Total Crap Realization Time Lapse Hits The Dark Tower

Monday , 14, August 2017 10 Comments

I throw out groundbreaking new concepts like every day, because that’s the kind of supergenius your humble host is. For today’s bite, let me introduce you to a little concept I came up with last night, called:

“The Total Crap Realization Time Lapse”

When you were 5, you liked a lot of crap. Crap TV, crap books, crap music. But you didn’t realize it, until you were older, say 10.

When you were 10, you liked different crap, but it was still almost all crap. You just didn’t know it, until you were maybe 20 or so.

And so on and so forth. The Total Crap Realization Time Lapse is “the period of time between when you start passionately loving something that’s total crap, and when you finally realize it’s total crap.” AND IT NEVER ENDS.

That stuff you love when you’re 40? By the time you turn 60, you’ll realize just what a pile of festering garbage much of it was, and look back on it with embarrassment.

Today’s victim of the Total Crap Realization Time Lapse is Stephen King’s “The Dark Tower” series, specifically the more than ten year’s worth of Marvel Comics miniseries featuring Roland, the last Gunslinger, and his quest for the Dark Tower. They’re total crap, and here’s why…

The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born—The seven issues which start the comic saga are the apex of the saga. All of the faults which eventually doom the series to mediocrity are present, but in a nascent form which doesn’t ruin the story. This arc is the tragic story of star crossed lovers, which is okay until you realize Roland is FOURTEEN and Susan’s SIXTEEN. Then it’s squicky.

Still, the story is far more atmospheric than King’s original stories, not because it’s in chronological order, but because the series’ idiosyncratic almost-Western dialect—”Thankee, sai.”, “I’ll set my watch and warrant on it.”, “Do ye kennit?”—is set in place from the beginning. It adds the perfect touch of exoticism that second world fantasies need. And don’t doubt but that these comics are, sort of, fantasies. That, and science fiction, and horror. Weird Tales fiction, partaking of the Pulps’ anarchic approach to genre, without partaking of the spirit of the Pulps.

Unfortunately, the artwork is spectacular (truly spectacular)… but limited. Just foreground in mist. No floor, no background, just colored mist. Old 3-D video games used to hide the limitations of hardware by drawing fog, so too does Jae Lee hide the limitations of his artwork. You begin to long for “badly drawn” comics which have, I don’t know, ACTUAL FLOORS AND WALLS.

The Fall of Gilead—This series could be a great story, were it not constantly interrupted with a flat, cliched, “women wants to break into a man’s profession” subplot we’ve seen a million times before. The series wastes A LOT OF TIME with this folderol, and it never goes anywhere. The character isn’t interesting or distinctive, other than being a woman, nor does she play any significant role in events, and she could easily have been replaced by any other character: she does one thing in two whole series, and then (spoiler) dies a stupid death. Pointless digression.

Last, the story is disappointing. All of the deliberate actions discussed in the first novel (The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger), all the deaths among Roland’s band of gunslingers that hinted at a complicated tale of treachery and vengeance are revealed to be nothing more than accidents that happened over the course of a day. It cheats the audience of the original promise of Roland’s past.

Click for full version, and bathe in the nihilism.

The Man in Black—The original novels are post-Christian, brutal, and utterly pagan. They’re quite nasty in so many ways. The comics don’t shy away from this and, indeed, amplify it.

This sequence begins with a tedious “Good is just as Evil as Evil is” speech. It’s ugly and consummately nihilistic, and it made me confront the fact that, for all the promise the first “Dark Tower” book held, it was a work of nihlism. Then again, pretty much all of early King was. Rage, The Long Walk, Roadwork, The Running Man, the short stories comprising The Gunslinger: all drink deeply at the well of despair. Early King couldn’t even pretend to hope for the sake of a story. Who he is always seeps through. (Though, this is true of nearly all storytelling and nearly all writers.)

This story arc also establishes one fact: Roland straight-up murdered Jake. He had a choice, and let him die. They don’t sugarcoat it, and it’s even more brutal and ugly than in the original book.

All of this nihilism, despair, and pagan brutality are what made me realize that what I loved as a teen—and I did love the Gunslinger books, and eagerly awaited each new volume, though the time gap between each was almost Martin-esque—was crap. They’re stories with much promise, that hint at heroism and courage and a quest to save not just one world, but all worlds from the predations of a demon king who will eat all of reality, but ultimately that promise is unfulfilled.

In the end, there’s no actual heroism, just its seeming. Now that I know that, I cannot regard them the way I once did. The time has lapsed, and I now realize the books were total crap.

Jasyn Jones, better known as Daddy Warpig, is a host on the Geek Gab podcast, a regular on the Superversive SF livestreams, and blogs at Daddy Warpig’s House of Geekery. Check him out on Twitter.

