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?