recap (omitted from collected editions).
  • Page 2: Nick tends to his prisoners.
  • Pages 3-5: Fan takes two phone calls: from Jess (whom she still doesn't wish to marry) and her father (who tells her that her mother is sick with flu).
  • Pages 6-7: Larry calls a bartender friend in Los Angeles, who tells him that things on the west coast are getting ugly.
  • Pages 8-10: Lloyd is visited by his lawyer.
  • Pages 11-13: Nick talks to Doc Soames, who tells him that soldiers seem to have closed Shoyo off to traffic.  He advises Nick to try and sneak out through the fields, but Nick has people to tend to, and won't.
  • Pages 14-16: Larry's mother is deathly ill, and he can only get a recorded message when he calls the hospital.
  • Pages 17-19: Fran and her father console each other; her mother has been carried away in an ambulance that had six people in the back.
  • Pages 20-22: at Project Blue, Starkey -- who has been relieved of duty by the President -- wanders down into the plague-infested cafeteria, and kills himself.
  • Page 23: "Randall Flagg, the dark man, strode south on U.S. 51."
  • Pages 24-25: an uplifting article about six real-life diseases "that shook the world."  (Omitted from collected editions, but included in The Stand Companion.)
  • Pages 26-27: script-to-final comparisons for pages 5 and 8.
  • Page 28: cover process (only included in The Stand Companion).
  • Pages 29-32: pencil-art previews for issue #5.

The Stand: Captain Trips #5

published on January 28, 2009 (cover date March 2009)

regular cover, art by Lee Bermejo and Laura Martin

variant cover, art by Mike Perkins and Laura Martin

promo image for sketch variant cover, art by Lee Bermejo

One of THE best covers for the entire series; the Bermejo sketch image is great enough, but the final version with the Laura Martin colors is even better.  The image does not correspond to anything specific in the issue itself.  In fact, it makes me think of the scene in part 4 of the miniseries when Flagg is sitting in the rain after having torn Bobby Terry (played by Sam Raimi) to pieces.  Intellectually, I'm kind of a purist in the sense that I wish the covers to comics would actually represent the contents; realistically, I don't care a whole lot, especially when the results are as cool as this cover is.

The Perkins variant shows us an eyepatch-free Nick, as well as Tom, who will not show up until the next arc of the series.  So clearly, the contents of the issue were secondary here, as well.  Shrugs all around.

The contents:
  • Page 1: "Previously in The Stand" recap (omitted from collected editions).
  • Pages 2-4: Flagg walks the countryside, and we learn a bit about the effect he has on people.
  • Page 5: flyers screaming "THERE IS NO SUPERFLU VACCINE!" are posted on the University of Kentucky campus.
  • Pages 6-7: a television reporter in Boston reports on bodies being dumped into the ocean.
  • Page 8: Flagg's trek continues.
  • Pages 9-10: the Los Angeles Times prints a one-page special edition: "WEST COAST IN GRIP OF PLAGUE EPIDEMIC."
  • Pages 11-12: "Flagg was known, well known, along the highways in hiding that are traveled by the poor and the mad..."
  • Page 13: Ray Flowers, a radio host in Springfield, Missouri, begins talking about Captain Trips.
  • Page 14: a newspaper publisher in Durbin, West Virginia dies while distributing a special edition.
  • Pages 15-18: a montage of shit hitting the fan from New York to Ogunquit to Shoyo to Boston to Los Angeles.
  • Pages 19-23: Flagg's trek continues, and we find out more about his past.  "He knew it was almost time to be reborn...else, why could he suddenly do magic?"
  • Pages 24-25: a two-page spread of the variant covers.  (Omitted from the collected edition, but I think it's in The Stand Companion.)
  • Pages 26-27: script-to-final comparisons of pages 1 and 21.
  • Pages 28-29: "A Long Strange Trips," an interview with Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, which really ought to have been included in the collected editions, but is not.  You can find it in The Stand Companion.
  • Pages 30-32: an interview with Lee Bermejo about his covers.  Omitted from the collected editions, but present in The Stand Companion.  Good stuff.

Alright, so, let's move into the analysis phase of things.  To serve as a bit of transition, here is a collage version of the five Mike Perkins variant covers.  It's necessarily small so as to fit on the page, but click on the image if you want a closer look, and a closer look shall be thine.

I'm a sucker for that sort of thing.  I'm a sucker in general, but for high-concept stunts like that, I'm hella a sucker.  So much so that whereas when I began writing this post, I owned zero of these variant covers, as I type these words, I have placed an order for copies of each.  And yes, I ordered two of each, one for archival purposes, and one so as to actually be able to create one of these collages and hang it up on the wall.  How big a dork am I?

Alright, so; let's now look at Vol. 1: Captain Trips as a whole.  The premiere hardcover was published on March 11, 2009, according to my records.  I listed the publication dates for the single issues, so I figured I'd better follow suit for the graphic novel.

Viewed as a single volume, the story of Captain Trips is twofold: the rough beasts that are Captain Trips and Randall Flagg slouch their way toward Bethlehem. Or, in other words, Captain Trips is about the collapse of society and the near-end of the human race.  Cheerful stuff, but this section of the novel remains arguably the most popular thing Stephen King has ever written.  Why is that, do you suppose?  Well, I think it's partially that people just like watching things be torn down, but I think there's more to it than that.  Many of us crave catharsis, because we all believe that the odds are fair that something like this might actually happen during our lifetimes.  Through something like The Stand, we get to cathartically experience what it would be like to die in a plague, and we simultaneously receive the catharsis of surviving it.  It scratches all of our itches in that regard.

