Halfway through new comics trade The Dark Tower: The Long Road Home—in which our gunslinging hero is transported to an ominous netherworld, where he’s banged up and taunted but never killed—writer Peter David’s narrator breaks out with this head-scratching line: “After all, what point is there in great villains attempting evil deeds…if great heroes aren’t around to try and stop them?” Intriguing! If only Roland, a descendant of a line of kickass gunslingers, were actually there to stop something in this second, more ponderous installment of Marvel’s adaptation of the Stephen King epic. First, some background: The teenage Roland grew up in Gilead, a dusty hamlet in which the Old West and the even older medieval times meet, itself set in a timeless world underlain with curious technology, alternate universes, and of course magic. It’s the later that exacts havoc on Roland’s life: After becoming a full-fledged gunslinger, he’s eyed by the powerful and manipulative wizard-type Farson who’s itching to destroy both the fledgling Roland and his placid homeland. So his dad convinces him to high-tail it out of Gilead. With a couple friends in tow, he lands in the town of Hambry where Roland takes possession of Maerlyn’s Grapefruit (a.k.a. a mystical crystal ball coveted by Farson) and romances a lass. Things are looking up, until said lady friend is whacked amid a plot to destroy him and his motherland. You see, the fine folks of Hambry—they’re friends of Farson. Long Road Home follows the trifecta making their way back to Gilead, mulling over their traumatic sojourn to Hambry. With the Hambrians on their tails, the threesome’s walkabout gets that much more complicated once Roland’s soul is sucked into the Grapefruit. Forging ahead on parallel trips (think The Lord of the Rings or Empire Strikes Back)—Roland in an alternate reality, his comrades in the creepy frontier—Roland’s buddies struggle to bring him back to safety while eluding the baddies. Also figuring into this equation: the Hambry village idiot getting probed by a robot. We kid you not! Despite being populated with killer canines, underworld demon-like lords, nefarious crows, and the like, a bunch of stuff happens but not a lot of stuff actually transpires on this Road. It’s an excellently ominous interlude—Jae Lee’s landscapes ache with menace and shadows—that can, at turns, feel like a stalling plot that reaches an inevitable conclusion: Roland has changed. (The narrator’s good-ol'-boy quips, which are too frequent and at odds with the characters’ feudal speak, don’t exactly speed things along.) But perhaps it’s unavoidable, this being an excursion from King’s original book. Our suggestion? Best to read Road’s gripping predecessor, The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born, to fully soak up its follow-up's rich, brooding color.
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So do these comics follow the books, or are they filling in the gaps that the books don't explain?