Sunday, September 22, 2013

A Review of "The Stand, Vol. 5: No Man's Land"

We're two-thirds of the way through our look at the Marvel Comics adaptation of The Stand, and the takeaway from the posts seems to largely be that I think the art is bad.

I do.  And I don't.  I think it works well frequently, and works really well typically at least once per issue.  Does that counterbalance the numerous times I feel the art fails?  For me, it doesn't quite manage to do so; but it gets maybe two-thirds of the way there, which means that while I do feel quite a bit of antipathy toward the art, I also feel nearly as much fondness for it.  Combine that with the fact that Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa's scripts are a generally strong adaptation, and I think your math would indicate that I am more positive than negative.

The fact is, though, that the negative is easier to write about for me in many cases.  Not always; I think I've made numerous good points about things in the comics that work really well.  But for whatever reason, the further into the series we get, the less inclined I seem to be to keep the scales balanced.  My review of Hardcases -- which is arguably my favorite volume of the series! -- was much more negative than I expected it to be.

But hey, it is what it is.  When it comes to writing these posts, I tend to just sort of start writing and see where it leads me.  Sometimes that's more fruitful than it is at other times, but either way, it serves its purpose for me, because I am (as much as anything else) simply curious to see where my mind wants to go.

What's the result of that going to be this time around?

Let's find out.


premiere hardback, art by Tomm Coker and Laura Martin





The Stand: No Man's Land #1

published February 2, 2011 (cover date April 2011)


art by Tomm Coker and Laura Martin

This is one of my favorites covers of the series.  It's kind of Christmasy, what with all the green and red; but with a higher amount of demon faces, ouija boards, and terrified women than most Christmases encompass.

The contents of the issue:
  • Page 1: "Previously in The Stand."
  • Pages 2-5: after the Free Zone town meeting, Stu and Frannie walk home, and talk about various things, including the time Stu thought he saw Jim Morrison at a gas station.
  • Pages 6-9: Nadine unsuccessfully tries to convince Larry to sleep with her so that her betrothal to Flagg will be broken.  She doesn't tell him about that part of things, of course.
  • Pages 10-13: Nadine uses a ouija board to contact Flagg, and we also find out a bit more about her past.
  • Pages 14-15: Frannie isn't too happy with Stu on account of how he just got elected sheriff.
  • Pages 16-23: Harold has a lousy -- but also kind of awesome -- day on the burial crew, and comes home to find Nadine waiting for him.  "We can do things, Harold..."
  • Pages 24-32: "The Stand Character Notebook," a series of character bios of Larry, Harold, Fran, Stu, Nick, Mother Abagail, Randall Flagg, and Nadine.  These are okay, and they are accompanied by nice panels of each character.  But I wonder who these are for?  Anyone who had been reading the comics would know all of this already, presumably.  In any case, the pages are not included in the collected editions.  Look to The Stand Companion if you want them.

The Stand: No Man's Land #2

published March 2, 2011 (cover date May 2011)


art by Tomm Coker and Laura Martin

Another great cover here, with some terrific horror imagery.

The contents:
  • Page 1: "Previously in The Stand."
  • Pages 2-6: our heroes put Tom under hypnosis and convince him to become a spy.
  • Pages 7-9: Larry convinced Judge Farris to become a spy.
  • Pages 10-13: Harold notices the Judge leaving Boulder, then continues his job on the burial detail.
  • Pages 14-17: Nadine goes home to get a few things, and encounters Joe/Leo, who seems to know somehow that she is lost forever.
  • Pages 18-21: Dayna -- the third spy -- leaves town, and is accompanied part of the way by Sue Stern, who finds a puppy on the way back home.
  • Pages 22-23: Tom leaves Boulder.
  • Page 24: a title page for "The Stand Character Notebook."  You might recall from the previous issue that the supplementary material consisted of character bios under that title.  However, we do not get more character bios next; we get script pages!  So I have no clue why this page was included.  An error?
  • Pages 25-30: script pages for pages 8-13.  Not included in the collected editions, but findable in The Stand Companion.
  • Pages 31-32: a sketch and pencils for Tomm Coker's cover.  Again, available only in The Stand Companion.

The Stand: No Man's Land #3

published March 30, 2011 (cover date May 2011)


art by Tomm Coker and Laura Martin

Another fantastic cover here.  I love that Coker used an actual ledger entry from the novel, too.  "My great pleasure this delightful post-APOCALYPSE summer will be to kill Mr. Stuart DOG-COCK Redman," writes Harold.  Here, Larry's head is covering up just enough of the letters which spell "cock" to keep the comic book from violating any obscenity laws or whatever.