That's a reason for the popularity of any similar apocalyptic fiction, though.  The popularity of The Stand itself comes down more to King's facility for creating memorable characters, as well as the strength of his prose.

Series scripter Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa does a very good job of translating King's novel into a comic-book format.  As I mentioned earlier, the series suffers a bit if you read it a single issue at a time, with a month between each (and several months between arcs); but reading it all at once, very little of that is apparent.

Aguirre-Sacasa is a versatile writer who, for the last decade or so, has bounced back and forth between several different media: he has written for the stage, for television (three episodes of Big Love and five episodes of Glee), for comics, and for film (the upcoming remake of Carrie).  My gut tells me that someone who can do that is probably a good pick to adapt a story from one medium to another, and if The Stand is any evidence, my gut is right.

One of the first things you will notice is that Aguirre-Sacasa is adapting the expanded 1990 edition of the novel, not the original 1978 edition.  He follows the text relatively closely; lots of scenes and details are left out, but he does a good job of deciding what to keep and what to jettison.

We begin, as does the novel, with Charlie Campion, scooping his wife and child up in the middle of the night and going on the run from Project Blue.  We don't know why they are running; but we know that Charlie is near panic, and determined to get away as quickly as possible.

Nearly right off the bat, I find that I have to complain about the artwork a bit.  The art comes courtesy of two people: Mike Perkins and Laura Martin.  The way their duties break down is something like this: Perkins first draws the art as black-and-white pencil drawings, and Martin takes those and adds color.  I have no doubt that that is a "Comics Art For Dummies"-level explanation, so for anyone in the biz who happens to read this and is currently shaking their head at how insufficient the explanation is, I apologize.  Please feel free to correct me in the comments.

I mention it as a means of establishing the way in which I will be referring to Perkins and Martin during the course of these reviews.  In assessing the art, I will primarily be talking about Perkins; if I refer to Martin, I will be specifically referring to the way the scene is colored.  This is not to suggest that one had no influence on the other; it is merely to delineate things for ease of reference.

With that established, let's have a look at a panel of Campion and family fleeing:

Captain Trips #1, page 3, panel 1

The idea here is that Charlie has done that thing where you put your finger in your mouth to get your fingertip wet, and then use the finger to test the direction of the wind.  With the dialogue, that comes across.  But if you remove the dialogue, it looks like he's standing there and lecturing his wife about something, probably just after having had an idea of some sort.  The moment creates a sort of disjointed effect wherein I feel as if I'm being told one thing and shown another.

On the one hand, Perkins is probably the most natural candidate in terms of who to blame this on.  (Assuming you agree that blame needs to be assigned; you may not.)  But let's not be hasty: give Aguirre-Sacasa some of that blame, too.  In many comics, the scripter is the person who determines how many panels will appear on each page, and what the content of each panel will be.  In that sense, a scripter can be like a movie's director (making the penciler the actor, and the colorist the cinematographer, I suppose).  Not all comics work that way, but going by the evidence supplied in the sample script-to-final excerpts that appeared on occasion throughout the series, it was the case on this one.  So the odds are good that Aguirre-Sacasa specified that in this one panel, we needed to simultaneously see Sally and Baby LaVon dashing toward the car and Charlie testing the wind's direction with his finger.  And at the same time, there are five lines of dialogue.

That is a difficult row to hoe for an artist, and if I say that I feel Perkins didn't quite pull it off, let's be clear: there are times when an artist is only as good as his scripter.

Now, to be even clearer: this is not a major problem, in and of itself.  It's a problem that pops up again and again during the course of the series, which is a major problem; but even that is not insurmountable.  The series survives it, and there are way more great panels that succeed, rather than fail, in terms of being in sync with the script.  It's probably going to be a challenge for me to not harp on the moments that are less successful, so in case that ends up proving out, let me state now: I think the art on this series is frequently terrific.  Hopefully, I won't forget to praise the praiseworthy panels along the way.

Speaking of which, looking back at that panel of the Campions, let's admire the colors of Laura Martin for a moment.  The entire page -- and the next -- has that purplish hue, which story-wise indicates that sun is coming up in the desert.  But it also can't help but remind you of a huge bruise; and indeed, though the world is not yet aware of the fact, it just received a really, really stupendous bruise.

From there, we meet Stu Redman and the rest of the gang at Hap's Texaco in Arnette, Texas.  Stu is arguably the main character of the novel, so obviously, he's an incredibly important element of the comic books.  Let's have a look at his page from The Stand Sketchbook, to see how Perkins envisioned him.

The idea of Stu being an Everyman is one that comes straight from King himself, and it's the right approach.  The consequence, however, is that Stu is maybe one of the least-compelling characters in the entire novel.  Compared to Larry, or Nick, or Fran, or Harold, he's a bit bland and uninteresting.  That's okay; it doesn't hurt the novel at all, and his lack of characteristics allow us to sort of imprint ourselves upon him.

Things work a bit differently in a visual medium.  In a movie, for example, you would need a strong actor to play the role.  Gary Sinise fits that bill nicely in the 1994 miniseries.  A modern remake would need someone who is either a star or is prime star material: a John Hamm, or a Ryan Gosling, or a Denzel Washington, or a Chris Hemsworth, or a Hugh Jackman.  Some of those actors are too old, and one is black whereas the Stu of the novel is white; but you get the point.  You can't just put a nobody in the role; you have to put in an actor who is capable of playing an Everyman.  And yet, you want him to be distinctive enough that he pops off the screen, the same way King is able to make Stu pop off the page with his dialogue and perspective.  I'd argue all five of those fellows have that ability.

Similarly, for a comic book, you want an Everyman to be able to pop off the page visually.  Here, I think the adaptation fails.  This version of Stu Redman doesn't look like anything.  Perkins has aimed for "average" and hit "boring."

