The Talisman: The Road of Trials #1-2 (Del Rey Comics)

talisman-header.jpgThe kickoff to the 24-issue adaptation of Stephen King and Peter Straub’s 1984 team-up novel.




32 pgs., color; $3.99

(W: Robin Furth, from a novel by Stephen King and Peter Straub; A: Tony Shasteen)

In 1984 Stephen King and Peter Straub, both hugely successful as solo authors, published their first collaborative novel: The Talisman. The story concerns an adolescent boy, Jack Sawyer, who must venture into an alternative universe known as "the Territories" to retrieve a talisman which can keep his mother from dying of cancer. So it’s the basic hero’s journey setup, complete with a wise old man known as Speedy Parker who is Jack’s protector and guide.

Click for a larger image.Many people in the Territories are doubles  or "twinners" of people in this world. Jack’s mother Lily Cavanaugh is a former B-movie actress in our world and Queen Laura DeLoessian in the Territories, while his scheming uncle Morgan Sloat in this world is the power-hungry Morgan of Orris in the Territories. Morgan has already killed Jack’s father and is trying to bump off his mother as well. Jack doesn’t have a twin so he has to go between the two worlds (thus earning his nickname "Travellin’ Jack"), a process known as "flipping,"  with the help of a potion provided by Speedy Parker.

Now Del Rey is bringing out a comic book adaptation of The Talisman scripted by Robin Furth with art by Tony Shasteen and covers by Massimo Carnevale and Mike Krahulik. An issue #0 which provided some backstory on Jack’s father distributed at Comic-Con International in San Diego in 2009, but I didn’t see that one so my review is based solely on the issues #1 and 2 of the series, which were released on November 18 and December 16, respectively.

Furth, who was once a research assistant for Stephen King, has done a great job adapting the King/Straub novel to comic book form. The first issue or two of a new series has a lot of pipe to lay—telling us who the characters are, what they want, and most importantly what kind of a world they live in—and Furth accomplishes this with great economy. Even though this story relies on a lot of well-worn conventions (no points for guessing that Jack meets Speedy in a beat-up old amusement park , that Jack has had intimations of his powers before, or that the Territories seem to have been designed by the Society for Creative Anachronism) Furth sets up the fictional world of The Talisman as a place you’d like to visit and the characters as people you can care about, and you don’t have to have read the original novel to understand the characters or the rules of their fictional universe.

Things do move a bit slowly in the first two issues (all that exposition takes time) so if you’re not already a huge King/Straub fan you may wonder when the story is actually going to get going. But informed sources tell me that the novel will be spread over 24 issues before appearing in hardcover, so patience is advised. In the meantime Furth does a nice job laying out all the information you will need later while offering a bit of payoff in each issue to keep you interested. Even better, she discusses the process of adapting a novel into comic form in a series of essays, one in each issue of the comic: this feature will be particularly interesting to people who are interested in writing their own comics or adapting literary works to the comics format.

The art by Tony Shasteen is quite good and totally appropriate to the tone of the story. Jack’s life in the world is drab and dark and shadowy even when he’s strolling on the beach in New Hampshire, while the exteriors of the Territories are drenched with sunlight and bright colors even though there’s just as much evil on that side as in our world. The art sometimes feels a bit static, almost like a storyboard for a film, but there’s a nice variety of angles and sizes in the "shot selection" and the story is told very clearly. The cover art by Massimo Carnevale emphasizes the fantastic elements of the story but within the comic itself the art is more realistic, making it easier to identify with the characters. You can check out a preview of the first issue here, courtesy of Bleeding Cool. | Sarah Boslaugh

Click for a larger image.

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