Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Dark Towering Inferno

Posted by Don MacPherson on January 2nd, 2007

All hail Stephen King, Marvel Comics proclaims, urging readers and retailers to get excited about the upcoming release of its comic-book adaptation of King’s Dark Tower novels. The problem is that recently, many are crying foul, feeling as though Marvel promised a King-written comic book featuring new content, not adapted material. It turns out comics writer Peter David is penning the scripts, with art by Jae Lee. Thanks to the magic of Google, it’s easy to determine if those bait-and-switch allegations have any real basis. I dug up the original news release (issued in the fall of 2005), as well as various websites’ coverage of the initial announcement.

Other versions of the initial news release online note that the first issue of this landmark project was originally slated for release in April 2006. With Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born #1 slated for release Feb. 7, that puts the project almost a full year behind schedule. That’s another black eye for the project from a publisher with an unfortunate reputation for lateness when it comes to high-profile projects. In any case, the original news release reads:

STEPHEN KING BREAKS NEW GROUND AT MARVEL WITH ORIGINAL COMIC SERIES BASED ON HIS EPIC THE DARK TOWER
New Comic Series Exploring the Origin of the Notorious Gunslinger Character Marks First Time Stephen King Has Produced Original Content for the Comic Book Format.

 

NEW YORK – World Fantasy Award-winning writer Stephen King, long acknowledged as the master of modern horror, and Marvel Comics join forces this spring to launch a ground-breaking new comic-book series adapted from King’s magnum opus, The Dark Tower.

There it is in the first paragraph: the word “adapted.” It seems Marvel hasn’t misrepresented the product. Still, one has to appreciate the art of writing public-relations copy. It’s about misdirection, about hyping novel qualities that may or may not actually exist. Though the lead in the news release notes the project is adapted from the Dark Tower novels, look at the title of the news release. It promises King himself is breaking “new ground” with an “original” comic, “based” on his novels, not necessarily adapted from them.

The news release continues…

The comic series will mark the first time Stephen King has produced original content for an ongoing comic-book project. The series will expand the saga of King’s epic hero, Roland Deschain, whose quest to save the Dark Tower is captured in seven best-selling novels published over the course of twenty-five years. King’s unparalleled storytelling power will inform new stories that delve into the life and times of the young Roland, revealing the trials and conflicts that lead to the burden of destiny he must assume as a man, the last Gunslinger from a world that has moved on. The comics will work in conjunction with the novels, further supplementing and defining the saga’s mythology under the direction of the acclaimed author himself.

Further information about the nature of the adaptation and how original the comic book will be is revealed. Apparently, the plot from the novel will serve as the plot in Gunslinger Born as well, but the comic “will expand” on the main character. Marvel promises “new stories” from the protagonist’s past, but really, a closer look reveals we’re more likely to glean some new information about the hero, not untold Dark Tower tales.

Continuing the initial release…

“As a lifelong fan of Marvel comic books, and as an adult reader who’s seen comics ‘come of age’ and take their rightful place in the world of fantasy and science fiction, I’m excited to be a part of Roland’s new incarnation,” said Stephen King.

 

“Stephen King is a true literary master. We are thrilled beyond words to have him join Marvel on this exciting project. The millions of Dark Tower fans are in for a real treat, and I’m sure many more will soon be hooked on this epic series through this historic comic project,” said Joe Quesada, Marvel Entertainment’s Editor-In-Chief and Chief Creative Officer, Publishing.

 

“The level of excitement and talent that Stephen King brings to the world of comic books is electrifying. We’re proud and honored to be a part of what promises to be an industry-defining event,” said Dan Buckley, Publisher and Chief Operating Officer of Marvel Entertainment, Publishing.

The release is carefully worded to indicate King will helm the project as writer, but there were subtle hints even back then that it wouldn’t be the case. Note that King’s quote has him “excited to be a part” of his character’s new incarnation. Nevertheless, the original announcement does lead people astray is in its representation of King’s active participation in the creative process. Quesada’s claim that King is “joining” Marvel is designed to give that impression. Of course, we’ve learned different since then. From the solicitation copy for the first issue of Gunslinger Born:

“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 Best-seller Peter David, this series delves deep 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!

Also worthy of note from Quesada’s and Buckley’s comments from late 2005 is the clear vision they have for the Dark Tower comic as an opportunity to reach out beyond the insular comics-reading audience and tap into King’s massive fanbase. They refer to the title as a “history comic project” and an “industry-defining event.” I give Marvel credit for clearly have a vision and plan for the promotion of this book, even if its actual publication schedule proved to be a lesser priority. That clever marketing led to announcements of possible midnight comic-store openings and the publisher’s own internally generated buzz for the need for major initial orders to meet a demand that’s yet to be proven.

Despite the manipulation of Marvel’s marketing writers, one has to admit that the publisher initially announced this as an adaptation project. Still, one could argue that readers were expecting a comic book penned by King himself, instead of a side project with which he was only tangentially associated. Comics and King fans need not lament, as there is not only one opportunity for them to read King’s work in a comic book, but two.

