Monday, May 10, 2010

The Stand

The Stand by Stephen King
It should be pretty baffling that a horror writer became the voice of a generation. Think about it: King is a writer whose subject matter is full of bloody bludgeounings, soulless monsters with wide perfect smiles, hounded outsider heroes facing hopeless odds and a very real Apocalypse just around the next corner... So how did Stephen King get to be the popular interpreter of American reality if this country is really such a friendly, unassuming place to be? How did a horror writer connect to so many millions of people who were supposed to love apple pie more than murder?

All contradictions aside, King did. From post-Vietman to Gulf War One his glowing critical reviews and astronomical sales are undeniable.

The question is: is he right? Is King's picture of American life as seen in The Stand more accurate than we'd like to admit? Is the nation itself is the real monster? Maybe King's fiction is really just a way to deal with a culture that is overflowing with AIDS, crackoids and evil little men in cowboy hats who insist, at gun point, that America is re-e-a-aly about of upbeat pep rallies, Achey Breaky Hearts and Lite Beer ads. Just you never mind about the man with the squirmy eyes behind the curtain, Dorothy - because the safety on this thing, as you can clearly see, is off...

In The Stand, originally published in 1978 and updated in 1990, modern man's fear of an imminent and self-inflicted extinction is expressed to the fullest. A series of problems are dealt with by a vastly shrunken population of survivors who live like a society with 3 flat tires. The unbelievably well-rendered characters, both major and minor take up old fights in a flattened new world. In this new world, a war is on the horizon as true evil spreads out it's feathery black tendrils finding leftover nukes and describing it's intentions to destroy what is left of America as "the only solution".

Must be a Mets fan. Original art by Bernie Wrightson.

Randall Flagg, arguably the central character of King's Apocalyptic masterpiece, is the concept of evil come to life. Emerging inexplicably from the desert, as nearly everyone in the world dies from a gruesome disease euphemistically referred to as "Captain Tripps" or tubeneck in a global pandemic. Flagg, a terrifying master manipulator of hatred and ignorance, preys on the weakness and overwhelming greed of the shattered individuals among the few scattered survivors in America. Not long after, Flagg gains a following of escaped cold blooded killers, escaped prisoners, prostitutes, con men, hired muscle and lunatics only to hold court in, where else? Las frickin' Vegas, baby.

As for the forces of good in The Stand, each individual becomes aware of the growing threat of Flagg and his followers as they cluster around a 100-year-old black woman named Abigal Freemantle of central Nebraska. Freemantle is a direct descendant of slaves and has an innate bearing of good about her that makes her the exact counterpart of the vile Flagg. Freemantle possesses something the survivors believe will help them build a new world in the ashes of the old - that is, if they can survive the brutal journey to her homestead from the destroyed and abandoned metropolis of New York City and isolated Atlantic coastline of Ogunquit, Maine.

Dyslexic Comics, The Stand: The Graphic Novel
Bernie Wrightson, Horror Illustration

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