In this early panel, Perkins struggles with figuring out how to draw Stu at an odd angle:

Captain Trips #1, page 7, panel 4

Here's something that I bet never occurred to a lot of people (it didn't occur to me until writing this): it must be damned difficult for an artist to know how to draw a character consistently from every conceivable angle.  Now, me...?  I can't draw a circle.  I couldn't even begin to draw a panel like the one above; you could give me ten years to do it, and I would fail miserably.  So when I criticize Mike Perkins for having "failed" to successfully draw Stu from this particular angle, please understand that failure is an extremely relative concept.  Still, I don't think Perkins quite pulled it off here; that really doesn't look anything like Stu.

Let's balance the scales out now with a panel that I think works terrifically well:

Captain Trips #1, page 8, panel 2

KER-RRASSHHH!, indeed.  I reached for my phone to call Geico just now.

Having met Stu, let's now meet Frannie Goldsmith:

I think Perkins' design for Frannie works pretty well; it's versatile, it's charming, and it's appropriate.  When I say "appropriate," what I mean is that Perkins' design communicates Frannie's essential intelligence, resilience, and strength.  These are qualities that, arguably, were missing from Molly Ringwald's portrayal of Frannie in the miniseries; if Perkins, Aguirre-Sacasa, and company had gotten it wrong, it would have been doubly a shame, considering how poorly the miniseries did in that regard.

Right off the bat, though, we get a good sense of who Frannie is and how she behaves.  Let's look at several examples from her first two pages:

Captain Trips #1, page 10, panels 3-5

Captain Trips #1, page 11, panels 3-5

I think Perkins gets a lot of emotion -- and a wide variety of emotions -- into these panels.

Two criticisms:

First, there's a typo on Aguirre-Sacasa's part -- or, possibly, on the part of letterer Chris Eliopoulos: in the novel, it's "Ovril," not "Orvil."  Just sayin'.

Second, let's briefly consider Jess (whom Frannie calls "Jesse" here, you'll note).  There's nothing wrong with the design of the character, in general terms.  However, I feel the need to point out that he bears a passing similarity to Harold Lauder, which means that later in the series when Frannie and Harold are sharing scenes together, it's almost like she's with a fatter, younger, eviller specter of Jess.  That isn't a problem; in fact, it may be an advantage, of sorts.  But regardless of whether you think it's a good thing or a bad thing, it's A thing, of some sort.  This is an area where a visual adaptation of a prose novel can have effects upon the material that the original author may never have considered.

Again, I don't think that's a bad thing, necessarily; I just wonder the extent to which Aguirre-Sacasa and Perkins were aware of it.

For our next topic, we have to cover a comics-related concept: the "splash page."  Some of you will have heard that phrase before, but many of you will be unfamiliar with it.  A splash page is a page (or, sometimes, a two-page spread) dominated by a single panel or image.  Comics, as a medium, tends to traffic in multi-panel pages.  Scripters and artists will use panel layouts to direct a reader's eye across the page, or for dramatic impact, and the more complex the work, the more complex the panel layouts tend to be.  Done well, the layouts themselves are an integral part of the process.

The layouts for The Stand are fairly basic, averaging 4-6 panels per page.  The eyes becomes accustomed to the multiplicity of panels over time, and here is where the splash page becomes interesting: done well, it serves as a moment of genuine impact, somewhat akin to a jump-scare in a horror movie, or a surprise belly-laugh in a comedy.  No matter the specifics, the intent of a splash page is always to draw the eye and make the reader aware that what they are seeing is a crucial moment.

Here is the first splash page in The Stand, which comes on page 13 of the first issue:

Well, brother/sister, if that doesn't horrify you, I pity the life you must be leading.  Perkins and Martin knocked the ball out of the park on this panel, and then flung the bat after the ball, hit the ball in midair, and knocked it even farther.

Somebody in editorial made a miscalculation, however, and allowed the splash page to come on the right-hand side of the book, rather than the left.
Let me explain what I mean by that.  Most splash pages are intended to catch the reader by surprise, which means that a reader will see them when the page is turned.  The eye is drawn to them immediately; that is practically a reflex action, and can only be avoided with conscious effort.  So the ideal place for a splash page is on the left-hand side of the book; that way, when you turn a page, BAM!, there it is.  If it's on the right-hand side, the same thing happens, except that you then have to go back and read the left-hand page to see what you missed.

Here is the page that preceded the above splash page:

That's a good page, and the final panel clearly leads you to expect that something horrible is going to be present in the next panel.  Thanks to the layout, though, you've already seen the splash page; the surprise has been lessened.  It's an unfortunate layout miscalculation.  What's odd is that the collected edition fails to rectify the mistake; many graphic novels, in order to keep the splash pages in the right place, will occasionally add an extraneous page somewhere near the beginning -- a random design, or sometimes even just a blank page.  Captain Trips, for whatever reason doesn't; not even the omnibus edition.

It's a bit of a shame.  Not the end of the world, though, and it doesn't make the splash page itself any less impressive.

Next up, we are introduced to another of the novel's main characters: Larry Underwood.  Let's have a look at the sketch page:

Now, I've got no way or proving this, but I believe Perkins may have had Bruce Springsteen in mind when "casting" Larry Underwood.  King himself mentioned Springsteen as being a good casting idea for the role in the introduction to the 1990 edition.  Even in 1990, Springsteen might have been a bit too old for the role, but let's go back a few years and have a look-see:

Seems about right.