  • deuce says:

    I never bought into the Gunslinger love — nor King’s oeuvre in general — in any big way. Just as you describe SK’s Gunslinger series, the vast majority of the man’s work promises a lot but rarely delivers.

    • Vlad James says:

      I would strongly recommend reading them. Greatest work of epic fantasy ever.

      Note that Jasyn is discussing the comics here, not the actual King books.

  • LD says:

    All of Stephen King’s work is terrible.

    Except for that one story that takes place in rural Maine, about an alcoholic writer with marital problems, who teams up with a disabled kid who has psychic powers, and they fight a vaguely defined evil, while comfronting their childhood bullies, and bigoted townsfolk.

  • Andrew mills says:

    I appreciate everyone has different tastes but why do people have to go all deep and meaningful into things like this,the gunslinger books and all of sk works are just stories to be enjoyed or not,hey ld you say all of kings work is rubbish to claim it’s all rubbish seems to imply you’ve read all his work so if it’s all rubbish why do you keep reading it !

  • Skyler says:

    I realized after reading

  • Skyler says:

    Skeleton Crew most Stephen King stories are about the same and haven’t read another since.

  • Vlad James says:

    Reading the description of them, and then further looking it up, these comics had nothing to do with the original novels. They weren’t written by King, either, but by the duo of Robin Firth and Peter David. Which explains a lot.

    Speaking of which, have you read the novels, Jasyn? I would strongly recommend them.

  • Ben says:

    I politely disagree with “Time Lapse”… Or, at least, as an absolute.

    Oh, some things do apply. When I watched cartoons I loved every second of as a child I wonder “Why did my parents not drown me?” at the burden of trying to watch them as an adult. I mean Superfriends for the best example. I love “Justice League” but that was clearly written for adults that grew up on DC stuff.

    And, nothing wrong with literature for age groups, interests, etc. If all we had was ‘classic’ literature’ well we more or less did in previous generations and that was what put off tons of people from actually enjoying reading, enjoying stories, fantasy…

    But, I can re-read Lord Dunsany, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, H.G. Wells, Sufi Wisdom stories years later and enjoy them all the more.

    I think the “Dark Tower” is a good warning to us. Steven King was making bucketloads of money – and by his own admission blowing it on cocaine – with his mix of horror and modern fantasy. He wanted to write “The Dark Tower” but the same publishers who ate up anything he could hammer out were destroying “Sword and Sorcery” and “Classic Science Fiction/Space opera” as we knew it, replacing it with deconstruction and P.C. Pandering. A talented writer like himself re-inventing the genre, not burying it as the cancerous Saarlac the “New Wave” had mutated into, could not be allowed.

    So he self-published, shelved it for years.

    Then, when he was clearly far to rich and having learned lessons of the past -sniff, sniff, time for Betty Ford- but we all make mistakes, well he could complete his “Dark Tower”…

    But he was used to the padding and grossly thick novels he’d made over the years. Oh, I loved the Stand, the Talisman, lots of his works. But “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came” – sorry it belonged as the Hobbit, and I mean the Bakshi movie not the bloated Peter Jackson one, short, sweet, epic, beautiful and sweet.

    I like the image of the last gunfighter/knight of the round table chasing the archetypical dark wizard over a blasted wasteland on a last quest for the center of reality, the end times somehow beyond even “Zothique” yet having echoes of the far past and the present at the same time. Heh, and pure cocaine imagery, IMO.

    But, imagining how he’d do it for decades he bloated it beyond recognition… I think he turned it into a bloated story but lost the symbolism under it. His stories were good, but they were entertainment, surface only. The Dark Tower was meant to be a story that could be read for the entertainment but had deeper and deeper layers of meanings – something the industry giants are allergic to. After feeding the unholy mammon of the mainstream publishing for decades, he was as his master, so the true story suffered for expansion and pointless content.

  • Ben says:

    And, forgive the double-post, it’s late and I need to get up for the eclipse – but – has anyone read Gene Wolfe’s “New Sun” series? “Shadow of the Torturer”, “Claw of the Conciliator”, “Sword of the Lichtor”, “Citadel of the Autaurch”?

    IMO Gene Wolfe did far better in this kind of story. A long novel, split into three, then four parts and yes a sequel of sorts, but not bloated, if anything incredible in scope, putting (gasp! Heresy!) stuff like Dune to shame.

    On the surface a simple heroic quest story set in a bizarre far future world. Under the surface layers and layers and layers of meaning and symbolism. His fault there was it was a bit over-done – as much of his work. People buy his novels instantly – then shelve them to read later when they get the chance, knowing the intellectual challenge and puzzle box of meanings.

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