For whatever reason, inside the comic itself, the "DOG-COCK" has been removed; Harold's ledger entry merely says "Mr. Stuart Redman."  I am continually amazed by the fact that the perception exists that while Americans will tolerate a comic book that shows people's brains getting blown out, people's heads getting caved in, corpses of people who have choked to death on their own vomit, and other bits of ultraviolence, the whole country will revolt if the words "DOG-COCK" aren't omitted.  And don't you even consider showing me a woman's nipple, or -- God above forbid this! -- a penis.  
  
This would bother me under any circumstance, but it truly offends me in the guise of the adaptation of a Stephen King novel.  And yet, I know there are Stephen King fans out there who applaud the removal of all the profanity and sex.  I think those people should grow up, but hey, what do I know.

The contents of issue #3:
  • Page 1: "Previously in The Stand."
  • Pages 2-4: Nadine watches Harold as he constructs a bomb.
  • Pages 5-6: Leo, who seems to be in some sort of a trance, tells Larry that Harold and Nadine are going to go west.
  • Pages 7-9: Larry and Frannie talk, and decide to break into Harold's house the next day.
  • Pages 10-12: the power station becomes operational.
  • Pages 13-14: Larry and Frannie find Harold's ledger.
  • Pages 15-23: Nadine leaves the bomb in Ralph's house, goes into a fugue state, and wakes up at an abandoned drive-in theatre, where Flagg speaks to her through the old speakers.  She meets up with Harold later, and he is distressed to find that her hair has turned entirely white.
  • Pages 24-31: Aguirre-Sacasa's script for pages 6-13.  As usual, you can only find this in The Stand Companion.
  • Page 32: the inks-only version of Tomm Coker's cover.  It's still cool, but -- again, as usual -- Laura Martin's colors made the final version even better.  Not included in the collected editions.

The Stand: No Man's Land #4

published April 27, 2011 (cover date July 2011)


art by Tomm Coker and Laura Martin

Obviously (to anyone who has read the novel, or seen the miniseries, or read the comics), this cover represents a key moment from the story.  There's something to be said for that simplicity.  But I can't help but wish the cover for this issue had been a bit more dynamic.

The contents:
  • Page 1: "Previously in The Stand."
  • Pages 2-4: Fran and Larry show Stu the ledger they took from Harold's house.  They all agree to make a decision at the council meeting the next night,
  • Page 5: Harold stands outside a tent, deciding whether to go through with his plan.
  • Pages 6-19: the council meets, and Harold triggers his bomb, which explodes and kills several people.  Everyone else is saved, though, by the news that Mother Abagail has returned to town.
  • Pages 20-23: Frannie wakes up, and finds out the extent of the damage done by Harold's bomb.
  • Pages 24-25: a map of the Boulder Free Zone.  This is included in the collected editions.  Intellectually, I think it's cool for there to be maps of fictional things like this; but I never pay the slightest attention to them.  I think I spent a little time looking at one of Tolkien's, and that's about it.
  • Pages 26-32: art evolution pages, showing the progression from pencils to inks to finished-color pieces.  You can see half of these in the collected editions; the others are only included in The Stand Companion.  They're cool; I like seeing how the sausage is made.

The Stand: No Man's Land #5

published June 8, 2011 (cover date August 2011)


art by Tomm Coker and Laura Martin

Not one of my favorite covers.

The contents:
  • Page 1: "Previously in The Stand."
  • Pages 2-4: citizens hold vigil outside Mother Abagail's home, while inside Larry and Lucy agonize over Nadine's -- and, therefore, Larry's -- role in all of this.
  • Pages 5-9: another town meeting, this one dedicated to talking about Flagg.
  • Pages 10-17: Mother Abagail wakes up, and tells Stu and the others that a party of four men must go west to meet Flagg.
  • Pages 18-23: Stu, Larry, Glen, and Ralph depart for Vegas.
  • Pages 24-32: a collection of Mike Perkins inks from this issue.  Exactly one of them is included in the collected edition; as usual, they are all in The Stand Companion.

*****

Prologue: I'm not entirely sure what "No Man's Land" means, as a title.  The entirety of this volume takes place in Boulder, in the Free Zone, which is, obviously, anything but a no-man's-land.  So...what gives?  The only idea I can come up with is that it refers to some sort of reference to the idea of Harold (and Nadine) making a moral trespass against his fellow citizens.  Maybe the mental/moral area in which Harold is traveling is a no-man's-land by divine decree, or something like that.

Let's begin by considering a couple of odd pages:


No Man's Land #1, page 3

No Man's Land #1, page 4


Well, if we're going to talk about this, we need some appropriate music, wouldn't you say?





Man, I love that song.

The scene in question is, obviously, not an invention of the comics; it comes straight from the novel (it's in Chapter 53 of the expanded edition, but I don't think it's in the original).  In both novel and comics, it is a response by Stu to a question from Frannie: "What do you remember best?" she asks, referring to the pre-plague world.  "What's the one thing?"