In any case, we meet Larry, and we get a bit more of his backstory than we received from the miniseries.  Aguirre-Sacasa crams most of it into three pages, and makes another typo: the novel's "Wayne Stukey" has become "Wayne Stuckey."  No matter what name he's going by, I'm glad to see him pop up here.  Larry is my favorite character in the novel, and -- like several other people within its pages -- is interesting enough that if King were to write an alternative version of the novel, one where the superflu never hit and nobody's life got shaken up, I'd be perfectly happy to just keep reading about Larry's struggles as an up-and-coming none-too-responsible rock musician.

That might sound ridiculous, but think about it for a second: part of the reason The Stand works is that it gives us a sense of lives -- some mundane like Stu's, some interesting like Larry's and Nick's, some a mix like Frannie's -- being interrupted.  These seem like real people; we care about them even before the shit hits the fan; as a result, when the shit does hit the fan, it is more impactful.

The comics don't quite manage to replicate that.  To do Larry's backstory justice, you would need more than three pages; you'd need an entire issue.  A comic-book series can be more expansive than a television miniseries, but even it has its limits; and sadly, things like Larry's backstory had to be truncated.

Aguirre-Sacasa did a good job of picking what to leave in, though, not merely with Larry, but in general.  For example, I love this two-page sequence, which appears in Chapter Two of Captain Trips (i.e., issue #2):

Captain Trips #2, page 4

Captain Trips #2, page 5

Apart from being terrifying to consider in general, this sequence is a great example of what comics can do easily that film can't do without straining.  The chapter in which King details the spread of the virus from Joe Bob to various people, and its journey from them to even others, is a highlight of the novel, but it would be a bear to put in a movie or a television episode because you'd have to be showing what is essentially an invisible process.  None of the people in the scenes would be aware of anything happening.  No dialogue can cover it, unless you want to resort to voiceover narration; and then, what character would you get to do it?  How would you do it without being cheesy?  Answer: you wouldn't.

You could use some sort of special effect to try and simulate the red virus figures that Perkins uses above; but whereas in the comics that works, because it looks like something growing across the pages, the same thing on film would look silly.  A really top-notch composer might be able to suggest it with the musical score, but if that were not handled perfectly, it would be disastrous.

Here, though, divorced of all those concerns, the scene works like a charm: comics can use enough prose that the words themselves do most of the heavy lifting, while the design elements from Perkins come in and put the finishing touches on the scene.

Now, let's look at a couple of pages in which Larry wakes up and departs the scene of a one-night stand:

Captain Trips #2, page 16

Captain Trips #2, page 17

A few things come to mind here:
  • Her name is indeed Maria.  Larry has no trouble remembering that in the novel; he's a little fuzzy on her stated occupation, though.  He thinks she is an oral hygienist, but there seems to be a possibility that this is false.
  • Maria is topless in the novel, but Mighty Marvel don't allow no titties, so instead we get a color-mismatched bra and panties.  That's a nice detail; I suspect Laura Martin may have been responsible for that one.
  • I feel certain that if Maria somehow survived the superflu, she ended up in Las Vegas.  Larry Underwood may or may not be a nice guy, but chucking a spatula at a guy's head is definitely a bad-girl type of activity.
  • There's some real personality in that fourth panel on the second page.
  • Larry seems to be watching one of the Nightmare on Elm Street movies, but this is 1990 (it isn't stated explicitly, but that's when the novel is set) and no Nightmare on Elm Street movie came out that year!  Part 5, The Dream Child, was 1989, and Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare was 1991.  So I call bullshit on this whole story.  (No, not really.)

Captain Trips #2, page 18, panels 4-7

Nick Andros is certainly one of the novel's standout characters, and he presents a major problem for any adaptation to conquer.  A filmed adaptation has no choice (short of making Nick no longer deaf/mute) but to show a hell of a lot of writing.  There are some filmmakers I can imagine making a real lunch out of all that scribbling (and out of the waiting-to-read part of things from the other characters); I get the sense that Kubrick might have had fun with that.  But in most movies, every such scene is going to drag the movie to a halt; time-compression editorial tricks are bound to have to be employed.  The 1994 miniseries managed it by more or less having Ralph serve as Nick's mouthpiece, which worked reasonably well; although it really only impacted a few scenes.

But a film is inadequate to the task of Nick Andros, in all honesty.  On the page, we still get a sense of Nick's "voice" (by which I mean the way he thinks) via his written notes and, most importantly, his thoughts.  A really great actor can suggest some of that by virtue of the way he moves, and the way he looks at things; but that's a substitution, not a replacement.

The comic book has an easier job by far; it can merely show Nick's words, and doesn't have to worry about the real-time aspect of waiting for him to actually write them.

Final thought on this matter: in the case of a hypothetical radio-drama version of The Stand, how would you go about presenting Nick?  I'd love for that to happen someday, just to see how the production deals with this very issue.

Now, for the first appearance of Flagg inside the story:

Captain Trips #2, page 25, panel 1

I have mixed feelings about this panel (which is not a panel so much as it is a splash page).  On the one hand, it's very good art from both Perkins and Martin.  On the other hand, as I mentioned earlier, I don't find this take on Flagg to be scary.  He's all beckoning hands, and what that makes me think of is silent-movie-type mummery.  In my mind, those silent movies were filmed that way because the camera couldn't be moved, and editing as an art form had not yet evolved very far.  So I see that image of Flagg and I imagine a dude in 1913 standing in front of the camera, just beckoning at the screen menacingly until the director yells cut.

The modern-day movie equivalent would be that Flagg would be presented -- in these nightmare scenes, at least -- in terms of cheap jump-scares.  The kind where you know it's about to happen because for two second prior to it, all the sound effects drain away and the music gets silent so that when the jump happens IT'S REALLY LOUD!  Jump-scares like that can be effective, but more often than not they end up being kind of lame.  I prefer to be unsettled, as opposed to startled.

