In 1982, Stephen King began his Dark Tower series with The Gunslinger, which introduced Roland Deschain, the last gunslinger on his quest to find “the man in black” and, eventually, The Dark Tower, described as “the center of everything.”

A mix of fantasy, western, horror and science fiction, The Dark Tower spanned eight novels and a comic book prequel series from Marvel Comics.

Read more on Michael Moorcock's 'Elric.'

The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger—The Journey Begins is a gorgeous hardcover with script by Peter David, a name comic-book readers are well accustomed to seeing (The Incredible Hulk, Young Justice. David also wrote one of my favorite Star Trek: The Next Generation novels: Imzadi.) The series is illustrated by Sean Phillips (WildC.A.T.s and Batman) and Richard Isanove (Wolverine: Origin), and plotted by Robin Furth, King’s personal research assistant for The Dark Tower: A Complete Concordance.  

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The story opens with Roland tracking the man in black across a desert wasteland. The man in black leaves clues to spur Roland forward, but they aren’t unslinger2 needed. Roland is a man haunted by the ghosts of his past, and those ghosts drive him on.

Roland comes across a man who offers news of the man in black along with food, water and shelter for the night. All he asks in return is for The Gunslinger to tell him a tale. Through flashbacks, we see the day Roland’s ka-tet were slaughtered by the Good Man, John Farson. As Farson’s followers are stacking up the dead for a pyre, Roland escapes along with another Gunslinger, Aileen.  She is mortally wounded and asks that he bury her in her family crypt in Gilead. 

Returning home stirs more ghosts (literally) for Roland, and we see through another flashback a pivotal moment from his childhood. Leaving Gilead in the company of a billy-bumbler (an intelligent creature resembling a combination of badger, raccoon and dog), Roland returns to his path to the Dark Tower only to encounter a woman who is the spitting image of his lost love, Susan Delgado, living in a large town. When she is taken by a Not Man, a follower of John Farson, it’s up to Roland to get her home safely—or die trying.

Fans of The Dark Tower will enjoy this glimpse into the past of King’s richly drawn Gunslinger universe. Eve if you’re not a fan, but have always told yourself you should dip your toes into the series, this is a great place to start. This Marvel package is a series of little short stories in graphic form: The Journey Begins paints a nice picture of who Roland is, where he came from and what’s driving him forward.

The interior artwork is wonderfully dark, as it should be. Given that it’s published by Marvel, I never felt like it had received the “Marvel-treatment.” This is not a superhero book, so people look like people, not overmuscled monsters. The writing and dialogue are spot-on as well. The hardcover edition features a luscious dust jacket, a foreword by Furth, original and variant covers from the original comics, and a series of “sketch to final art” pages.

Stephen King’s The Dark Tower-The Gunslinger: The Journey Begins is published by Marvel and available now.

Patrick Hester is an author, blogger and Hugo-nominated Podcast producer/host who lives in Colorado, writes science fiction and fantasy, and can usually be found hanging out on his Twitter feed. His Functional Nerds and SF Signal weekly podcasts have both been nominated for Parsec awards, and the SF Signal podcast is nominated for a 2012 Hugo Award. He writes for atfmb.com, SF Signal and Functional Nerds.