Thursday, September 18, 2014

A Review of Marvel's "The Dark Tower: The Drawing of the Three -- The Prisoner" #2 (aka Bryant Has Issues #52)

It's only been two short weeks since we returned to the universe of Marvel's Dark Tower series, but thanks to some good, old-fashioned Marvel-style double-shipping, we're already getting The Drawing of the Three: The Prisoner #2.




I enjoyed the first issue of this new series quite a lot, and while I enjoyed the second one as well, I have some serious reservations about it.  We'll get to those in a bit, but first, I feel the need to point out something which I've mentioned before in Bryant Has Issues: that cover.  Damn that cover!

It's a good cover; the art by Julian Totino Tedesco is excellent.  Thing is, at no point during this comic do Eddie and Henry encounter a taheen.  So, in that sense, the cover is a complete lie.  This is nothing new; comic have been doing that for years.  The end result is often a good piece of standalone art, which theoretically means that I'm okay with it.  Still . . . dagnabbit, fellers: couldn't you create a good piece of art that actually had something to do with the content of the comic?!?

No point in worrying about it overmuch, though, as it's an aspect of the comics industry which is unlikely to ever go away.

Instead, let's dive in to the issue itself and pick it apart.  Spoilers ahead; clear out now if that is a problem for you.



The issue begins here, and I have to confess, this does not sync up with my mental image of The Leaning Tower.  It's not a problem for me, though; especially given that we've established that the comics version of The Drawing of the Three is actually in some ways a sequel to the novel.  So why couldn't The Leaning Tower be a bit swankier here?  S'fine by me.


We meet Enrico Balazar, who is rebuffing some guff from a small-time hood:


Note the framed photo underneath the first dialogue bubble.  That looks like the vampire from the end of the last issue to me.  Later, though, there is a mention of "Walter O'Dim" and it looks like the signature on the photo says "Walter," so does that mean that was Walter with vampire teeth at the end of #1?  I'm not sure how I feel about Furth turning Walter into a vampire, but...okay...for now...

Balazar ends up aerating Mick with a bullet.  Once a couple of goons have removed the carcass to some other place, Balazar asks Jack if he's made any progress "securing the property on 46th Street and 2nd Avenue."  Which is this:


"Gerry's"?!?  It's "Jerry's" in the novels.  I wonder if there was some sort of legal reason -- for example, something to do with the cartoon Tom and Jerry -- for that change...?  Intriguing.


The rose, of course, is growing out back behind the deli.  It's cool to see Furth bringing lore from later in the series into play early on here.


Lots to note here. Let's take it panel-by-panel: (1) Is that tower of cards elsewhere in the office, or is it instead a sort of metaphorical card-tower?  Probably the former.  (2) Should I be stoned for this?  Hmm...all I've got is Coca-Cola, which I guess'll have to do.  (3)  Say...here's something I never considered: do each of those roses which lie before the Tower represent different worlds?  (4)  I like that representation of the Tower.  The inclusion of the remaining Beams is a nice touch, too.  (5)  Does the rose here (and in panel 3) appear to almost be bleeding?  Is that a flaw in the printing, or is it deliberate on the part of the artists?  (6)  Interesting that Robin Furth and Peter David are bringing Christian theology into the conversation here, by way of trying to use the "paradox" of the Trinity as a way of mirroring the idea that what appears to be a single thing is in fact a multitude.  Speaking of which...  (7)  Those photos of Eddie Dean(s) obviously carry a great deal of import.  What, specifically, do they suggest?  Well, I suppose it implies that Sombra is keeping an eye on Eddie(s) on multiple levels of the Tower.  But it also implies that Balazar has been informed of the existence of other worlds/universes, which is a massive alteration from the novel.  (8)  So much for implication: here, Balazar outright says he knows about there being kids who exist in multiple realities/worlds.


It seems almost as if this will make it impossible for Furth and David to actually adapt certain elements of The Drawing of the Three (the novel), and I'm not sure how I feel about that.  But let's think about this: if, as it seems, Balazar knows something about Eddie's ka, and if he has been hired to try to help prevent that ka from being fulfilled, then surely there is no way Eddie can end up working for him, right?  Because why would Balazar not, the first time Eddie was inside those offices of The Leaning Tower where the unfortunate Mick met his end, put a bullet right between Eddie's eyes?  That would take some serious explaining.