Of course, that's just me.  In this sense, horror is like comedy; what works and what doesn't work is a highly subjective thing, and each of us will have our own opinions.  Some people think Duck Dynasty is the funniest thing ever made; some of us decidedly do not.  This is not a passive way of saying that the above depiction of Flagg is the graphical equivalent of Duck Dynasty; it's way better than that.  It just doesn't work for me, conceptually.  But the execution is strong, no doubt about it.

Captain Trips #3, page 4, panel 4

You may or may not already know this, but I also write an ongoing blog about the James Bond movies, You Only Blog Twice.  When I review the movies over there, I take an extensive array of screencaps from the DVDs.  The process for that is to simply pause and unpause the playback until I get exactly the right image (or as close to it as possible).  One side-effect of this is that I'm constantly catching an actor in mid-speech or mid-blink, and the result is a lot of really goofy looks on the faces of, say, Roger Moore, or Jane Seymour, or whoever.


Makes me chuckle every time.

Anyways, that's understandable when you're looking at a single frame of film, especially when you consider that it takes 24 frames of film to make up a single second of footage.

But that type of goofy-face result is what comes to mind when I see that above panel of Poke (left) and Lloyd (right) on their way into a robbery, and I have to ask: what is Mike Perkins' excuse?  Roger Moore gets let off the hook; he made that face for a split-second during a car chase, and it only got captured because I have what essentially amounts to a magical device that can enable me to peer into the secret life between moments.  Mike Perkins, on the other hand, purposefully made Poke have that stupid look on his face.  I don't quite understand why he would do that, but he did.

But he made up for it pretty soon thereafter with some awesome ultraviolence, as the attempted robbery (and the resultant takedown of the would-be robbers) takes place:

Captain Trips #3, page 5

Captain Trips #3, page 6

Some gnarly stuff in there.  This brings up one of my overall complaints about the series, though: the severe lack of profanity and nudity.

Look, let's face facts: The Stand is NC-17 material.  The violence is extremely violent, the sex is really sexual, and the cuss words are of the playin'-for-keeps variety.  If you opt to turn this into PG-13 material during an adaptation -- as the miniseries (out of necessity) did -- then I get that.  But in my mind, if you're going to keep the violence this violent, the least you can do is also retain a few of the f-words and show me some tits, asses, and dicks every once in a while.  I don't need those things from my comic books, and if they're absent, I don't mind.  But it concerns me that someone would say "Yes, let's show Poke missing half of his face," but then later say, "No, let's not see Nadine naked when she seduces Harold.  Oh, and let's not let anyone say 'fuck' the entire series."

I've never understood that stance toward comics; I'd much my kids -- hypothetical though they may be -- to see a few nipples and/or cocks than I would a dude with half of his head blown off.  Call me crazy.

In any case, Perkins and Martin did a great job with these two panels.  I especially love that panel of the little old lady getting blown away.  The final panel on the first page is even better: here is a "freeze-frame" done 100% right.

Here's a great panel of Larry on a pay phone (remember those?):

Captain Trips #4, page 7, panel 4

I love how Larry is, visually, one of the least important elements in the panel; it's almost as if he is an afterthought.  This is a great way of indicating just how radically in the minority -- a minority of 0.06% of the population who is immune to the superflu -- he is.

I'm also weirdly compelled by that dude in the middle of the panel who is hunkered down with one hand over an eye.  What's that guy's story?

Captain Trips #4, page 9

Here's Lloyd, talking to his lawyer.  I'm not a fan of this page, mostly because I don't care for the way Perkins drew the lawyer, especially in panel three.  Is there a reason for it, though?  In this instance, we can do a nifty thing: we can check the script and see what Aguirre-Sacasa's directions were, and we can more or less get an answer to the question I just posed.  The script-to-final comparison for this page was included in the back of issue #4, and is also included in the back of Captain Trips, so let's pull out the relevant info for this one panel:

You'll see based on this that, obviously, Aguirre-Sacasa is mandating a good amount of what Perkins is doing.  Now, as a comparison, let's take a look at how King wrote the scene:

     Devins stopped and lit a cigarette.
     "Then what?" Lloyd asked.
   "Then?" Devins asked, looking mildly surprised and exasperated at Lloyd's continuing stupidity.  "Why, then you go on to Death Row at state prison and just enjoy all that good food until it's time to ride the lightning."

There's nothing there -- or in the entire chapter (24, for the record) -- about Devins "smiling almost gleefully," as if "he's relishing what he's saying."  I have no quarrel with the idea of someone being gleeful about Lloyd's potential visit to Old Sparky; Lloyd is kind of a bad person, so relishing his despair is something I can get onboard with.

I'm merely curious as to why the change was made.  Examining the next page of the comic, we find that Devins has suddenly turned businesslike and professional.  "I don't want you dead, Lloyd," he says, "but I do need you scared.  If you go into that courtroom smirking and swaggering, they'll strap you into that chair and throw the switch."  Based on this, I would say that Aguirre-Sacasa made the decision that he wanted Devins to do a bit of playacting, to try and make Lloyd think initially that he, like -- presumably -- everyone else in the world, wanted to see him fry for what he has done.

I'm not entirely sure the moment works; it seems like an idea better-suited to a movie than to a comic book.

Captain Trips #4, page 19, panel 1

For my money, this panel of Frannie and her father is one of the best panels in the entire series.  Mike Perkins' own father had evidently passed away not long before he had to draw this scene, so if the emotion seems even more real than is typically the case, that probably helps to explain it.

