In 2007, Marvel released The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born and quickly became the standard by which I judge all comic books. Based on Stephen King’s self-described magnum opus, The Dark Tower novels, there’s a lot of love to be had by fans of the science-fiction, western, and horror genres alike.
The first issue opens with the enigmatic Man in Black being chased through the desert by our equally mysterious protagonist, Roland Deschain. Roland is what’s known as a Gunslinger, a group of chivalrous lawmen similar to the knights of Arthurian legend and cowboys of the wild-west. His world is shown to be reminiscent of our own, though it is said to have “moved on.”
The force that drives him is called ka. Ka is a word with many meanings but is most comparable to what we know as destiny or fate: “Ka is a wheel, its one purpose to turn, and in the end it always came back to the place where it had started. The gunslinger’s ka turns toward an inevitable goal… a Dark Tower.” Why the gunslinger seeks the Dark Tower and the Man in Black is untold. Instead, we are taken back in time to the extinct realm of Gilead as we discover that “a man’s quest begins with a boy’s test.”
Roland is then depicted as a very youthful gunslinger-in-training. We learn his heritage can be traced back to Arthur Eld (analogous to King Arthur) and constitutes royalty. His father is Steven Deschain, who is in line to become the dinh of Gilead, or king. Friends Cuthbert Allgood and Alain Johns are classmates in his training, and form Roland’s ka-tet, a group of people bound together by fate. We see their teacher Cort training them in the usage of hawks. Cort also teaches many forms of combat and survival, and most importantly to remember the faces of their fathers.
We are also introduced to Marten Broadcloak in this issue. Marten is chief advisor and wizard to Roland’s father Steven. Roland catches Marten and his mother in a very compromising position and is sent into a fit of rage. Their act results in him challenging Cort to a duel for the right to bare arms, as is their custom to become a gunslinger.
Cort warns Roland that he needs to train longer, because “the penalty for over-eagerness is the same as the penalty for unworthiness,” meaning to fail in defeating Cort is to be exiled from the land of Gilead. Roland insists, and Cort gives him time to choose a weapon and to meditate on the face of his father. To Cort’s surprise, Roland chooses to bring his hawk David as his only weapon. After a vicious battle, Roland emerges victorious. Lying on the ground, bruised and bloodied, Cort says, “The hawk was a fine weapon. How long did it take you to train him?” Roland replies, “I never trained David. I friended him.” Roland is rewarded his apprentice nickel-plated guns.
After burying his hawk and making it clear to Marten that he was now a gunslinger, Roland seeks out a prostitute to complete his passage into manhood, acceptable in their society. His rest is shortened by the appearance of his father, who shoots Roland’s quickly grabbed apprentice gun from his hands, and proclaims that his son has forgotten the face of his father. “Powerful words, those. They speak of shame. They speak of having behaved dishonorably. And when the words are uttered from one’s own father, emerging from his own face, well –! What else can one say, save that the words say true, and we say thankee, sai.”
In summation, this first issue begins one of the most imaginative series I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. Roland and his ka-tet embark on a journey which becomes Tolkien-esqe in scale, and Peter David always stays true to King’s novels (having read them myself.) Jae Lee’s vision of Mid-World and the characters who inhabit it is nothing short of perfection. He has the ability to simultaneously inspire beauty and horror in a way that will leave you breathless. With several volumes completed and more being released every year, The Dark Tower series is a must-read, and “The Gunslinger Born #1” is the perfect addition to your long box.
“Do ya kennit?”