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September 23, 2010

Review: The Gunslinger Born

Posted by on Sep 23, 2010
The Dark Tower, coming to a screen near you

A couple of weeks ago I set out to read some of the graphic novels set in the world of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower. Well, having procrastinated for a couple of weeks I picked up and read The Gunslinger Born, the first of the series. It retells the tale in Wizard and Glass, the fourth of the Dark Tower series, no doubt because it’s the most standalone and chronologically sane of the storylines available.  Read on for my thoughts…

My initial impression is that The Gunslinger Born relies overly on what I’m going to call the Verbose Omniscient Narrator (VON) paradigm. As sometimes happens when you set a story in a fantasy universe, there are made up words you have to explain. Except all too often the book will drop a word from the books like ‘ka’, and rather than use the situation or the characters to explain it , our friendly VON will show up and explain it to us. It’s like the authors thought that we were too stupid to use a skill commonly called inference. It’s irritating, and rips you out of whatever world you were immersed in.

You really couldn't think of a better way to explain that?

In the novels, King didn’t have this problem because by the time he reached Wizard and Glass he was able to explain ‘ka’ and ‘ka-tet’ situationally. It’s like the authors of The Gunslinger Born forgot that just because you’re retelling an existing story, doesn’t mean you can’t explore new ways to convey ideas – using a narrator to explain every concept is a cop out. If you need to explain something that wasn’t explained in the book because it had been explained before, you write a new scene!

My second issue with The Gunslinger Born is just how overtly it tells the story. For a graphic novel that insists on using the Verbose Omniscient Narrator as a stand-in for creativity, the authors show a surprising willingness to change the story. It’s truly astonishing. There were several instances while I was reading the graphic novel that I thought, “Huh, they’re giving away quite a bit there”. Where the books use foreshadowing with considerable skill, the graphic novel puts out a huge yardsign  that says “THIS IS WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN”.  There’s no sense that you reveal the depths of the plot overtime, increment by increment – instead you get doused with the whole thing like a firehose.

Who doesn't enjoy imagery like this?

Now, given all my bitching, you would think that this is definitely not a graphic novel to go out and buy. And that’s not entirely fair. I really enjoy some of the artwork in the panels, and the world is too well depicted to just give up on. In fact, I think the creative team would be well served by doing a story set in the world that wasn’t fully written by King already. Coming up with a whole new story must have been a bit daunting when there was such good material to choose from. Yet to be honest, I think it might have been a riskier, but better choice. In many ways, retelling Wizard and Glass is a ball and chain that forces the creative team to choose between staying faithful to the story and being flexible enough to effectively explain what’s going on. I think to give it a fighting chance, I’m going to go pick up The Fall of Gilead, a story King alludes to but never tells.