Captain Trips #4, page 22, panel 5

The Stand comics mostly deal with the subject in a highly realistic fashion, visually-speaking, which makes a panel like this one -- with its dead black pool of space interrupted only by dialogue boxes, a corpse, and a pool of red blood -- all the more effective.

Captain Trips #4, page 23, panel 3

Here's the final panel of the fourth chapter/issue: a demonically grinning Randall Flagg, who seems like he may be coming in for a kiss.

By now, you know my feeling about Flagg-a-la-Perkins; I'm not a big fan.  Let's remember that it was likely Aguirre-Sacasa who specified that Flagg should be grinning in this panel.  And of course, let's also remember something: King describes Flagg as smiling while walking; he is, says King, a "hatefull happy" looking man.  So in this case, the comics really are sticking to the novel.  I can't say they aren't.  What I can say is that for me, it works for Flagg to -- in prose -- be walking down a darkened road, smiling evilly to himself; and in a comic-book, it does not work for me.
Because the question I cannot avoid asking is: who is Flagg grinning at?  Story-wise, he's just walking down the road; nobody is around.  So is he literally grinning at us, the readers?  Or am I putting too much thought into it?  Mayhap I am, and mayhap I ain't.  Either way, the image doesn't quite work for me.  And as I've typed this paragraph, I've figured out why: it is because Flagg is looking at us, breaking that fourth wall.  If he were instead looking in a different direction, smiling to himself, I think I could tolerate it better.  But the fourth-wall violation rankles me.

There are things I like about the panel, though.  For example, the left eye being black with points of red light within it; that's a nice touch, and I can give you at least three reasons why: (1) it makes me think of the Crimson King (who is not mentioned in The Stand, and is consequently not mentioned in these comics, but is nevertheless an important character in relation to Flagg within the broader scope of King's work); (2) it reminds me of a spider's eye in some way, which, given a certain incident involving Flagg and a spider in Book VII of The Dark Tower, has some resonance; and (3) it's a callback to the panel a page earlier in which Starkey lies dead in that mostly-black panel.

The fifth and final chapter/issue of Captain Trips is, for my money, probably the best single issue of the entire series.  It deals almost entirely with two things: Flagg, walking the country, awaiting the beginning of whatever dark purpose he will have in this newly restructured world; and the rapid dissolution of society as the plague truly begins to have its way with the country.  Aguirre-Sacasa does great work in this issue, bouncing back and forth between the two poles and showing that Flagg is somehow feeding off of the situation, perhaps literally.  And yet, he does not suggest that Flagg is responsible for the plague (something the miniseries unwittingly comes close to doing), nor does he suggest that Flagg is all-powerful.  Instead, he tries his best to simply do what King does: suggest that Flagg is a metaphor (a stand-in for the darkness of American society in the post-WWII era) given form.  Flagg, it seems, has walked Forrest Gump-like through the latter half of the twentieth century, informing it, giving it a shove at times toward places of agony and despair; but as an opportunist, not -- and this is a key distinction -- as a catalyst.

Flagg is a complicated topic.  Of all the posts I anticipated writing on the novel The Stand, the one I most eagerly anticipated was perhaps the one about Flagg's introductory chapter.  There is some fascinating stuff in there, and I was curious to find out whether I would end up bringing ideas from other books in King's canon into the conversation, or if I would deal with Flagg purely as he appears in this particular novel.

Well, someday I'll get to write that post, and someday you'll get to read it.  But that day is not today, and since I think if I deal with this chapter of the graphic novel, I'd have no choice but to do a watered-down version of that post.  I don't want to do that; in that case, it's going to be the real deal or it's going to be nothing.

So instead, let's start wrapping this post up.  A few concluding thoughts are on the way, but first, a few notable panels from chapter five:

Captain Trips #5, page 3, panel 5

Captain Trips #5, page 16, panel 5

Captain Trips #5, page 18, panel 3 -- I don't remember if this comes from the novel or not; if not, it's a hell of a fine addition on somebody's part

Captain Trips #5, page 19, panel 3

Captain Trips #5, page 20, panel 1

Hard to see that one above without thinking of 11/22/63, isn't it?


Well, I hope that was a semi-useful look at Captain Trips.  On the whole, I think it's a fairly gripping read, even for people who have already read the novel.  It does a good job of establishing most of the main characters: Stu, Frannie, Larry, Nick, Lloyd, and, of course, Flagg.  Several major characters remain off-page; I'm thinking specifically of Harold, but I believe that at this point, he still had not been introduced in the novel, either.  But all of the characters we do meet are established relatively well, and while it's natural to wish we had even more time with them, I think Aguirre-Sacasa does a solid job of editing so as to make us not worry too much about the scenes that are missing.

So, is it a recommend?

It is indeed.

I'll be back in a few days with a look at Vol. 2: American Nightmares.  Until then, eat some chicken-noodle soup and drink some orange juice.


  1. Ho boy - lots of stuff here. I'll confine my comments now just to three things, then circle back and dig in to this textfeast and probably leave a slew of more comments. As per usual!!

    "it must be damned difficult for an artist to know how to draw a character consistently from every conceivable angle."

    In days of yore at Marvel and DC, the company had very firm character models (John Romita, Sr. and Garcia-Lopez's, if memory serves, get mentioned an awful lot in interviews and memoirs and such.) I've never understood why they didn't just feed these into whatever computer program, nowadays, and have a literal every-conceivable-answer model at the ready.