In Heroes for Hope: Starring the X-Men #1 – a special one-shot comic from Marvel to benefit famine-relief efforts in Africa, published in 1985 — King contributed two pages’ worth of script to the book. Appropriately, the two-page sequence was illustrated by noted comics horror artist Berni Wrightson. The story revolves around the X-Men suffering various psychic assaults and trailing the source of their woes to a famine-stricken region of Africa, where some kind of soul- and energy-sucking parasite hides in a desert cave. King’s contribution focuses on Kitty Pryde, who imagines herself starving to death after being touched by a hallucination of an emaciated, Grim Reaper-like figure in the kitchen of the X-Mansion.

King also contributed a two-page essay to Batman #400, published in mid 1986. The main story saw contributions from a variety of talents in the industry, and King’s essay — “Why I Choose Batman” — is tacked on at the end as something of an addendum, a star’s testament to the power of the iconic super-hero.

Those are the only instances I was able to track down, so Marvel’s hype about this “new” King project is certainly understandable. One cannot really blame the publisher for marketing using hyperbole and exaggeration. Just ask the information people — it works. One might ask why Marvel would risk the ire of its core readership by misleading them, but then again, such outrage among customers has hardly put a dent in Civil War sales, has it?

16 Responses to “Dark Towering Inferno”

  1. Chris Says:

    I don’t have a problem with this; I think Peter D. will do a great job.

    I am looking forward to it.

  2. Dan Coyle Says:

    Just to add: When I met Jae Lee at last year’s New York Comic Con, he said he had already finished drawing the first issue. So some semblance of a plot (I’m assuming written by Furth) existed at that point.

    An adaptation of Wizard and Glass is kind of disheartening, since King left plenty of room in his timeline for stories of young Roland pre-The Gunslinger. Plus, Wizard and Glass is the least memorable of the DT books I’ve read so far.

  3. Jeff Says:

    There’s at least two other examples of King’s comic work, if I’m remembering correctly–I believe he adapted “The Lawnmower Man” (the original short story, not the CGI-packed film) for Marvel’s Bizarre Adventures (I’m tempted to say Simonson did the artwork on that, but don’t quote me) and, of course, the book Creepshow, done as a series of E.C. style stories with gorgeous Bernie Wrightson art.

    Again, if I’m remembering correctly, those are both scripted by King, not just adaptations of his work by someone else.

  4. Simon DelMonte Says:

    I think that with the recent press coverage leading up to the first issue, the truth about this project is out there. Certainly, among my many friends who love the Dark Tower books as much as I do, it is.

    And you know what? We don’t care. Oh, we might have been happier to see King try his hand at writing comics. And I am still not sure that PAD is a good match – his sense of humor is very different. But King has made it clear that he is part of this, if a small part. Why else brave the madhouse that will be the NYCC? His “constant readers” know to trust him. And we all seem to love what we’ve seen of the art. Jae Lee is drawing the characters as we saw them for years.

    If you haven’t read the Dark Tower books, I suspect you will not love these comics. The books are, more than King’s other works, an acquired taste (though a rather popular one). And Marvel is of course taking advantage of the King audience. But right now, I am waiting with bated breath to see what Lee and PAD and Robin Furth have created.

  5. Don MacPherson Says:

    Jeff wrote:
    There’s at least two other examples of King’s comic work, if I’m remembering correctly–I believe he adapted “The Lawnmower Man” (the original short story, not the CGI-packed film) for Marvel’s Bizarre Adventures (I’m tempted to say Simonson did the artwork on that, but don’t quote me) and, of course, the book Creepshow, done as a series of E.C. style stories with gorgeous Bernie Wrightson art.

    A quick search of the Grand Comics Database proves Jeff right. Here are links to the cover art:

    Bizarre Adventures #29 (magazine)
    http://www.comics.org/coverview.lasso?id=35876&zoom=4

    Creepshow adaptation
    http://www.comics.org/coverview.lasso?id=36534&zoom=4

  6. Don MacPherson Says:

    Simon wrote:
    If you haven’t read the Dark Tower books, I suspect you will not love these comics. The books are, more than King’s other works, an acquired taste (though a rather popular one). And Marvel is of course taking advantage of the King audience.

    The question is: will that King audience flock to comics shops to buy the comic book? And if yes, will they be disappointed after possibly being led to believe they’d be getting wholly original material rather than an adaptation?

    I suspect the answer to the first question will be “no,” rendering the second question moot.

  7. Kevin Huxford Says:

    He, also, contributed a few pages to an oversized Batman anniversary issue, I believe.

    I think you stretch greatly here. We have many words that contradict this being unoriginal stuff, but you’ve hinged your defense on one word (“adapted”) that could still have allowed for this to be fully original. You could say “Smallville” adapts the Superman/Superboy mythos for the Beverly Hill 90210 audience, but it is still is largely original material.

