There's no glossary of terms, and you don't need one.

Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born #1 (of 7)

That’s the title given in the legal indicia. Not to be confused with the title on the cover, The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born, or the title I’ve heard a bunch of people referring to it as, The Dark Tower: Gunslinger Born. I think I like the lattermost the best, and the legal title the least, but why even choose? Marvel hasn't!

Speaking relatively, this is a nice production. There’s 31 pages of story, very few ads (all of which pertain to bookstore-ready products, albeit most of them forthcoming), nine pages of bonus features, a four-page preview of the next issue - it’s like Marvel’s breaking out its Sunday best for the possibility, however limited, of non-diehards wandering into a shop and asking for that Stephen King comic. They probably won’t be repelled by the presentation, which I suppose counts as a small victory.

I bought this comic pretty much strictly on the basis of my admiration of penciller Jae Lee’s work, as well as a little curiosity about the Dark Tower series of books, which I’ve never read, but do seem to be awfully popular. There’s an interesting division between story and art at play here - the writing credits are broken down with much exactitude (Stephen King: Creative Director and Executive Director; Robin Furth: Plotting and Consultation; Peter David: Script), while the art credits are as simple as one could imagine (Jae Lee & Richard Isanove: Art; Chris Eliopoulus: Lettering). I think this reflects a bit of obvious concern on Marvel’s part as to how King’s prose will be broken up into the form of comics on a basic, words-to-pages level, a concern that will clearly be shared by many readers, especially after the confusing series of half-revelations and between-the-lines deductions that marked the series’ pre-release hype, while the visual artists are just sort of trusted to go off and do good work, and we’ll all sweat the details later.

My concern, as someone who’s never read these books, doesn’t extend that far into adaptation. I can say there’s a lot of wordiness, which is probably going to be inevitable when tackling a high-profile prose adaptation; there’s always talk about trusting in images in a visual art form and all that, but I don’t think it’s outrageous to suggest that hardcore fans of the prose, which Marvel is at least trying to attract in this situation, are probably going to be perturbed if too much of the original work’s language is left out, so any error is always going to be on the side of wordiness. I couldn’t tell you how much of the language is King’s and how much is David’s, but I can say it’s consistent enough in voice that it doesn’t seem wrung out or jarring, and there’s little describing of what’s evident from the art, with the unseen narrator acting as more of a running commentator on the pictures than anything (although this also wavers toward cuteness on occasion - lines like “He makes deep noises in his throat, do ya not hear them?” don’t work nearly as well when one of the senses is actually provided with solidified, sequential images to follow).

There also seems to be some attention paid to how the issue should be structured, and they’ve chosen well, for the most part. This debut chapter introduces us to young Roland and his friends, and covers his rise from mere student to first-year gunslinger, though we’re not yet told exactly what a gunslinger does, save for pursuing men in black across deserts. The attention is mainly on Roland’s training, the exoticness of his environment, and his family situation, his distant gunslinger father and his ineffective mother, who’s shacked up with a nasty wizard who’s also his father’s advisor. It’s an intriguing enough slice of world-building, enough to keep me in for another few issues. Don’t ask me what someone’s who’s already read this stuff in one form might think - it’s all new to me.

The art, though, will be new to everyone. My feelings are pretty mixed. I can say with confidence that if part of the intent of teaming Lee with Isanove was to sort of drag Lee’s typical style toward something more palatable to the mainstream of comics, it’s probably been a successful effort. Lee’s art is generally very mannered and posed, his characters often looking like they’re arranged upon a stage. Lots of room is left open for the colorist (which recently has always been June Chung, who actually shows up here coloring Jim Calafioire’s illustrations for a prose bonus) to fill with faded hues. Shadows are very thick, and intense attention is paid to lighting. Virtually all of these instincts are offset by Isanove’s digital ink and color, which does retain some of the starkness of the traditional Jae Lee feel, but adds a fair amount of brightness and texture as well. The final product genuinely resembles nothing that either man has done before (though my experience with Isanove is far from complete), and I presume the added richness will appeal to a wider swath of reader.

But I’m just not much of a fan of Isanove’s color and texture here. He does attractive work with fabrics and things, but a lot of his stone and wood structures (and there’s plenty here) have an antiseptic computer sheen that jars with Lee’s endlessly weathered, lived-in styling. Human flesh sometimes looks outright bizarre, so molded and shiny, light gleaming off of everything. It often seems like everyone’s wearing a thin layer of Saran Wrap over every inch of exposed skin, and a particular fat characters looks like he’s wearing a rubber suit. It’s all the more disappointing in that Lee provides some of his best character designs; I love that his teenage characters manage to actually look like slightly awkward, not totally developed teenagers, in spite of all their combat training and inner spirit and what have you. All the best visual bits, I think, are when Isanove compliments Lee with simplicity, like an extended fight sequence set before a toasty sundown glow, the backgrounds stripped to dark thorny jutting branches and blades of grass that nearly comment on the violence happening. All the rubber in the world can’t take away all the impact.

Still, I’m far from aghast. It’s a good overall effort, with some thought behind it. I’ll stick around.