And if we assume that, then surely that means that there can be no "sallow thing," no drug-smuggling on the airplane, no airport interrogation, no shootout at Balazar's . . . right?

I mean, who knows?  That's how it seems to me, though, and if so, then a great many of my favorite elements of The Drawing of the Three will have been jettisoned, and unless they are replaced with something really cool, that's going to potentially be a major problem for me.  And if they aren't replaced, then it seems as if that will create some massive plot holes; which, too, will be a major problem for me.

In other words, unless I am badly mistaken -- which I am, I hope -- then Furth and David have written themselves right into a major corner.  We've got three issues remaining, so I suppose we will find out relatively soon.

We cut from Balazar's office to the Dean apartment:


Is that a Night of the Living Dead poster back there?  f not, something similar, obviously.  I love -- LOVE -- how cartoony Piotr Kowalski has made those zombies; little things like that help to sell the style of the art, which is less realistic than any of the previous Dark Tower comics.  It works really well, though, in my opinion.
 

I love Kowalski's visual characterization of Eddie.  Look, for example, at panels 3 and 6 here: he's just a little kid, but SO much of that fuck-you-Jack attitude that we know and love in the mature Eddie Dean is already present here in nascent form.  The way Kowalski uses body posture and facial expression is great.  (Lord...I'm thinking of the Alex Maleev issues of The Gunslinger, which were abysmal in terms of the same qualities; that arc of the series was just dreadful, and I hope Marvel is able to prevent problems like that from plaguing The Dark Tower going forward.)


Left to their own devices on a summer's day, Henry and Eddie end up -- at Henry's suggestion, of course -- going out to filch some comics; they never actually do it, instead getting distracted by a golden opportunity in the form of . . . well, we'll get there in a moment, but first, this:


Who's this a-hole with the headset?  As we'll see momentarily, he's in a car which is cruising down the street.  Obviously, though, he's keeping an eye on Eddie, and we can only assume that he is doing so on behalf of Sombra and/or North Central Positronics.  To what end?  More on that in a bit.


That's great information and advice from that Great Sage (and future Eminent Junkie?) Henry Dean.  Whoever had the idea for him to mistake the word "lemming" for "lemon" deserves a pat on the back.  And they've just received it in blog format!  By the way, see that woman in the bottom left-hand panel?  Remember her, because I'm going to ask a question about her later.




This obviously brings up a few associations: From a Buick 8 is the first thing that comes to mind, but "Mile 81" isn't too far behind it.  And if we've got malicious cars on the brain, I suppose that both Christine and Joe Hill's NOS4A2 (as well as the comics prequel Wraith) might also float to the surface.

I don't think a connection to those latter two need be suspected, but certainly one can conjecture about the former two titles.  Either way, I have some questions.
  • Is the guy with the headset a Low Man?  He does appear to be wearing a yellowish coat, but we don't get a good enough look at it to say for sure.  And he has no hat.  However, the cover -- that lying cover with its taheen -- sort of implies the connection.
  • Whoever Headset Man is, is he enacting a plot against Eddie?  I mean, he must be, right?  It's either that or he is an agent of the Tet Corporation working to safeguard Eddie, and we've seen zero evidence that anything like that is going on.
  • Is Balazar involved in this in any way?  If Balazar was hired to have Eddie killed in or before 1964, there is really nothing I can think of that would account for his inability to complete the job during the intervening six years.  Hire a junkie to break in the apartment, kill everyone inside; then kill the junkie.  Simple.  Fuck, man, I'm not a crimelord and I could probably make that happen!  So, honestly, I ask you: why is Eddie still alive?  The only answers I will accept are: (1) the Tet Corporation has been safeguarding him; (2) ka is continually thwarting Balazar's attempts, in a manner not unlike the way Jake in 11/22/63 has troubles changing the past (i.e., the idea of the obdurate past fighting against being changed).  Now, I'd be perfectly fine with either or both of those explanations: but there had better BE an explanation at some point.  Because otherwise, it's a plot hole.  And I will call both bullshit and shenanigans on it.  Yessir I will.
  
