My favourite novel of all time – and coincidentally the first I ever read - is Stephen King’s The Stand. I still remember that evening, when I opened up that eight-hundred-plus page opus (this was before the unedited edition had been released) and was instantly transported to Arnette, Texas. It became a ‘bible’ of sorts in my teenage years, my weathered copy never far from hand. I’ve read many other books, by King and others, but none have ever matched its unadulterated magic.
Fast forward to 2008, when I heard Marvel was doing a comic series adaptation. After having been stung by the sanitized miniseries in the mid-nineties, I was skeptical, but the first few covers were very promising.
I, as with pretty much every comic series that peaks my interest, decided to wait for the trade editions. However, this was a poor decision on my part, as I forgot that Marvel tends to favour hardcovers, which I dislike due to their uncomfortable bulkiness. After several years of waiting, I discovered that my brother had, in fact, collected the entire 31-issue run, which I subsequently borrowed and tore through in a week.
This comic adaptation is fantastic. I first have to hand it to Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa for how well he scripted everything out. It was a Herculean task, and he performed brilliantly. Broken down into six arcs – starting with “Captain Trips”, where the population of the United States (and presumably the world) is decimated by a deadly plague – almost every single beat of the novel is represented here in some capacity. I especially liked the montage that showed the second wave of deaths that came shortly after the flu had run its course. That section was one of my favourite parts of the 1990 unedited edition of The Stand, and was glad to see it made it in.
Using Aguirre-Sacasa's wonderful framework, it is then beautifully illustrated by Mike Perkins, Laura Martin & Lee Bermejo. I found myself being continually blown away by their art. They tell King’s tale just as well, and I fully appreciated the occasional nods to Bernie Wrightson’s previous drawings from the novel.
Mother Abagail vs. the weasels.
But let’s face it, the reason The Stand has endured as King’s most revered novel is due to its characters and they are all rendered here in precise detail. Pinnacle characters like Stuart Redman and Frannie Goldsmith are bang-on, as are Tom Cullen and Nick Andros. I initially thought that Larry Underwood looked a tad older than I would've expected, but I warmed up after a few issues.
Fran, Stu, Tom & Nick.
I think where this adaptation really shines though, is with its darker characters. Nadine Cross is the epitome of forbidden fruit and the feral nature of Leo “Joe” Rockway is perfectly captured here.
Larry meets Joe & Nadine.
This razor sharp accuracy trickles down to even the smallest characters, like this variant cover introducing the petulant and venomous Julie Lawry.
However, nothing compares to how wonderfully realized The Dark Man Randall Flagg is in this comic, though. None of this rub-a-dub-dub bullshit of the miniseries here, Flagg is a force of nature, representing the evil and dark desires of mankind.
While experiencing this story again – for the first time in a good ten years – I was struck by how perceptions change. When I first read this in my mid-teens, characters like Frannie and Nick seemed so much older, but now I realize they were just kids. Imagine having to take on the fate of the world at twenty-two! The character that I most identified with on that inaugural read was, maybe a little unfortunately, Harold Lauder. At the time, I too was an outcast, with a quiet intelligence that could’ve very easily spiralled into uncontrollable anger. I’d like to say with certainty, now twenty years on, that I would do things differently if I was in Harold's shoes, but sadly I still cannot.
The Stand comic is an extreme success for the medium. I would love to see more King works adapted in this fashion, as we all know there is a mountain of literature to pull from. And that mountain continues to grow taller each day.