Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Time Belongs to the Tower: "The Little Sisters of Eluria" #2

The first issue of "The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger -- The Little Sisters of Eluria" (sheesh, what a title...) was all about getting Roland into the vulnerable position he is in when the second issue opens: badly injured, immobile, and dependent for his life upon a crucifix-bearing medallion he has fortuitously taken from a dead body.

But it isn't the medallion alone that is saving him from the vampiric Little Sisters, the "healers" under whose "protection" he has found himself.

If you've a copy close to hand, go back to issue No. 1 and check the panels in which Roland, in an act of blind kindness, takes the medallion from James.  Pay attention to where he puts it: in a pocket on his jeans.  He is shortly thereafter waylaid by the green folk, and does not remove it from his pocket.

How, then, does it get out of his pocket and around his neck?

Sister Jenna, of course; and she is the primary focus of this issue.

I love that Luke Ross cover, by the way; very creepy, very memorable, and with the customarily excellent coloring of Richard Isanove, I'd say it's one of the better covers in the Dark Tower series to date.  And I'll just go ahead and say it: Jenna is smokin' hot.  Yeah, I know that makes me sound like a nunsploitation enthusiast (I'm not), or an all-purpose weirdo (debatable), and I also know that she's a vampire.  Don't care; hot.  Roland obviously agrees with me, so there!

This is another strong issue of the comic, and its central purpose is to build a rapport between Roland and Jenna.  Robin Furth and Peter David (as well as Ross and Isanove) do a good job of creating that rapport; it's present in King's novella, but I think it actually works better here.

The issue's first scene is between Roland and Jenna.  She is there simply to calm him (though she has likely summoned the doctors to minister to him prior to the scene's beginning), but she also seems focused on making sure the medallion is visible.  It is obscured beneath his dressing gown, but she plucks it back into sight, despite the pain it causes her to do so.  This brief scene is not in the novella, but it's a consistent (and effective) addition.

There is some interesting dialogue in the scene.  "Ye'll be fine if God wills, sai," says Jenna.  "But time belongs to God ... not to ... ye..."  This is dialogue from the novella, and it is almost verbatim.  David adds the ellipses, which are there to provide transition from one panel to the next.  It may be that the ellipses are not meant to be read literally; I'm not entirely certain, and it probably doesn't much matter.  (David also writes "not to ye," whereas King writes "not to you."  This, too, doesn't matter much; if anything, it is more consistent than King's dialogue.)

In the novella, Roland thinks, "No.  Time belongs to the Tower."  However, in the comic, he speaks aloud: "Time doesn't belong ... to God ... Time belongs to the Tower."  (Regardless of whether Roland thinks the sentiment or speaks it, this is obviously -- for anyone who has read the entirety of King's Dark Tower saga, at least -- a provocative statement coming from Roland Deschain.)  In the comic, Jenna responds to Roland's words with a look of shock, and then hurries away.

This reaction, obviously, is not present in the novella, and I'm slightly confused as to what Furth/David/Ross are communicating with it here.  Is Jenna taken aback by Roland's repudiation of God?  That seems unlikely: when Roland later asks her if she and the other Sisters are "for the Jesus Man," she chuckles and says "No, not us."  That said, the sigul of the Jesus Man still obviously has a physical and emotional power over them, so perhaps Roland's repudiation of God is at least a part of Jenna's shocked response.

It seems more likely, however, that Jenna is responding entirely to Roland's invocation of the Tower.  The layout of the scene certainly implies that this is the case: there is only one drawing of Jenna's shock, and it is in the same panel in which Roland says, "Time belongs to the Tower."  So I guess I'm not actually at all confused as to what is being communicated in that scene: Jenna has a strong reaction to the mention of the Dark Tower.  However, I'm still a bit confused as to the implications of that reaction.  After all, the Sisters bear the image of the Rose -- the symbol of the Tower -- upon their garments, which clearly marks them as being in league with the Tower.

Of course, the Sisters are fallen somewhat from grace.  We'll learn more about this in "The Dark Bells," an illuminating short story which Robin Furth contributed as her prose offerings in issues 3-5.  I'll cover that story -- as well as Furth's excellent essay in issue No. 2 about the relationship between "Desperation" and "The Little Sisters of Eluria" -- in a separate post, once I've finished with the five issues proper.  Suffice it for now to say that Jenna's reaction of shock is more revelatory than it might at first seem.

Following this scene is one Furth has greatly expanded upon: Jenna standing up to her fellow Sisters and denying them (to the extent she is able) the removal of the medallion from around Roland's neck.  There is some excellent artwork in this scene; I love the panels at the bottom of page 8, which show Sister Mary shifting into her vampiric guise.  There is a line of dialogue which is notable to anyone anxious to keep track of the differences between the comic and the novella: "Your mother paid the price for her rebellion, dying hungry and alone," Mary says to Jenna.  This, too, foreshadows Furth's "The Dark Bells," and while King does briefly mention Jenna's mother, the mentions are brief and extremely shy on details; Furth is the primary author of Jenna's backstory, as we shall see when we get to "The Dark Bells."

Another good addition comes on page 15, when Jenna stands Mary down again.  The scene itself comes from the novella, but Furth -- I suppose David, or even Ross, might be responsible, but my money is on Furth -- has gone a step further than King went: she has Roland glimpse Jenna in her vampiric guise.  I can't be absolutely certain that that never happens in the novella, not without rereading it; but it definitely doesn't happen during the course of this particular scene.  It's a good change; it helps to clarify Jenna's nature, it (oddly) makes her even more sympathetic, and it makes Roland's later reactions to her seem better-informed and therefore more genuine.

Jenna's defiance leads to her getting sent to Thoughtful House, whatever or wherever that is.  King only implied that it was a place of punishment; Ross depicts it as such, in a grimly gorgeous panel showing -- overlaid by Sister Coquina's suggestive dialogue -- Jenna being brutally whipped for her transgressions.

The only beef I have with this scene is that when Sister Tamara shows up in her younger guise, she looks a bit too much like Sister Jenna.  The first time I read it, I had to stop for a moment to figure out who I was looking at.  It wouldn't make any sense, from a story standpoint, for it to be Jenna, so it obviously is Tamara; I just wish it had been a bit clearer, because I'm certain that at least a few readers have read the scene incorrectly as a result.  That's a mild complaint, though.

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