  8. Don MacPherson Says:

    Kevin wrote:
    He, also, contributed a few pages to an oversized Batman anniversary issue, I believe.

    It was an essay, in Batman #400, as noted toward the end of the column.

    I think you stretch greatly here. We have many words that contradict this being unoriginal stuff, but you’ve hinged your defense on one word (”adapted”) that could still have allowed for this to be fully original. You could say “Smallville” adapts the Superman/Superboy mythos for the Beverly Hill 90210 audience, but it is still is largely original material.

    That’s wishful thinking on your part, unfortunately. Quoting King himself from a Newsarama interview: “The first few issues, I should add, are almost entirely drawn from the books.”

    Artist Jae Lee has also stated that the first Dark Tower limited series is an adaptation in its entirety.

  9. Chris Says:

    A quick wikipedia search reveals that it is not clear King’s role in the project… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_King#Recent_years

    The following is from the wikipedia article:
    “In October 2005, King signed up with Marvel Comics; this will be his first time writing original material for the comic book medium other than two pages in a benefit comic for African hunger relief in the 1980s, and the graphic novel Creepshow.[4] The 31 issue series will see him adapting and expanding his The Dark Tower series. The series will be illustrated by Eisner Award-winning artist Jae Lee. Marvel recently announced the series was delayed until 2007 in order for King to give it the attention it deserves”.

  10. Don MacPherson Says:

    Obviously, Wikipedia has its flaws. It’s not King who’s adpating and “expanding” the Dark Tower series for Marvel, but Robin Furth and Peter David.

  11. Andrey Says:

    Even in wildest dream I can’t see Dark Tower as “industry-defining event”. We already have three or four Star Wars ongoing titles out here and sellings of them is hardly more then modest. And Star Wars > Dark Tower on any scale, including amount of ready-to-buy-everything-connected fans. Undoubtedly Marvel hype-machine is greatest in the business and they’ll help to throw up this title as high as possible, but in the end I don’t think that this “event” will leave noticeable footprint on the ugly face of industry.

  12. Don MacPherson Says:

    Andrey, I think the Star Wars/Dark Tower is an excellent analogy. Good point.

    Furthermore, Marvel’s encouragement of midnight store openings to sell the Dark Tower is ridiculous from a practical point of view. There’s no such frenzy when a new King novel is released, let alone a comic book he hasn’t even written. Mind you, from a marketing perspective, the suggestion of midnight openings is smart, in that it might spark a number of retailers to increases their orders in expectation of some kind of demand, real or hyped.

  13. Nimbus Says:

    I’m sorry but the sentence “The comic series will mark the first time Stephen King has produced original content for an ongoing comic-book project” indicates (to me) that Stephen King is writing/producing original work for the comic book. Not Peter David or Robin Furth. And not adapted material.

    Then there’s “King’s unparalleled storytelling power will inform new stories that delve into the life and times of the young Roland“. Again new stories (not adapted ones) based on infeed from Stephen King.

  14. Don MacPherson Says:

    Nimbus, the news release absolutely indicates those things, but it doesn’t outright promise to deliver new stories written by King himself. It’s designed to create that impression, but it doesn’t go so far to actually say so. That’s the whole point.

  15. RIsanove Says:

    Hi
    It seems you are angered by the vagueness of the language of the press announcements. So, to calm down the conspiracy theorists, here’s the straight dope:

    1-Stephen King signed on to wright the project but wasn’t sure as to wether he would be able to script it himself. We all hoped he would. As soon as SK confirmed he wouldn’t be able to do it, the project was offered to Peter A. David who was overwhelmingly welcomed, even by the SK hardcore fan community.

    2-The first 7 issues story arc will recount the events of Roland’s past that were revealed throughout the
    book series, mostly in “The Gunslinger” and “Wizards and Glass”, putting them in chronological order and filling in the gaps. The events in question are not told from Roland’s point of view (as they were in the books) and will therefore offer a different perspective as well as new plot points. The next 24 issues will be strictly new material.

    3-Stephen King IS writing it. He produces a Stan lee-like short story, which is tightened up, fine tuned, put meat on and structured into comic format by Robin Furth. Jae (and I) do the Art which is then sent to PAD who scripts it. SK gives his approval or corrections at every single step of the process.

    4-A couple of weeks after the first announcement , Stephen King himself decided to postpone the release for almost a year. He wanted to be able to supervise the project but was busy writing a play as well as promoting his latest book. How it ends up being blamed on “a publisher with an unfortunate reputation for lateness when it comes to high-profile projects” is a little mystifying (but not really).

    6-Most of those contentious points were actually addressed in an extensive interview given by Joe Quesada on the very day of the first announcement in which he explained in detail the creative process I summarized in 3.

    Hope that helped,
    Best
    -Richard Isanove

  16. RIsanove Says:

    7-The reason I color comics for a living is that, obviously, I can’t count to five. So, please, stay in school!