The Merry Misandrist reviews Stephen King and Laura Martin's "The Stand: Captain Trips"
I am an unabashed fan of the beginnings of scary stories. I love the slow build-up of fear in horror novels. I adore the first bump in the attic, which the nervous young couple wave off as "Oh, the house is just settling." Page 13 of the book is more satisfying than page 130 where people are actively dodging body parts. The zombie genre in particular is great at the slow build-up. We all love the beginning chapters where the disease, the contagion, starts out as a whisper. There is a mere news report, something strange in a small village far off in Russia or Lesotho that the main characters dismiss but we readers know with a thrill is merely the first sign of something more ominous. Then a few more news reports start trickling in. Then a few more. Then suddenly a small country stops accepting flights in or out. Then larger nations start putting forth quarantines. The main characters with gratifying stupidity reassure themselves that this is nothing, just a panic over a stupid sniffle, but we the readers squirm in delight over the mounting storm clouds. Some writers, like Max Brooks are fantastic at prolonging that delicious build-up in "World War Z." Some writers, like the utterly frustrating Josh Malerman, blow the whole beginning. In Malerman's "Bird Box" the mounting fear takes up three paragraphs before Malerman stuffs his main characters inside a house for the rest of the novel.
I love slow build-ups, which is why I loved the graphic novel adaptation of Volume 1 of Stephen King's "The Stand: Captain Trips." After the awfulness that was "Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born" I approached my second foray into Stephen King graphic novels with some trepidation. I needn't have worried. "The Stand: Captain Trips" is far faaaaar better than "Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born." "The Stand" is narrated in plain English instead of the god-awful fake Tolkien/ ye Olde Weste style Stephen King unwisely used in "Dark Tower." Secondly the misogyny dial was turned way down in "The Stand." Female characters are still pretty secondary in "The Stand" but at least they have actual character traits and aren't flat witch/bitch/virgin-who-must-die archetypes.
Thirdly, and best of all, "The Stand: Captain Trips" has fantastic illustrations. I was bowled over by the detail drawn by artists Mike Perkins and Laura Martin, two old hands at Marvel Comics. Like any good plague novel, "The Stand: Captain Trips" has a variety of locations so Perkins and Martin needed to accurately portray a whole bunch of difficult-to-draw locations like Times Square, a top-secret bio-research lab, a jail, a gas station in the middle of Texas, Washington DC, a nightmarish dreamscape of corn fields, and more. The illustrators handle each setting very well and with great professionalism, and thus are able to really show how the deadly virus "Captain Trips" was able to spread from a military biowarfare lab in Nebraska to across the entire United States.
The plot of "The Stand: Captain Trips" Volume 1 is all slow build-up and oooooo is it delicious! The book starts with the wife of a military commander being shaken awake by her panicky husband in the middle of the night. "We need to go! Now!" Unquestioningly she obeys. Her husband is fearful. Before they get into the car and drive off, he lifts up his forefinger, testing the wind. He is reassured by the direction of the wind. They have time. But before the couple drive off he starts coughing. First occasionally, then constantly. By the time the car crashes into a gas station in Texas, the couple are dead. Their lymph nodes are swollen to golf ball size and their throats are full of mucous.
The first volume of "The Stand: Captain Trips" details the spread of a deadly weaponized flu code-named "Captain Trips" that has been allowed to escape a military research facility in Nebraska. The government tries to restrict the spread of the disease while at the same time reassure the public to not be alarmed. Stephen King wrote "The Stand" in the early nineties before everyone had smart phones so there is a real anachronistic belief that the government can tamp down information on a spreading plague. The TV news gives soothing reassurances while government agents in biohazard suits burn piles of bodies with mucous-smeared faces. Even by nineties standards it seems a little unrealistic that people wouldn't realize that whole towns were dying mysteriously. Wouldn't someone wonder why they hadn't heard from Mom and Dad lately?
Finally someone is able to sneak a camcorder behind a quarantine line and is able to film government agents dumping bodies into a river. his footage is delivered to a TV studio and all hell breaks loose. The president is finally forced to appear on TV to reassure the American public that there is no truth to the idea of a deadly plague sweeping across the US. The book ends with the president then coughing, taking a drink of water, and telling his staff that he's going to lie down for a little bit because he doesn't feel well.
"The Stand" is a multi-part series involving pre-apocalypse, apocalypse, and post-apocalypse parts. I love the pre-apocalypse parts the best which is why I loved Volume 1 of "The Stand." I don't know if I will read the next few volumes. Maybe. I feel like I've read the best part already and it was loads of fun. For people like myself who think the beginnings of horror novels are the best parts of horror novels, I heartily recommend the graphic novel of "The Stand: Captain Trips."
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