There is a lot to like in this sequence, especially the colors of Nick Filardi.  But I think we are at a point where the issue needed some more clarity than what it has, and I'm afraid there is no such clarity because it fell through a humungous plot hole.

Henry and Eddie's joyride is cut somewhat short when Henry swerves to avoid hitting a truck, but runs over a fire hydrant instead.  The elder Dean bails out of the car and begins running away, but the car seemingly will not let go of Eddie:




There's nothing flashy about it, but I like Kowalski's art here a lot because something in the perspective makes me feel Henry's distance from Eddie; it makes the panel seem more urgent and dangerous.

Henry is able to pretty easily free Eddie, and this raises another serious question: what the hell was Headset Man's plan here, exactly?  If this is truly a Low Man's car, shouldn't it have been able to basically eat both Eddie and Henry?  Instead, it merely delays Eddie getting out for a second...?  And that's if we assume Eddie wasn't merely snagged in a normal, non-supernatural fashion?

I just don't get it.  As evil plots go, this is lame as fuck.  As far as I can tell, the only answer is that it was designed to strand the Dean brothers in an area of town to set up what comes next.  And, again, that's an awfully lame plot.  Jesus, no wonder Balazar hasn't been able to seal the deal.

In any case, Henry and Eddie go to the subway, but they don't have enough money to actually ride it.


See that woman in the hat?  The hat looks similar to the hat worn by the woman they passed on the street earlier.  I don't actually think it IS the same woman, but...I suppose she could theoretically be some sort of agent of either Sombra or the Tet Corporation.  Seems unlikely, but you never know.


Here's how Henry and his younger brother avoid walking a hundred blocks:


I at first took this to be not a purposeful meeting, but a random one, and perhaps the origins of Henry and Eddie going to work for Balazar.  And sure enough, this happens next:


We'll obviously see what happens with that package later on, but at this point we kind of have to assume that Headset Man's big plan was to get Henry and Eddie out of their own neighborhood, so that they would then be in a position to need to accept a ride from Jack Andolini, so that they could then be given a bomb, so that they could THEN later be killed when it exploded.  This is a plan which is so convoluted as to be downright imbecilic.  So I'm hoping there will, in the next issue or one subsequent to it, be a DAMN good explanation for this.  If there isn't, then a lot of my faith in these comics -- which was largely restored during the first issue of The Prisoner after being absent for a great deal of The Gunslinger -- has suddenly evaporated.


You might think I'm crazy for this, but this is my favorite single panel of the issue.  There are two reasons for this, the first being that hand over Eddie's mouth.  The way the panel is laid out, and the way the height of Henry and Gloria is used, the dialogue sort of naturally makes your eyes want to skip from the "Sorry, mom" down to Henry's face and then over to Gloria's face, thereby causing you to miss seeing Eddie altogether.  Which is funny, because Henry would clearly want his mom to not see his hand over Eddie's mouth, lest she wonder what it is Henry wants Eddie to not say.  The second reason is that that light fixture over Gloria's head almost gives you the impression of a blank dialogue bubble, which writers sometimes use to indicate that a character is silently fuming over something; which is exactly what Gloria is doing here.


This might be another case of me reading too much into things, but Nick Filardi's colors here are reminiscent of the colors cast onto Headset Man's face when he is inside his car; which means that visually, this page almost looks as if Eddie and Henry are still inside that car.  Or, in other words, what's happening here is the direct result of them "stealing" that car.  Subtle; cool.


Henry flicks the lit joint, and it lands on the package.  So, does that mean the small fire from the joint is responsible for this:


It's worth pointing out that this is page 19.


Surely not.  I mean, this HAS to be a bomb that was intended -- either in their apartment or on the street -- to tear the Deans to smithereens, right?  Or do I have it wrong, and Andolini was strictly using them as couriers?  No way; if that was the case, it'd be ridiculously easy for Henry to rat Jack out to the cops.

So it HAS to be a bomb, and presumably we will find out more in #3 (which will be out in a mere two weeks, on October 1 -- Marvel is rushing these suckers out!).


The colors here continue to be suggestive, at least for me.


And that's that.  I did enjoy this issue, despite my serious concerns; I hope for them to be alleviated.