So Stu tells this story, about working at Hap's Texaco station and one night -- it's night in the novel, at least -- having someone he's almost positive was Jim Morrison pull up and buy gas from him.  Stu has never told this to anyone, because he thinks nobody would believe him.  But you sense that he's also kept silent because the experience haunted him; there was something in the man's eyes that obviously burrowed its way into Stu's soul, and has been lurking there ever since.

There is plenty to talk about here.  Most of it would be more germane to a discussion of the novel, but we can hit a few high-points, I guess.
  • Should we believe that this actually was Jim Morrison?  Well, there are theories out there insisting that Morrison did indeed fake his own death.  These are not as widespread as the Elvis-is-alive rumors used to be; I don't recall every encountering the idea before I read The Stand, in fact.  But they are in the ether, regardless.  The Stand is a novel that can be easily embraced by conspiracy theorists of many stripes, so it makes a certain amount of sense for the Morrison thing to pop up here.
  • Whether we buy into the idea of Morrison faking his death -- even in a theoretical sense -- is almost irrelevant, as regards The Stand, because we are not necessarily being asked to buy into it.  We are instead merely being asked to buy into the idea that Stu would buy into it.  Everything is from his point of view here, and thus it is all part of building his character.  From that standpoint, I definitely think it works.  Especially when you consider that Stu is presented as being anti-government from the get-go.  But not to a loud or dangerous extent.  He keeps silent about the whole thing, and just lets the world keep turning as it will around his feet.  It makes sense for that person to similarly keep quiet about having maybe seen Jim Morrison, alive and well and buying high-test gasoline.
  • What do we think about the idea that Jim Morrison would end up with Flagg in Las Vegas?  Personally, that doesn't ring true to my ears.  (Caveat: remember that we are not being told that is the case, we are merely being told that Stu and Frannie believe it would be the case.  Which is not necessarily the same thing.)  In my mind, it would be more likely that if he had faked his own death, and were to somehow survive the superflu on top of that, Morrison would end up being more like The Kid, roaming the deserted highways of America, smoking and drinking a lot, and probably writing a whole bunch of poetry.  I don't see him being the type of guy who would submit to the moral strictures Flagg supposedly stands for.  But that's just me.

That's probably a sufficient amount of time on what is arguably an irrelevant scene.  Last note: I love the way Perkins drew "Morrison" here.  It's looks just enough like him to make Stu's opinion plausible, but he is kept just enough in the shadows to cast doubt on Stu's recollections.

"Morrison" doesn't do anything weird with his fingers, but we soon see that even Nadine -- whom Perkins has more or less been excellent at depicting -- is not immune to that little quirk of the artist:


No Man's Land #1, page 6, panels 4-5

Part of my feels as if I should stop drawing attention to this.  After all, it's not like I can add anything new with each subsequent example.  There are only so many ways I can ask some variant of "why in the hell would anyone do things like this with their fingers?" and "why would anyone draw characters doing things like this with their fingers?"  Really, a simple WTF would suffice, as opposed to my banging on the drum agai and again.

But, no.  We're talking about a comic-book series that ran for 31 issues, meaning that the reader who follows the entire thing is going to see a large number of this finger business.  And a lot of them won't be bothered by it.  A lot may not even notice.  At least one reader of this blog has suggested that in the case of comics, the story is the only thing that matters.  I don't buy that line of logic, but some will; and it's probably a more prevalent attitude than I would expect (just as it is probably just as prevalent -- and just as wrong, if you ask me -- to feel that only the art matters in a comic).

Others, thought, will find tics like this one that Perkins has with fingers to be odd, offputting, and distracting.  Since I'm in that camp, I may as well turn complaining about it into one of my tics as a reviewer.  Seems like harmony of some sort.

Let's look at a really strong panel, so as to even the scales again:


No Man's Land #1, page 13, panel 5


This, of course, will lead Nadine to become Harold's butt-buddy, a fate that she surely will come to rue.  Harold's busy tidying up Boulder, though:


No Man's Land #1, page 16, panel 4

Perkins is pretty great at drawing corpses.  Consider how much better -- how much scarier -- these are than the ones in the miniseries.  Try not to consider the fact that in that panel above, they're all looking at you.

Harold comes home and finds a surprise:


No Man's Land #1, page 19, panel 2

There's something off about this panel.  I can't quite figure it out.

Moving on to Chapter Two, here's a cool page from the hypnotism of Tom Cullen:


No Man's Land #2, page 3

As with the Jim Morrison thing, I feel like I'm about to jump the gun on my eventual book-length exploration of The Stand in its novel form...but, for the second time this post, I simply can't help it.

