By Andrew A. Smith
Scripps Howard News Service

May 12, 2009 -- Marvel’s Dark Tower: Treachery has topped the New York Times graphic-novel best-seller list for two weeks, and there’s a reason for that: It’s really, really good.

Treachery continues Marvel’s history of Roland Deschain, the protagonist of Stephen King’s “Dark Tower” novel series, that began with the first two best-selling DT graphic novels, The Gunslinger Born and The Long Road Home. Treachery is by the same creative team as the other two, and since I believe it’s those names on the credits page that makes this series work, let’s take a closer look.

The primary writer is Peter David, a name very familiar to comic-book fans. (Full disclosure: He and I both contribute to Comics Buyer’s Guide magazine, so we are in a minor sense colleagues.) David is, in my view, one of the best (and most prolific) to ever take up the word processor in pursuit of what we used to call four-color funnies. His 12-year run on Incredible Hulk reinvigorated a failing title, cementing and exploring the idea that Bruce Banner suffers from multiple personal disorder – and that a big, strong, stupid green guy isn’t the only thing he can turn into. He’s worked on TV (Space Cases, Babylon 5, Ben 10), written novels (Knight Life, Howling Mad) and been a player in the Star Trek franchise, not only writing many novels but creating the “New Frontier” characters and scenario.

So, needless to say, Roland’s backstory is in good hands. This series explodes with David’s legendary inventiveness, effortlessly leaping into new and unexplored frontiers – but all still internally consistent with itself and with what King has established in the “Dark Tower” novels. But it’s comfortable, too, like old slippers. The narration is intimate, allowing the reader to feel at home in this strange world, plus motivations and characterization are as normal as the family next door. Meanwhile, David’s King-like dialogue rings true with the antiquated political structure and specific moral paradigm of the gunslinger society.

But does David “ape” King good enough for purists? Well, I’m no King expert, but sales indicate plenty of crossover from happy novel readers. And then there’s Robin Furth, who is such an expert.

Credited as co-writer, Furth is one of the nation’s most knowledgeable and respected King authorities. She’s King’s personal research assistant, and the author of Dark Tower: The Concordance. King fans should take comfort that she’s at David’s elbow, keeping Roland’s story on the King expressway.

But comics rise or fall on illustration – the rule of thumb in comics is that “art can save a bad story, but a good story can’t save bad art.” Fortunately, the Dark Tower comics are blessed by one of the best: Jae Lee. Bursting on the scene in the early ‘90s on such books as Namor the Sub-Mariner and Marvel Comics Presents, Lee’s starkly individual style immediately split the comics fan community – some loved its chiaroscuro-influenced drama, some loathed it for jerky storytelling and over-rendering.

But like any artist, Lee’s work has matured by leaps and bounds, and now even his early detractors – and I was one of them -- are swept away by the innate beauty of his work. Frankly, I don’t even have words for it any more. It’s just stunning, and whatever early doubts I had have faded with Lee’s growing mastery of his field.

But Lee’s strength is B&W – how does this translate in a color graphic novel? Enter Richard Isanove, a celebrated animator, art director (at Top Cow) and colorist. I guess that answers the question, but I just have to add that few books are so lush and yet so readable – Isanove’s work is jaw-droppingly gorgeous, but he never forgets he’s telling a story (as so many of today’s colorists do). The colors service the story, leading the eye from panel to panel, not existing in a single-panel vacuum.

So it’s quite a team. Leaping like from Stephen King’s canon like Athena from the brown of Zeus, David, Furth, Lee and Isanove combine in a true team effort to tell a powerful coming-of-age story. Our future hero must overcome temptation (Maerlyn’s Grapefruit), endure the pain of lost love, live up to his father’s reputation and live down his mother’s faithlessness and betrayal – all under the threat of John Farson’s Big Coffin Hunters.

I have to say it’s quite a treat, even for this jaded old fanboy. Which explains its lengthy stay on the NYT list, I’d wager.

Contact Andrew A. Smith of the Memphis Commercial Appeal at

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