I'd also like to take a look at some of the backup material:


This page shows some of Christian Ward's early attempts at making the variant cover for issue #1, and take a look at that third one: sure does look like Randall (a.k.a. Walter O'Dim) Flagg, doesn't it?  Which begs the question: is the guy on that cover intended to be Walter?  It doesn't look like him, but we know that comics covers are always subject to weirdness.


Wait...Furth wrote this?  Interesting: this, to me, seems more like an actual script, and I thought Peter David did the scripting.  So, does that mean he does only the dialogue?  Or does he then take Furth's "plot direction" and expand upon it?  I enjoy seeing things like this.


So, reading that direction from Furth, how would you grade Kowalski's (and Filardi's) art in terms of its ability to communicate what Furth wanted communicated?  I'd say he would get solid marks.  The only thing that jumps out at me is the fact that the shadow of the Tower is not in the shape of a rose; it looks more like the shape of a keyhole to me, though, which arguably works even better.

If you refer back to that double-splash which forms pages 4 and 5, I'd also note that it might have been nice for those thee central panels (Rose/Tower/Rose) to be as symmetrical as possible, and for the Rose to perhaps occupy the same amount of space within its panels as the Tower does within its.  That would have been a cool way to suggest that the Tower and the Rose are somehow one and the same.

Well, that's about it for The Prisoner #2, methinks.  However, Dark Tower comic fans should also be aware that Marvel, on September 2, released their second Omnibus edition, this one devoted to The Gunslinger.
  
  
This is an image of the slipcase; I stole it from http://www.previewsworld.com/catalogimages/STK_IMAGES/STK640001-660000/STK642060.jpg
  
  
The set consists of two volumes housed in a sturdy slipcase (pictured above).  As with the previous omnibus, the two volumes are split along lines of format: the first volume contains all of the comics which comprise The Gunslinger.  There were thirty issues in all, which means you're looking at about 600 pages worth of Dark Tower here.


image stolen from http://comicsbeat.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/DARKTWRGOMNIHC_cvr1.jpg


The second volume, The Gunslinger Companion, corrals the appendix-style material which appeared at the back of each issue.  So we get a cover gallery, various Robin Furth essays (about topics as diverse as Hax the cook, billy-bumblers, the "language of the unformed," and so furth forth), and lots of art-progression pages.  There is also an original short story by Furth about the Little Sisters of Eluria.


image stolen from http://comicsbeat.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/DARKTWRGOMNI_HC1.jpg



Here's where all that is important to fans like yourself: none of that material by Furth was included in the individual graphic-novel releases.  Which means that if you want to own it, you've either got to track down the individual issues, or you've got to invest in this $150 omnibus edition.  I think it's very poor form for Marvel to keep this material out of the graphic novels, but they are committed to it, evidently; they did the same with their first Tower series.

The problem here is that, while a lot of Furth's writing is good, some of it is less so; the appendix material in the first omnibus approached (for me) essential status, whereas in this second omnibus, I'm often indifferent to it.  There's also considerably less of it this time around; The Gunslinger Companion is about half the length of The Dark Tower Companion.  ("The food is terrible," says one old man; "and such small portions!" says the second.)  The main volume, housing the comics, is also a bit reduced in comparison this time around.  These books don't have page numbers, so I can't be exact; but the first omnibus is 3.5" wide (deep?), compared to 2.5" for the second.  My rough estimate is that that equates to somewhere between 150-200 pages difference.

You might expect a concomitant price reduction, but no; Marvel is once again charging $150.  My suggestion?  Visit an online store called Cheap Graphic Novel (this page specifically), where the omnibus is currently 45% off.  They've also got the first omnibus -- here -- at a similarly cheap markdown, which means you can get close to getting both for the price of one.

Personally, I think they're well worth having.  Worth that much money?  Well, that's a matter of personal preference, I guess; I bought 'em both, so I guess in terms of the vote I cast with my dollars, I voted yes.

Your mileage may vary, but either way, they look damn fine on a shelf.

13 comments:

  1. “here's something I never considered: do each of those roses which lie before the Tower represent different worlds?”

    I don’t think that idea has ever occurred to me, either, but I like it.