This scene from the novel makes it clear that Flagg is not Satan.  Mother Abagail had already told us that by this point, of course, but now we find out who Flagg really is: he is the demon Legion.  Legion, of course, is not really A demon; Legion is instead the name of a collective of demons.  Sort of how the Borg are a collective of Borg.

Now, I'm not a Biblical scholar (nor even an amateur), so I have little to say about the idea of how this relates to the Bible.  There's an awesome book on the subject of the Bible in King's work (both The Stand specifically and his canon in general), and when someone finally writes it, I'll happily read it.  But apart from making the case for the existence of such a thing, I'm unqualified to talk about this subject.

I can point something out, though: there is a scene in Storm of the Century in which we discover that the villain's name -- Linoge -- can have the letters shuffled a bit.  You do so, you come up with Legion.

At one point in time, I was convinced that this meant Linoge and Flagg were one and the same.  Especially when you consider that both are focused on the idea of having a child.  I don't think that's the case, though.  I think the idea is simpler: that both are merely part of a brotherhood of demonic beings who have existed since time began.  You have to delve into the waters of Dark Tower mythology to begin unraveling that idea; this is the wrong place to do that, though, so I'll merely point toward it, as I have just done.

Briefly, though: if Flagg and Linoge are two of the demons who collectively make up Legion, are there other King characters who might also belong to their order?  Well, I'd say that's an unqualified yes.  Leland Gaunt from Needful Things comes to mind; so does Elvid in "Fair Extension."  I might also consider the title character in the short story "The Lawnmower Man," although that one seems a stretch.  Anyone else I've forgotten?

One more thing about this Legion page from the comic: the graphic novel version of No Man's Land includes an inks-only version of the page.  Nothing odd about that; plenty of similar sketches appear in the supplemental material found in the backs of the issues.  In this case, though, the page never actually appeared in one of the issues, making this one of the very few things available in the collected editions that purchasers of only the single issues missed out on.  For the sake of those folk (presumably few in number), I now post that page:




Note that there is a discrepancy in the numbering system Marvel uses compared to the one I use.  They say page 2, I say page 3.  I'm sticking with me.

*****

You know, I'm kind of finding my interest in writing these reviews waning a bit.  At this point in the story, I have tons to say, but saying it in relation to the comics seems...wrong.   So here's what we're going to do: I'm going to flip through the rest of the book, and if something really catches my eye, I'll say something about it.  Otherwise, we're going to accelerate things a bit.



No Man's Land #3, page 9, panel 4


Jesus!  That's supposed to be Larry, but it doesn't look like Larry to me at all.  You know who it looks like?




Yep.  Woll Smoth.


No Man's Land #3, page 12, panels 4-5

Why does Brad look like Gollum?  AND WHY IS HE DOING THAT WITH HIS FINGERS?!?


No Man's Land #3, page 14, panel 6

Here's a sentence I never expected to type: boy, could I go for some "DOG-COCK" right now.


No Man's Land #3, page 21

I like that panel of Nadine a lot.  However, Aguirre-Sacasa dropped the ball big-time on the layouts.  That panel should have been set off on its own as a splash page, on the left-hand side of the book, so that you don't see it until you turn the previous page.  Instead, it's on a right-hand page, so you see it way too early.  That's a shame.  An on-the-ball editor would also have caught it and asked for it to be changed.


No Man's Land #4, page 18, panel 4

Alright, that's a pretty cool panel.


No Man's Land #5, page 3, panel 1

Here's Larry, taking another dump.  Must be a lot of prunes left post-flu.


No Man's Land #5, page 11, panel 1

This is an exceptionally odd angle to draw a panel from.  The only thing I can figure is that if you let your eyes go cross, it looks a little like Larry is lying in a grave.  But that's a stretch.

And with that, I call this review to a close.

Five down, one to go!

4 comments:

  1. Another fine review! I feel I haven't been all that great a commenter, basically agreeing about the art here and there, but these have been fun to read.

    I like the idea of Jim Morrison in post-superflu-America.

    I really enjoy how you're taking the piss out of Larry's incredibly inconsistent renderings, here. That Woll Smoth thing is perfect.

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    Replies
    1. No worries; I haven't been all that great a reviewer on the last few of these. ;)

      Yes, I must admit: when I ran across that panel of Larry, stared at it for a few moments trying to figure out what it reminded me of, and then had Woll Smoth leap into my brain, I was tickled pink. Glad it gave you a chuckle, too.

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  2. Just happened upon this review. Regarding Legion, there is also a reference to be found in IT. In Mike Hanlon's diary entries, he interviews a local man about his memories of the town of Derry, and the man tells him a story about how his wife heard voices coming from the sink, and that they called themselves Legion.

    ReplyDelete