Marvel Books is in the early days of a gutsy but respectful adaptation of The Stand by Stephen King. The story, as visualized through the narrative of Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, the art of Mike Perkins and the colors of Laura Martin, is being published in five-issue arcs, which are then collected in hardbound form with creator commentary, sketches, copies of alternate covers, and the other usual amenities. The first arc, THE STAND: CAPTAIN TRIPS, has already been given the hardcover treatment. The second, titled THE STAND: AMERICAN NIGHTMARES, continues in the spirit, energy and, most importantly, quality of its predecessor.
AMERICAN NIGHTMARES begins a heartbeat after Captain Trips leaves off, with the Captain Trips designer plague advancing exponentially throughout the American population and leaving bodies all over the place in its grisly wake. It is grimly effective, killing some 99% of the population, with the rounding error consisting of folks who survive and who are gradually and unknowingly gravitating toward each other from all corners of the country.
One of the original novel’s most compelling vignettes occurs in AMERICAN NIGHTMARES wherein Larry Underwood, an immune whose first and only hit record began its rise up the charts even as Captain Trips started moving through the population, makes a terrifying journey on foot through the Lincoln Tunnel. Congested with automobiles both deserted and unfortunately occupied, jammed with the bodies of the plague victims, the Lincoln Tunnel in the hands of the creative team here becomes not only a dark model of a carnival funhouse but also a claustrophobic microcosm of the country at large. Anyone who has been through the Lincoln Tunnel after reading The Stand cannot help but think of the book, and the atmosphere --- dark, close, and above all, deadly --- permeates the pages from beginning to end.
Meanwhile, a pregnant Frannie Goldsmith, accompanied by an apparently immune teenaged boy named Harold Lauder, begin an arduous journey to Stovington, Vermont, which housed a communicable disease center. Lauder, a high school nerd who means well but has the social graces of fly larvae, is full of hormones and unrequited lust for Frannie, who keeps Lauder at a friendly arm’s distance as she plans on using him as a midwife when her baby comes to term. Sparks of all sorts fly when the two of them encounter Stuart Redman in New Hampshire. Newly escaped from the very communicable disease center toward which the pair had been traveling, an initially resentful and reluctantly cooperative Lauder agrees to let Redman join up with them, even as Redman’s slowly growing attraction towards Frannie begins to blossom.
Another individual who is immune is a dangerous loner named Donald Merwin Elbert, also known as the Trashcan Man. A pyromaniac hounded practically from the moment he crawled out of the womb, the wake of Captain Trips leaves Trashcan Man gleefully unsupervised and able to vent his wrath against his tormentor --- the world at large --- unchecked. All the while, the man known as Flagg haunts the sleep of the remaining few left alive, becoming a vague presence on the periphery of their conscience, even as he acquires a most likely and perfect ally amongst the small handful of survivors. He is balanced, however, by the enigmatic Mother Abagail, who is doing some reaching out of her own in the dreamworld, as alliances are slowly formed and battle lines are sketched, if not fully drawn.
As Flagg promises at one point in THE STAND: AMERICAN NIGHTMARES, things are about to start moving very, very fast. Keep the digitalis at the ready and your seatbelt buckled. As good as this series has been to date, it is almost certain to surpass itself in the next several months, considering the quality of the material being adapted and the creative team at the helm.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 24, 2011
Stephen King's the Stand, Volume 2: American Nightmares