Friday, October 29, 2010

Review: The Dark Tower – The Battle of Jericho Hill

I was fortunate enough that when I first started reading The Dark Tower novels in college, it was only a few years until Stephen King would release Wizard and Glass – so I didn’t have to wait nearly as long as some fans did to see this epic story continue. Even so, as the series finally wrapped up there was always one story that was hinted at but never revealed to the reader in full; The Battle of Jericho Hill. Taking place sometime before The Gunslinger (the first book in the series) but after the flashbacks to the trials of his youth in Wizard and Glass, this battle seemed to be an important turning point in Roland’s life. Yet somehow in the books, all we were given were tantalizing glimpses of this event… until now. With Marvel Comics quasi adaptation of The Dark Tower into comic form, they’ve done more than just adapt existing material – they’ve also added in previously unknown parts of the saga, leading up to this bit finale. Previously, Roland became the youngest Gunslinger to pass his trials, but things haven’t gone well for him ever since. First he and his friends are sent on a mission to a far off town as scouts out to gather information on John Farson and his army gathering against the Gunslingers of Gilead. There he falls in love, the girl is killed, he discovers a powerful magical crystal ball, and they all barely escape with their lives. Roland becomes a prisoner of the evil power of the crystal ball, and upon returning to Gilead he winds up killing his own mother – just as betrayal from within will allow John Farson to finally strike and destroy the Gunslinger’s homes. Roland is able to escape with the last of the Gunslingers, vowing to defeat John Farson and raise Gilead from the ashes once again. It is here that The Battle of Jericho Hill begins. At first the reader is brought up to speed with a chapter devoted to the aftermath of the previous battle, The Fall of Gilead. Here Roland continues his maturation from boy into leader of the Gunslingers, and it is also in this part of the story where the larger tale of The Dark Tower is first revealed. The destruction of Gilead has destroyed or severely weakened one of the beams of the world – three invisible lines of energy which crisscross and intersect at The Dark Tower, a nexus of power for the world. If the Gunslingers are to raise Gilead again, they must first ensure the Tower is safe – because Roland knows that is the true goal of the hideous creature called Crimson King. If the Tower falls, the Crimson King can remake the world in his own image, one of death and chaos. But as the second chapter opens, nine years have passed and the Gunslingers are no closer to the Tower. John Farsons army has kept them from moving beyond the borders of Gilead – keeping the busy trying to defend the helpless as Farson unleashes the power of ancient technology, like tanks and laser cannons, in his desire to keep Gilead under his heel. Roland decides it’s time to face Farson’s army once and for all – but just as his father had to deal with a traitor from within the Gunslingers at Gilead, so to on the battlefield of Jericho will Roland’s Gunslingers be betrayed from within. Upon finishing The Battle of Jericho Hill I had mixed feelings. There’s no doubt, it didn’t quite live up to my expectations, but then I’ve been wanting to read this story for a long time and it’s quite possible nothing could have lived up to what I had envisioned. I had thought this would be the final battle with John Farson, as they are never brought up again in future Dark Tower books – but that was not to be. So instead it winds up being another tragedy like The Fall of Gilead, where the Gunslingers lose (though they do keep Farson’s men from being able to use the large laser cannon again). Except this time only Roland survives to fight on, setting him up as the lone Gunslinger readers are familiar with from his first book. Anyone who knows the entire story will wonder about the Horn from the battle of Jericho, and the bad news is he leaves it behind – so the Marvel version of this story won’t be changing anything about the ultimate ending to The Dark Tower. I also felt a little like Jae Lee was burnt out on The Dark Tower in this, his last miniseries. Most of the pages are one page splashes, with text written over top. Now Jae Lee does a lot of that, and has for most of the previous books, but in many cases this time I felt like I wasn’t being shown the important thing mentioned in the story on that page – and certainly without that text I’d never know what was going on. His artwork is most definitely suited to the darkness of this world, and he as much as anyone has made iconic likenesses out of certain characters – like John Farson and the Crimson King, that I will always imagine them that way from now on. At the same time, I was glad to see that starting with the next volume the reins would be turned over to a new artist – I feel like there’s been a steady decline in Jae Lee’s work since he started on The Dark Tower and it’s time to bring in some new blood. As to the story, as I said it wasn’t quite what I was hoping for – not quite as epic as I thought it should be, it didn’t quite end the way I wanted it to, and the fact that it repeated some beats from the previous tale felt less like a parallel and more like a recycling of ideas. It’s not a bad book; it’s just not quite what I as a long time fan had been hoping for. However, I can see how this battle broke Roland, losing all his connections to humanity and becoming so driven in his quest to track down the man in black and find the Tower; because that’s all he has left – and I suppose that’s really what this story needed to deliver.

4 comments:

Charles Gramlich said...

I actually never read the dark tower novels. The first one cured me of it. I wasn't able to make it through that one. But I did like the graphic novel of one I read.

Budd said...

I enjoyed the first three novels, but that is as far as I have gotten. So many books, so little time.

Jeff Lafferty said...

Good review.
Jeff

audreygeddes said...

Thanks for the great review on the Dark Tower series. I haven't read this yet and have to admit I am a fan of King's older novels. Thanks for sharing your views. You might enjoy Kelly A. Harmon's latest, "Blood Soup." It's a dark fantasy story set in medieval times. I loved it. The story and the characters are very rich and compelling.