Issue #4 of The Long Road Home has a lot of the payoffs I have been waiting for from this second Dark Tower mini-series. Sheemie's subplot finally comes around, connecting to Roland and his ka-tet's journey, as well as Roland finally coming face to face with the Crimson King. Once again, the writing of Peter David is particularly strong, giving a feeling of neither here nor there. There is a way he writes the language of Mid-World in his narration that makes it impossible to pinpoint a time of reference. It just seems otherworldly. More to the point, Peter David writes a fantastic Dark Tower comic.
I kept the critical analysis of the writing to a minimum this time because I instead want to focus on The Dark Tower's art. Roughly a week ago I reviewed Immortal Iron Fist #15 and basically slammed it for its overuse of narration captions and stiff "snapshot" art that doesn't utilize the graphic novel medium to its fullest potential. I am just pointing this out because I am basically about to become a complete hypocrite within a week's time.
The Long Road Home, as well as the Gunslinger Born (Marvel's first Dark Tower mini-series), have been drawn by Jae Lee whose artistic style is very much a snapshot of David's writing. However, the presentation by which Lee accomplishes his panels seems to counter the stiffness of his figures, rendering the art impressive instead of tame and boring. For example, one way Jae Lee spices up his pencils is how he renders hair, which is astonishing, although it looks like everyone has their head underwater while getting their picture taken. It also helps when you know how to use shadows to add amazing depth to your pieces. Every panel draped in shadows helps depict Mid-World as a dark and seedy place, somewhere even the most pure of souls become overtaken by the darkest corners of the world.
However, drawing your attention to the panels above displays The Dark Tower's one true weakness in the art department. In the entirety of the Dark Tower comic a background has never existed. Literally every background in issue #4 is either a blending of grey/white or red/white. It seems like Mid-World is populated by random floating stones and trees which our characters seem to bounce between instead of dropping down a bottomless pit. It's a strange conundrum when Jae Lee gets away with never including set pieces in any of his panels and other artists get labeled "hacks" for the same technique. Now don't get me wrong, in a book like Dark Tower, the lack of stages for the characters works. Once again, I think it's a testament to Jae Lee's stylized characters that spring off the pages straddling the line between the realistic and surreal distracting readers from the lack of set pieces.
Moving away from Jae Lee for a second, Richard Isanove also proves some grotesque and disturbing images in this month's backup text. Highlighting the animal mutations of Mid-World, Isanove channels what can only be described as "gross" while depicting these sad animals. Some of them, like the deer, literally made me slightly sick, which is a good thing. The art did its job.
Although I spent the majority of this review on the art, often times pointing out its flaws as much as its strengths, I still enjoyed The Long Road Home #4 a lot. The stylized art fits the mood of the book, and Peter David's writing is as sharp as ever when narrating the tale of Roland, Bert, and Alain's trip home. The cliffhanger also seems to indicate issue #5, this mini-series' conclusion, will be quite the epic conclusion for all the cast involved.
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