Hank McCoy (Before the Fur)

I like Stephen King. I always have. I think the man doesn’t get enough credit. That is not to say that he doesn’t get tons of publicity- I mean the guy writes like a fiend! What does he crank two, three novels a year? And I don’t mean tiny 150 page novels. For example, you haven’t truly experienced the man’s prolificness until you’ve taken a crack at reading his aptly named Insomnia. Not exactly in the “light reading” department. Good book though. What I mean when I say the man doesn’t get enough credit is that I think he’s isn’t just a good horror writer- he’s a good writer, period. I mean sure, when you think of horror, you think of Stephen King and not a lot of others. Anne Rice maybe…and despite numerous very, very bad movies, Clive Barker is underrated (I’m a big fan of The Great and Secret Show, and I hear Weaveworld is captivating- neither adapted to film that I know of). But King has this knack for putting into words those subtleties that run through your mind or play out in relationships that aren’t easily verbalized. The way people think, to themselves, their most private thoughts, no matter how abstract they are. Not only that? I think he gets what’s scary. For example, scary isn’t just the big, bad monster lurking in your closet. Scary is that even though you’re an adult, when you encounter something truly bizarre and frightening, you don’t have any idea what to do. Even though as children we idolize adults and feel like they’ll have the answers to anything that comes along, most adults face the grim reality that there are plenty of situations where you really don’t know what to do anymore than you did when you were a kid. King has this way of taking you back there. The settings, for starters- big, empty hotels (The Shining) and airports (The Langoliers- weird reference, but good story), places where you felt overwhelmed, as a child, without your parents’ guidance. And then of course, you throw the obligatory childhood fear in- evil clown (It), big, angry neighborhood dog (Cujo), PUBERTY (Carrie)…you get the picture. So okay, yeah, he’s scary. But even beyond that- I respect the guy’s opinion! I’ve seen and read numerous interviews with the man and I always think the guy is astute and well-spoken. I saw him give a graduation speech (can’t remember where) at a university once on TV. He did the whole thing from the perspective of “a hundred years from now, you’ll all be dead.” But the message was along the lines of “What are you going to do with your time?” It was inspiring, and terrifying, all at once. He ended with a comment to the effect of “What did you expect? You picked the scary guy for your graduation.” Everybody laughed. Okay, I’ve said enough. So I like King. The real point is this- Marvel had been adapting Dark Tower to comic book form, and I’ve been psyched to be reading it. What is Dark Tower? Very good question…although I almost have no idea where to begin telling you the answer. I think D.T. is the greatest series King has ever written. It’s seven books, extremely lengthy. And it is Epic, with a capitol “E”. D.T. is kind of like Stephen King does fantasy-western…if you could even say such a genre exists. So cowboys and Indians but all horror-fantasy style. But you know? That’s just one aspect of the whole thing. It defies description. I will say this. My favorite part of reading the series is that King wrote the novels over something like thirty years. He wrote the first book, "The Gunslinger," before he even became well established, in the seventies. There was something like a ten year gap in the nineties after he got done with the third book, "Wastelands." The fourth, "Wizard and Glass," didn’t come out until the beginning of this decade. It was one of the longest waits of my life. So the cool bit is this- you literally can see the man’s style, as an author, change over time as you read these books. The first book is truly bizarre (although still, possibly, my favorite), and whenever I try to introduce it to my friends, I warn them that they have to kind of stick with it, make it to the second novel, to really start digging the series. But the real appeal for Dark Tower fans is that it is intimately, and intricately, tied into almost everything the man has written. I mean, EVERYTHING. There are websites devoted to cataloging and analyzing every reference to other King novel’s tucked away in the series. In a sense, Dark Tower is almost, kind of giving you a glimpse at the big picture of the Stephen-King-verse. Of course, these reference start off titillating- people who have read The Stand and Needful Things will be freaked out to see the primary antagonist of both books, Randall Flagg, make appearances. There’s a mention of a tower guardian that assumes the form of what you fear most (It?). Sutff like that. Okay, I’m either going to ruin one of the coolest twists in the series for you or stimulate your interest enough to get you to go read it. Possibly both. But if you aren’t into spoilers, don’t read this next the next paragraph. Around book five, "Wolves of the Calla," the heroes end up fighting a bunch of vampires. The vampires are strikingly similar to a group of vampires who appear in the novel Salem’s Lot. In fact, one of the group’s new allies IS a character who appeared IN that novel- only he met his grisly end. How he now exists, in this kind of fantasy landscape, is baffling to you, the reader, if you have knowledge of the book. THEN, the characters find a copy of the novel Salem’s Lot written by Stephen King. And they read it. That’s all I’m going to say. My point in writing all of this is not to veer away from the comics Marvel has been producing. The comics kind of “fill out” some pieces of the story that are written in the novels, or follow the story here and there. But the thing is, you can’t really appreciate just how cool these comics are if you haven’t at least taken a pass at reading this series. I want to see Marvel keep making these- but if you’re just going to pull one off the rack with no sense of what’s happening, you’ll probably struggle to really appreciate what a good job the books do at capturing the sort of…spaghetti-western-surrealness of the series. My point is that it isn’t just any other comic book- research a little bit and you’ll see the series from a different angle. If I haven’t sold you by now, probably nothing will. But I’ll leave you with the first line of the first novel, which sucked me in as a kid- “The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed.”