    One of my biggest pet peeves with a lot of comics art now (not that there wasn't a fair amount of it back in the day, as well, but the trains ran on time at Shooter's Marvel, and that's what I was reared on and that's the way it was AND WE LIKED IT! WE LOVED IT!) is how much difficulty so many illustrators seem to have with staying on-model. One of, not the only pet peeve, but I'll try and stay focused here. Dan Clowes and Jeff Smith (both of whom I pick only because I was looking at their stuff yesterday and thinking this very thing) deserve kudos, here; I think there is a lot of merit in the clean, perhaps-cartoony style of them, or Bruce Timm, many others for this specific reason. It's easier to stay on-course and have the characters be recognizable in every damn panel, instead of only sporadically as so often is the case.

    Lee Bermejo does some great work. Good God those covers to issue 2 and 5 are just fantastic.

    I think Captain Trips was just the nickname of Jerry Garcia, not a general designation. I'll defer to any Deadheads out there. I never quite understood why it became a synonym for the superflu, either.

    I love the in-house ads descriptions you included. (Duma Key, even! Nice.) Sometimes when I get an older comic, I'll read the ads and Bullpen Bulletins (depending on what year it was) first and only get to the story/ art later. I like particularly the old letters pages from 83-89 or so, because I every so often see someone I used to correspond with, or someone who went on to write comics themselves.

    1. I've only ever sent in a letter to a comic book once in my entire life: to "Saga." It didn't get printed, sadly, but the caliber of that comic's letters is substantial, so it makes sense.

      I know very little about Clowes (I saw the movie version of "Ghost World," which I think was based on his work) and nothing at all about Jeff Smith, but if their work is of that style, then odds are I'd like it, because I agree with you 100%. Not that a more realistic style of comics art can't work, too; it can. And here, it does pretty frequently. But it also fails on occasion; for me, at least.

      Glad to hear I'm not alone on the semi-confusion over "Captain Trips" as a flu designator. I wonder if this is something that confuses EVERYONE, but confuses them so completely that they really DON'T even know they're confused. That'd be kinda cool, in a way.

    2. I enjoyed Jeff Smith's Shazam series (even if he made everyone wait like a year between issues 3 and 4.) And Bone. I was intensely into RASL, but I think he blew the ending. After the time I'd invested in it, that ticked me off. Anywho.

      You make good points re: the jump-out scare/ bad make-up (certain ahem directors come to mind)translation of Flagg, as well as the odd decision to have Lloyd's lawyer grinning sadistically like that. Definitely worthy of note, that, good call on comparing it to the text. (And yeah, I agree on the weird facial expressions chosen for some scenes. That's so prevalent in contemporary comics illustration, and I just don't understand it. It's all over Before Watchmen, for example, and even in stuff with art that's super-praised, like The Ultimates, or, to be less dated, Age of Ultron.)

      Or, like you say, with Flagg's maniacal grins. Who the hell is he grinning at? It makes no sense; it just "looks cool." (And it doesn't even look cool, to me.) I won't single Perkins out for this offense. It's an across the board finger-wag from Bryan McMillan to the comics industry post-1990. (He said sweepingly.)

      And Bruce looks like the model for Larry Underwood, definitely.

      I don't like the addition of some of the 3rd-person-voice captions. Some of them (like the spreading-the-death montage) work very well; others, such as "the truth plain and simple..." ones with Frannie's conversation with the sperm donor seem unnecessary.

    3. p.s. That Captain Trips bio is pretty fluff. There are plenty of good Dead books, though, makes for fun reading. I love that stuff. Not so much the band, to be honest - never really was my type of music, tho I don't hate it and like a few songs very much - but the whole Grateful Dead adventure and Jerry's thoughts / philosophies (he was a very interesting dude) intrigue me. Anyway, if you ever were looking to pick one up, I'd steer clear of the Sandy Troy bio.

      Did you know at one point Jerry owned the rights to Vonnegut's Sirens of Titan and was gung-ho to make a movie of it? In some other level of the tower, that happened. Bizarre. (On the same level, the Beatles made The Lord of the Rings with Kubrick directing; another actually-true-almost-happened tale.)

    4. I did not know that, but it makes sense; I mean, why WOULDN'T Jerry Garcia have owned the rights to some Vonnegut? Which mainly makes me sigh, on account of how I've read only a couple of Vonnegut books; yet another of my weak points.

      Totally agreed on the third-person stuff, by the way. I know some of that comes straight from the novel, where it functions -- and in a very interesting way -- as a sort of God's-eye-point-of-view device. Some of the rest, though (like the Frannie scene you mention), I'm less sure about. I should probably research that and find out. If I can remember to, I will!

  2. I'd have to say they do an overall good job of capturing the novel in graphic form pretty well.

    That said (and speaking as someone who's read at least from the Capt. Trips collection) I can't help feeling like it's the cliffnotes version of the Stand.

    That however isn't really much of a problem for me, as they remain faithful enough to the story, and it's good to see they incorporated King's text into the panels where it was absolutely necessary (i.e. the Flagg monologues, the nationwide plague downfall).

    I also think they did a great job with the design of pre and post plague America. That said, it also brings me to my sort of one nit-pick.

    I kind of wish they had set the times in the comic the same as in the 78 edition, if only because it's a 60s fallout story at it's core. Still, I'm not blind to the fact that such a move would be confusing to a lot of kids today (did I really just use that word? I'm still in my twenties for frak's sake!) who are a whole half-century removed from the times and even the real life events the novel even brings up (I wonder how future generations will react to images of Oswald and the Civil Rights news footage).

    I figure it would be damned well impossible to draw them in with any setting other than the basic contemporary one used in the comics. That said, I can't help but regard as a sign of some kind of collective flagging (no pun meant) of the imagination in 21rst century.

