9 Rated Books Book Reviews Western Week

Book Review: The Gunslinger Born

Title: The Gunslinger Born (The Dark Tower Graphic Novel)

Author: Stephen King, Peter David, Robin Furth, and Jae Lee

Review Number: 25

Genre: Graphic Novel, Horror, Dark Fantasy

Stand alone or series: Graphic Novel adaptation of the 7 book Dark Tower Series; collection of the first arc of the Dark Tower of a planned multi-arc comic adaptation series

Summary: (From amazon.com)
“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” With those words, millions of readers were introduced to Stephen King’s Roland – an implacable gunslinger in search of the enigmatic Dark Tower, powering his way through a dangerous land filled with ancient technology and deadly magic. Now, in a comic book personally overseen by King himself, Roland’s past is revealed! Sumptuously drawn by Jae Lee and Richard Isanove, adapted by long-time Stephen King expert Robin Furth (author of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower: A Concordance) and scripted by New York Times bestseller Peter David, this series delves in depth into Roland’s origins – the perfect introduction to this incredibly realized world; while long-time fans will thrill to adventures merely hinted at in the novels. Be there for the very beginning of a modern classic of fantasy literature! Collects Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born #1-7.

Why did I read the book: The Dark Tower series is my favorite series of all time. Period. Of course I was going to pick up anything that came out related to this universe!


The Dark Tower. The title itself conjures images of foreboding darkness and danger. Stephen King began his lifeblood series as a young man in university, with The Gunslinger. The Dark Tower series is his greatest achievement, and his homage/take on J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. In her review of book 1, Ana discusses the similarities between Aragorn and Roland, the Gunslinger. This is not an unconscious parallel. Similarly, the Dark Tower itself, the nexus of all universes and axis of the beams, is meant to conjure comparisons to Mordor and Mt. Doom, and Sauron’s Barad-dur (literally, translated from Sindarin, the “Dark Tower”). Later books expand on these similarities, from the sigul of the Crimson King (an image of an eye) and the Eye of Sauron, to wizard glass, waste lands, and the ultimate quest to save the universe from the coming of chaos and darkness.

Tolkien’s Dark Tower and Mount Doom

King’s influences also extend to the American Old West—and hence our inclusion of the reviews now during Western Week. King’s gunslinger, Roland Deschain, as Ana mentions in her review shares traits not only with Strider Aragorn, but also with the Man With No Name. King modeled Roland after the recognizable Clint Eastwood character from Sergio Leone’s Dollars series, even so far as some physical appearance aspects, with his faded blue bombardier’s eyes and quiet, aloof mystique. Roland’s encounters throughout the series, beginning in the town of Tull and its Honky Tonk, across the dusty, barren desert, and his role in Wolves of the Calla at the town Calla Byrn Sturges, all pay homage to the Wild West, and are a modern horror-fantasy application of the Western in literary form.

The Gunslinger Born, available as a graphic novel collection of the seven individually released comics, tracks Roland Deschain’s beginnings from his youth in Gilead as a ‘prentice, and his past ultimately leading to the opening of The Gunslinger, chasing the Man in Black across the desert on his quest for the Tower. For those who have read the books, the comics detail Roland’s ascension as a Gunslinger in his battle with Cort in The Gunslinger (book 1), and the incredible, heart-wrenching tale of he, Cuthburt, Alain and love Susan Delgado in Wizard and Glass (book 4). The body comics themselves and the main storyline as it pertains to the Dark Tower do not reveal anything new—it is a retelling of books 1 and 4, but brought to new life in comic format.

The artwork by Jae Lee is stunning. As the original editions of the Dark Tower books were all illustrated, I already had some artistic visualization of Roland on his quest—but the art in The Gunslinger Born is truly wonderful. The new representations of settings, and of characters from Marten/Flagg, Rhea of the Coos, or the Crimson King himself, are breathtaking. Similarly, the adapted text and the selections made by the Marvel crew is wonderful and captures the spirit of Stephen King’s novels without feeling abbreviated or lacking—a very impressive feat!

However, the TRUE draw of the comic books is not just the marvelous story and artwork in the main body, but the inserts (including Q&A with King himself) and stories written by Robin Furth in addition to the main storyline. In each individual comic, there is a back story, previously neither released nor discussed in the original Dark Tower books. These stories include Vannay’s teachings of the importance of the Beams, creation of Maerlyn’s rainbow and the Crimson King, the creation of Roland’s guns, Maerlyn’s Laughing Mirror, Rhea of the Coos’ childhood, Big Coffin Hunter Jonas’ origins, and the dreaded Charyou Tree.

BE WARNED! The graphic novel collection of The Gunslinger Born does NOT contain the wonderful back stories by Robin Furth—which pisses me off to no end. The graphic novel by itself is great, and features the entire collection of the seven issues of this story arc, along with some concept art and cover collections, but why oh why Marvel would you not include one of the biggest draws to the series! I would highly recommend that anyone interested track down and purchase the individual comic issues of the series instead of (or in addition to) purchasing the sadly incomplete graphic novel.

Notable Quotes/Parts: My favorite depiction is the sweet lover’s tryst between Roland and Susan. The art captures the both of them at the right age, and the beautiful innocence of their young love. Also, the hope and sweetness of the scene balances the darkness and hardship that Roland and his tet must face. The back stories by Robin Furth are also brilliant in their entirety—although if I had to pick a favorite, reading more about Maerlyn’s Rainbow and Rhea of the Coos was deliciously scary.

Additional Thoughts: Usually I am a sucker for Omnibus formats. Collections are easier on the wallet, not to mention less of a strain on the bookshelf, and generally are easier to track down than individual issues. However, I really do encourage everyone to look for the original issues of these comics, as almost half of the story (not to mention letters, interviews, Comic Con specials, etc) are completely eliminated from the graphic novel.

Also, in March 2008 the second arc of the Gunslinger comics began with the release of The Long Road Home Vol. 1. The new arc is completely new with regard to the Dark Tower universe, as it details Roland, Cuthburt and Alain’s adventures post-Hambry after the conclusion of Wizard and Glass. I am certainly collecting these as well!

On a further note—if anyone is wondering where to purchase the comics (I didn’t know where to go either), you can either look up specialty comic book stores in your area (you can try this via sites like The Master List) OR if you are lucky like me, your local Borders bookstore will usually carry them!

Verdict: Absolutely brilliant art, and brilliant text, adapted from brilliant source material. But BOO! on the graphic novel for not including all of the goodies from the individual comic book issues. Highly recommend tracking down the originals over the graphic novel purchase.

Rating: 9 Damn Near Perfection (for the original issues)

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  • Ana
    April 1, 2008 at 11:35 am

    oooooooo, I am SO buying this when I am done with the series. Looks awesome!

  • Zeek
    April 1, 2008 at 12:49 pm

    I considered this because I love Peter David’s New Frontier books and I saw he’s part of the team.

    But I think I have enough going on with my Buffy comics …

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