Adaptations are a tricky business. Stray too far from the source material or inject different plot or character developments and you're ostracized for not being beholden to the material. Follow it too closely and you're criticized for being derivative. Finding a happy medium isn't always easy, particularly when you care so much for the original. I've always been a huge Stephen King fan, and I rank The Stand as one of his absolute best. As such, I was a bit wary of The Stand: Soul Survivors when it landed on my doorstep for review.
Unlike The Dark Tower series Marvel Comics started up a few years back, where the back-story of gunslinger Roland Deschain was unraveled, The Stand represents a straight adaptation of a seminal work in King's pantheon. The world of The Dark Tower had a history that was only briefly mentioned through inferences, but rarely elaboration, which allowed comic writer Peter David to weave a tapestry set well before finding Roland in the desert, chasing after The Man in Black in the first of seven novels. The Stand, however, was a massive self-contained work. There is little room for back-story and interpretation—what you read was what you got. After the success of The Dark Tower comics, both critically and from fans of King's original works, Marvel looked toward another King classic to adapt and turned to the post-apocalyptic world of The Stand.
Soul Survivors is the third and middle volume of Marvel Comics' adaptation of King's enormous novel, and it very much feels like a midway point. A superflu virus has wiped out much of America, and the survivors are learning how to carry on. They're starting to find one another as they trek across the desolate landscapes and regroup. Each of them is haunted by dreams of opposing figures: The Dark Man, who represents the oldest evil on Earth and is leaving a trail of crucified victims along the dead interstates on his way to Las Vegas, and Mother Abigail, a frail geriatric doing God's work by attempting to draw the survivors to her home in Nebraska.
Nick Andros, a deaf mute who can only communicate through his writings, finds the mentally challenged Tom Cullen as he struggles to make it to Abigail. Elsewhere, Stu Redman and his small band of survivors find the ruins of a plague center and learn of the horrors and dangers in this brave new world as they struggle with human slavers and surgery in a world where medicine is scarce. Abigail herself searches for hope in God's will while waiting for the survivors to reach her.
Being the middle volume of the series, Soul Survivors is not the ideal place for new readers to begin the story. As the midway centerpiece to the story, there is a bit of a lull as characters figure out their new place in the world, as they gather themselves and others to prepare for the coming of the Dark Man. For fans of the original novel, curious to see what's happening with this adaptation, it may be easy enough to pick up with this chapter, and there is a fairly helpful synopsis of the events thus far at the start of the volume. As with any adaptation though, there are tricks and shortcuts made from the original. Taking what amounted to several hundred pages in the original novel and translating it into a smaller chunk for the artistic medium requires a certain shorthand. There are flourishes here and there, and some deviations from the original source in order to add a bit of drama through the visuals.
However, if you are a reader who was excited by the opening volleys of The Stand and has followed the story through those two volumes, Captain Trips and American Nightmares, there is certainly no reason not to continue. This volume opens the door for the upcoming chapters, setting the stage for the challenges of surviving in a post-apocalyptic America and the looming battle with the Dark Man and his evil forces. Although I already know where the story is going, I am still curious to see how the comic-book version gets there.
Reviewed by Michael Hicks on July 20, 2012