    Which brings me to my final point that sort of negates my nit-pick. Since I had no real major issues with the artwork, I can't say I ever really bothered with the paneling and layout (this the guy who judges books and adaptation, no matter the medium, by pretty much story alone, remember?). I knew I had to factor the images in, but I never really regarded them as of paramount importance.

    I did note a few things though.

    Larry is definitely modeled after The Boss, and it's obvious the artists are following King's lead in his comments about how he saw his characters.

    For Flagg, King said he envisioned the kind of romantic lead from the Danielle Steele, Rosemary Rogers type romance novels, "Someone to make the lad hearts go pity-pat." The artists have again followed his lead on this one, while at the same time trying to imbue the figure with a sense of menace.

    I don't know how much it works, sense my personal image of Flagg is pretty much how I described in an earlier stand miniseries post, this one more closer to Bernie Wrightson's Uncut illustrations. Also, sometimes the scowling on him just doesn't work. The rain one had the unfortunate effect of making me think of Ted Nugent during a hard pub-crawl.

    Still, on the whole, things work out.

    One final thought: the image of Flagg as a normal, long-hair, high-schooler on the bleachers chumming with Starkweather...of course, and if Flagg was ever in any normal high school than I'm the guy who invented the remote control.


    1. In a sense, these comics are a LOT like a Cliffs Notes version, same as the miniseries is. Like you, I'm not bothered by that, provided that the story is changed in such a way as to make it fit into the medium. I don't think the miniseries did that particularly well in some regards (though it did fine in others); the comics, though, do about as good a job as was feasible. Tons of stuff got left out, but I think the absence is notable only if you are really familiar with the novel.

      I totally agree with you on the subject of keeping the timeframe as established by the 1978 version of the novel. I'm of the opinion that even in the uncut edition, updating it to 1990 doesn't work. So following the idea of it being set in 1990 makes things a little problematic for the comics, too.

      I once wrote a post speculating a bit as to how extensive the timeline changes would need to be for a modern film adaptation. I can't remember exactly what I said (and I'm too lazy to go look it up), but I believe I came down on the side of saying that IF the timeline is updated, a lot of things in the story would need to be changed, too. One example: I don't buy that in a version of the story set in 2013 (or 2015, or whenever), anyone would call the flu Captain Trips. I don't know what a good modern equivalent would be -- the song "Down with the Sickness" by Disturbed comes to mind, but I'm not sure how to make it work. But no matter what, I think some things would need to be changed pretty radically.

      And I'm okay with that. The writers just need to make sure they do a thorough job of it, and try to simultaneously honor the intent of the novel.

    2. I knew I was getting too old for rock and roll when "Down with the Sickness" became a thing. Holy crap, that song. I'd lived through Cherry Pie, Looks That Kill, the Humpetedy-Hump and many more you think might have tipped me over, but I loved all of those. But when that song started cranking from stereos (and Buckcherry's... well, anything by Buckcherry) I hung up my spurs. Realized: I have been pushed past the line of "getting this."

      Ah well!

    3. p.p.s. ChrisC - you should pick yourself up a copy of Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics; you'll never look at sequential illustration the same way again, I guar-an-tee it. (It's a great read, to boot.)

    4. I should DEFINITELY pick up a copy of that...

      "Down with the Sickness," like all nu-metal, is something that I simultaneously loathe and completely understand. But yeah, it's pretty awful. And yet, I can't help but feel that in order to update the story to a current timeframe, you'd have to deal with stuff like that. Otherwise, you run the risk of creating something that is unintentionally anachronistic. Which is what I think happens with certain scenes in the unedited version of the novel; at one point, I think somebody has a poster on their wall of some '70s-only phenom like Shaun Cassidy or Farrah Fawcett or Lief Garrett. Whoever it was, that shit don't fly in 1990.

    5. I think I actually have a copy of the Mcloud book. Will definitely have to dive in full this time.

      One graphic artist who has made me appreciate what comics can achieve is Dave McKean. He was a collaborator with Neil Gaiman on the Sandman comics, and he also did the artwork for some book called Wizard and Glass.

      The comic I'm thinking of, however is a DC one-off by Gaiman called Mr. Punch. McKean did the whole layout, and it looks like nothing ever seen in a comic before. He's also done two books of his own, Pictures that Tick (a showcase for his work, I think), and a graphic novel called cages. I think it's supposed to be about the artistic process.


    6. Dave McKean is sometimes a bit too out-there for my tastes, but he definitely is a true original. (Ditto for Bill Sienkiewicz, though he started as more of a Neal Adams sort of artist then went hog-wild on New Mutants and never looked back.)

      You're right to cite him as someone who expands the medium of what comics can achieve. To better grok the fundamentals, tho (and to subsequently get mad at all the illustrators these days who don't grasp them! You can join my Get Off My Lawn, Young Comics Punks group) the McCloud book is invaluable.

    7. All I know of McKean's work is "Wiazrd and Glass," of which I am not a fan. At some point, I'll check out "Sandman," though, and I'll be curious to see if that helps me appreciate his Dark Tower work more.

  3. Speaking of character models:

  4. Holy crap this is a great review. I really like the Stand as a comic book. I did this that this series is better then the Dark Tower comics. I was reading the comments above, I have tried Sandman series and couldn't stand it. I can take some Gaiman and some of his other books I can't get into.

    1. Thanks for the kind words! I had a lot of fun writing it; I had hoped to have the review of the next volume out by now, but a monumentally crazy work-week has scuttled those plans.

      I'm with you 100% on this being a better series than the "Dark Tower" comics. I enjoyed those at times, but found them to be occasionally awful, especially the farther away from King's books they veered.

      I have noted your Gaiman disdain and have marked another digit in the "against" column. The "for"s are still winning, though, so I'll probably check him out one of these days. ;)