    “This is a plan which is so convoluted as to be downright imbecilic. ”

    Yeah that is a pretty absurd chain of events. I hate Rube Goldberg plotting like this. It’s like on Lost where you routinely had to swallow The Others being 52 moves ahead of everyone, every other episode. Like they say down and wrote a decision tree and contingency plans for hundreds of variables, etc. I pick on Lost when I could just as easily point to a dozen other series, comics, or films, but that’s the example that occurs to me: that Henry Gale was a quintuple e agent whenever it seemed like a “oh wow – TWIST!” would make the episode “awesome.”

    Anyway, I hope there is some kind of explanation for the convoluted chain of events.

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    1. "Lost" is a pretty good example. That show, man...it was five seasons worth of watching people juggling plates while walking across a tightrope and only dropping a few followed by one season of the plates all hitting the ground and the people falling and breaking their necks. Apparently some people defend that final season, and I'm really not sure how. Eventually I want to rewatch the whole series and see if there was something I missed.

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    2. I found this popmatters article recently: LOST and found: Mystery Boxes and Pleasure Domes.

      It does pretty good job of outlining th heart of what really went wrong with Lost, and in particular it's sort of a call for tighter plotting in television all around (luckily, this message is more often understood (sorta) than not on most cable shows).

      http://www.popmatters.com/column/180537-lost-and-found-mystery-boxes-and-pleasure-domes/

      In terms of comics, well, the problem with adapting something like the Tower books to comics is that you're adapting a closed and finished loop to an publishing model that was designed seemingly from it's inception to be all beginnings and ongoing middles, with no endings so much as reshufflings of characters and situations. I don't how the Tower stories will fare in that kind of format.

      ChrisC

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    3. That's a pretty good popmatters write-up. I liked this:

      "it eventually reaches a point at which all questions can be answered only with a mysticism that wilfully transcends comprehension. (...). Rather than provide answers that would please some and annoy others, the show just abandoned the notion of answers altogether."

      That about sums it up. And it reminds me of BSG, particularly how the way it chose to resolve itself pleased me greatly but annoyed many.

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    4. On a similar note, there's the ending to Patrick Mcgoohan's Prisoner. That one had (technically) LESS answers than loss, yet I love it!

      ChrisC

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  2. And that looks like the same woman to me, too.

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    1. One side-effect of reviewing the comics this deeply is that I'm paying closer attention to details; normally, I'd never have picked up on something like this.

      It might be purely a coincidence of Kowalski inadvertently recycling the same type of seventies-ish ladies fashion, though.

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  3. This is a fantastic review, really enjoyed reading it. I have mixed feelings about some of these changes too. Am a huge fan of Eddie's and have been so, SO excited waiting for this series. So I definitely share your continuity concerns, it would be a real shame if they messed this up since there is an opportunity here to produce something really special.

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  4. This entry raises a question that I think should be kept in mind as this comic goes along: what makes Eddie Dean work?

    For me, what makes Eddie work as a character, at his best, is precisely his relation with his brother and the relations they have with the mob. In those scenes, King has probably come as close as anyone will to writing a Scorsese novel (unless that esteemed personage ever decides to dive into that medium of course).

    Now to be fair, this comic hasn't forgotten that. However I do wonder if it isn't resorting too quickly to some of the usual quirks that work for more Superhero oriented comics?

    ChrisC

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    1. I mostly agree with your assessment of what makes Eddie work, although I'd add his foul-mouthed and quick-witted (and frequently lame) sense of humor. So far, the comics have done nothing to explore the latter element, and I'm worried that they are going to forgo that element of the character because somebody somewhere doesn't want to say words like "fuck" in a comic. This despite the Mature Content warning right there on the cover.

      It's interesting to consider King writing in the mode of Scorsese, which I guess "The Drawing of the Three" sort of IS, at least partially. You get a bit of that with "Thinner" as well. And the short story "Man with a Belly," too, although the results are on that one are fairly poor.

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  5. Hey man - thought you might be interested in this link...

    http://litreactor.com/columns/every-stephen-king-novel-summarized-in-140-characters-or-less

    I particularly love the comments section at the end...that made me laugh!

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    1. Yeah, I have to admit, some of those are pretty funny. "Rose Madder" and "The Plant" were probably my favorites.

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