Before the movie, there was already an alternate reality adaptation of Stephen King’s fantasy series thanks to a sprawling series of comics.
Stephen King’s The Dark Tower mythology might seem like a difficult thing to get into, given that the new movie is technically a sequel to King’s original novels — and that the original prose series lasted eight books and also contains a handful of short stories. But it’s actually more complicated than that, thanks to a series of Marvel comics that takes place in and around King’s original novels.
Originally announced in 2005, Marvel’s The Dark Tower comics — which, as of earlier this year, have spanned 17 mini-series and a handful of special issues — were originally intended to reveal the origins of the series’ hero, Roland Deschain, which had only been glimpsed in flashbacks in King’s novels (as well as more in depth in the 1997 novel Wizard and Glass). King contributed to the plotting of the initial issues, although writing duties on the final scripts were shared between King’s research assistant Robin Furth and comic veteran Peter David. Art on the series, at launch, came from Jae Lee and Richard Isanove, two of Marvel’s leading talents at the time; this, it was clear, was a big deal to Marvel.
Initially, at least, sales backed up Marvel’s confidence: the first issue of The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born might have taken more than a year to appear after its announcement, but it was the second-best selling comic of February 2007, with the rest of the seven-part series remaining at the top of the charts.
With that kind of success, it’s no surprise that the first run of The Dark Tower comic would go through five series between its launch and its 2010 end-date, nor that the series would immediately continue with a second “chapter” of another seven series with the overall title The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger. For these, the format of the series shifted significantly, consisting mostly of direct adaptations of King’s source material, including the original novellas that would later be collected as the first book of the Dark Tower prose series. (Jae Lee, also, stepped away as artist for this second go-round, being replaced by a rotating group of pencilers working with Isanove, who remained on-board.)
By the time the second “chapter” was finished, the Dark Tower comic run was seemingly done — the official solicitation for the 2013 final issue began by saying the company “concludes its epic Dark Tower saga”. That wasn’t to be the case; in 2014, The Dark Tower: The Drawing of the Three was announced, adapting and expanding events of the second Dark Tower novel, also called The Drawing of the Three.
To date, five Drawing of the Three mini-series have been published, and Peter David, who continues to co-write the series with Robin Furth, has said in interviews that the intention is to adapt all of King’s novels from the series into comics at some point, ideally in less time than it took King to write the original material.
However, here’s where things get complicated — because the adaptations of the novels aren’t necessarily adaptations at all, but separate stories that just happen to echo earlier events, according to Furth.
The subject was raised when fans pointed out that there were seeming contradictions between events in the novels and the comics, which prompted Furth to write in the first issue of 2012’s The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger — The Man in Black, “I always view the Dark Tower comics as existing in one of these parallel worlds. If the Dark Tower novels exist in Tower Keystone, or the central world of the Dark Tower universe, then the Dark Tower comics exist in a spin-off world, one which is very similar to, but not exactly the same as, the one where The Gunslinger, The Drawing of the Three, The Waste Lands, Wizard and Glass, and the rest of the Dark Tower novels take place.”
On one level, it’s a dodge to avoid dealing with any potential adaptation errors in the comics, but in the complicated, parallel world reality of the larger Dark Tower mythology, it’s a sign that, even as the movie offers another reality’s version of characters such as Roland, the Man in Black and Jake Chambers, the comic books are a third, separate but equal take on a series of recurring events — and one that might end up going in an entirely different direction at any point, depending on the whims of the creators involved. For those who want the full story of the Dark Tower, they’re something that can’t be missed — no matter how familiar they might seem.