“The Stand: Captain Trips” is the second collaboration between Marvel and the work of Stephen King, and it couldn’t be more different from “The Dark Tower,” which makes sense, as the two novels are completely different in tone and approach. Where “The Dark Tower” is a strange combination of fantasy and westerns and horror, “The Stand” is a story about our world, and (at the start, at least) a completely mundane manifestation of evil. The Superflu, Captain Trips, or The Worst Summer Cold In Human History.
For those who haven’t read the novel, it’s about a bunch of completely regular folks, coping with a planet-devastating illness and picking up the pieces of what’s left. They don’t fight zombies, they don’t turn into werewolves, they just cope. So it’s a strange choice to adapt into a comic book, as it’s much more about moral conflict than any grand scenes of epic battle. It’s much more about dread and claustrophobic fear than it is about creepy crawlies chasing you through a corn field.
That being said, outside of “The Dark Tower” novels, it’s probably King’s best work. So it’s an overall good choice, regardless.
Now let’s talk about lettering for a moment, because it’s important. None of the following critique can fairly be leveled at the work of Chris Eliopoulos, itself. He is simply dutifully following what is undoubtedly the mandate of his Editors. However, I think it is finally in this release that Marvel’s incessant adherence to Lowercase typefaces in their more “mainstream” releases truly shows how inadequate a method it is to sustain a written narrative.
I get what they’re trying to do, honestly. Upper and lowercase letters making sentences look just like a book that all those normals out there can understand and not get the heebie jeebies when they open one of these scary comic books. And in a story about a kid with Spider powers or even a hyper stylized interpretation of “The Dark Tower”, it’s not so glaring.
But here, at least, Marvel has asked too much of this method. “The Stand” is one of the most realistic comics ever released by the imprint. Barely a shred of action takes place in this book. It’s all about introducing the first scraps of what will be a truly sprawling cast of characters. If one was to look at how much of the original novel is covered in this issue I would have to say, out of over a thousand pages, this covers maybe thirty of them. So it is indeed taking its time. It is being “serious”.
And this truly foolish and flighty looking style of lettering just does not cut it anymore. Because there’s a difference between reading Upper and Lowercase letters in Times New Roman and reading them in a comic book font. And that difference makes it more than a little difficult to take the creeping dread subsuming several quaint suburban lives all that seriously.
And it’s a shame, because Mike Perkins and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa do a fantastic job of adapting King’s work here. The character designs are spot on, and they inhabit the page perfectly. Just like in “The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born”, sequential art is able to give certain moments more weight than even their prose counterparts. In “The Dark Tower IV: Wizard & Glass,” Susan Delgado’s murder of a Deputy is seen as simply a means to an end, a necessary act of desperation. But the way Peter David and Jae Lee linger on it, on a full page all to itself, gives it a new and vivid intensity. Here, in this first issue, the same effect is given to the deaths of two of the most strikingly minor characters in the book. The wife and baby of the first man who ends up spreading the Superflu across the country are found dead in his car. In the novel, it is a statement of inevitability. Of course, they’re dead. They have to be. Next. In the comic, this moment of discovery is one of true and grotesque horror and no small amount of poignancy. It’s a testament to the strengths of both the medium and the artisans of it currently at work here.
As I said before, though, this issue covers barely a sliver of the original novel. Fans of the book will find themselves pretty surprised that they couldn’t have covered more in the span of a first issue. It must be said, however, that very little of it feels long winded or disposable. It actually reflects the original work quite well. But as a first issue, to someone who has never read the original novel, it’s got to be one of the least compelling first issues ever. We know that possibly maybe a few people might be getting really sick. Or they might just have summer colds. Maybe. We’re not sure yet.
Of course, most people know what’s really happening, and it’s much worse than that. It’s hard to believe that someone buying a comic book has never read “The Stand”, so perhaps this argument doesn’t hold water but, hey, anything’s possible.