COMICS: John Reviews “The Dresden Files: Welcome to the Jungle” by Jim Butcher and Ardian Syaif

Welcome to the Jungle

The Dresden Files: Welcome to the Jungle

What do you get when you add one part swords & sorcery fantasy to two parts classic pulp detective drama, with a sprinkling of Spider-Man style wit and characterization on top?  Why, you get The Dresden Files: Welcome to the Jungle, written by New York Times Bestselling novelist Jim Butcher and illustrated by Adrian Syaif. This book has action, suspense, intrigue, murder, magic and monkeys.  What more could you possibly want?

Believe it or not, there are one or two popular book properties that Marvel wasn’t able to secure for their Marvel Illustrated line (the line that features Stephen King’s Dark Tower and The Stand, as well as Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter.)  When Dabel Brothers Publishing was cast out from underneath the Marvel umbrella, they decided to recruit a few new authors to write both adaptations and original material related to hot novel franchises, and chief among their recurited authors is Jim Butcher, author of the New York Times Bestselling fantasy/noir series The Dresden Files. Fans of the series should be far more pleased with Butcher’s first foray into comics writing (and Harry’s first graphic adventure) than the short-lived Sci-Fi Channel TV series adaptation, as Welcome to the Jungle stays true to its source material while chronicling Harry’s latest adventure in a visually thrilling manner.

In a brilliant move designed to please both regular and new readers, Butcher sets Welcome to the Jungle a few months before the events of the first Dresden Files novel, Storm Front.  Harry’s story is nicely accessible (once you accept that in his world, magic exists) , and Butcher sums up the current situation succinctly at the start of each of the first three issues.  I’ll do my best to sum it up here:  Harry Dresden is a practitioner of magic, and not the kind that involves pulling rabbits from hats.  He’s the only wizard-for-hire listed in the Chicago area phone book, and he often serves as a consultant for the Chicago P.D.’s Special Investigations unit.  His close friends and associates (at the time of Welcome to the Jungle) are a tabloid reporter named Susan, police lieutenant Karrin Murphy, a pet cat the size of a mastiff named ‘Mister’, and Bob, a spirit of intellect trapped inside an ornately decorated human skull. He can’t resist helping a damsel in distress, and his outdated notions of chivalry often put him in the crosshairs of powerful and dangerous people, both mundane and magical.  Like Captain Malcolm (Firefly) Reynolds or Michael (Burn Notice) Westen, things rarely go smoothly for him and he frequently makes it out of dangerous situations just a little bit worse off than before he started.  That’s the status quo as Welcome to the Jungle opens, with Lt. Murphy asking Harry to determine if a murder at the Lincoln Park Zoo was committed by one of the gorrillas.  Unfortunately, as Harry quickly points out, “It’s never as simple as ‘The monkey did it.'”

Butcher’s first attempt at writing comics is excellent, but his background in prose narration does lead to what some have dubbed “The Meltzer Effect” (referring to NY Times Bestselling author Brad Meltzer’s work on Identity Crisis and Justice League of America.)  Like Meltzer (though to a far lesser extent,) Butcher relies heavily on caption boxes to relate the thoughts of the protagonist to the reader, when simply depicting the corresponding actions or having Harry speak aloud to another character would be more visually appropriate.  These captions are fantastic as openings to an issue, but tend to stick around a bit too long as the story progresses.  Thankfully, Butcher’s learning curve is apparent as Welcome to the Jungle progresses, and I believe he will continue to improve with future installments.  The plotting is top-notch, and Welcome to the Jungle is unquestionably a worthy entry in the Dresden Files pantheon of stories.  It is substantially shorter and less complex than its prose cousins (largely due to the nature of the medium) but captures everything that makes the novels such a delight to read.

Adrian Syaif’s artwork is a perfect fit for Butcher’s script, and the depictions of the Dresden Files characters are far closer to their book descriptions than the TV adaptation was.  Harry looks like a cross between Buffy‘s Angel and Spider-Man‘s Peter Parker, and none of the magical elements of his ensemble were sacrificed to the god of “cross-demographic appeal.”  The creative team wisely makes use of the fact that there is no VFX budget in comics, allowing for some fantastic fight scenes (many involving dangerous animals) that would have cost more than most TV series’ entire pilot season budgets to replicate.  The only visual elements I don’t care for are the alternate covers to each issue, which use photographic art instead of Syaif’s excellent renditions (the book features the photo cover for issue #1, but I like the version above better.)  Thankfully, the bonus material included in the collected edition features every cover for every issue, as well as some fantastic concept art that may be revisited in the next Dresden Files comic, an adaptation of Butcher’s initial novel Storm Front.

This new graphic adaptation of The Dresden Files may be the best thing to happen as a result of Marvel and Dabel going their separate ways, and I sincerely hope that Dabel Brothers can avoid bankruptcy and continue to pay their creators for their excellent work.  It would be a shame to have  a series as promising as The Dresden Files be unable to follow up the success of Welcome to the Jungle.  Needless to say, I recommend this title to anyone who enjoys great action, fantasy or detective stories and the sequential art format.


2 Responses

  1. Strange i read storm front and never pictured him looking like that. Still good post there 😉 keep it up.

  2. […] bookmarks tagged the dresden files COMICS: John Reviews “The Dresden Files: Welcome… saved by 3 others     GMFinneyProductions bookmarked on 02/23/09 | […]

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