The Dresden Files: Welcome to the Jungle (Ballantine / Del Rey)

dresden-header.jpgMissourian Jim Butcher brings his occult detective to the comic page in this all-new adventure.

 

 

160 pgs. full color; $19.95 hardcover

(W: Jim Butcher; A: Ardian Syaf)

 

Harry Dresden is essentially a version of Dr. Strange that the Chicago cops hire as a consultant in matters occult. He looks into murders and mysteries, and battles bad guys from another dimension with his mystical staff and rod and his ready arsenal of spells.

In the collected trade hardback The Dresden Files: Welcome to the Jungle, the detective well known from a successful series of novels and a brief Sci Fi Channel series is called in to have a look at a body murdered in grisly fashion at the Lincoln Park Zoo.

The cover to The Dresden Files: Welcome to the Jungle. Click for a larger image.The story takes off at a breakneck pace, and it’s pretty much all chases and fights from there on in. Dresden has to ward off a pack of possessed lions and tigers, and the extremely ugly she-hag responsible for possessing them. Bodies pile up. The plot thickens. A love interest with little more to do than look pretty gets dragged through the perils with our hero. There’s a climactic battle. Some Schwarzenegger-style one liners are delivered with masculine glee. Guess who wins? Not much in the way of surprises here.

In the intro to the book, Jim Butcher defends the simple pleasure of comics: "the stories; the heroes; the villains; the victims; the explosions; desperate battles; heroic sacrifices." Hear, hear. That’s good stuff, no?

The thing is, we comics vets have been down that road so many times, we need more to be titillated. Witches and car chases and impossible odds are quite simply not enough. They have all become clichés of film and hero comics.

So although Butcher managed to envision a horrible dream I’ve personally had to contend with, where lions and leopards chase you through the zoo, the bulk of the action here is pretty standard stuff. Good versus evil, with simple embellishments and a mystery that never astounds.

In particular, the "I-have-you-now, Mr.-Bond" moments where the villain spends so much time licking his chops that the hero has time to plot some miraculous maneuver to extricate himself bothered me.

On the other hand, I got a kick out of the wisecracking skull (named "Bob," no less) that Dresden gets advice from in his basement, and the brief discussion of the evil goddess Hecate and the blood rituals used to invoke her. The more creepy stuff a la Satan, Aleister Crowley, and TV shows like "Night Gallery" and "Millennium," the better.

The art by newcomer Ardian Syaf is uneven—workmanlike here, inspired there. Maybe it should be viewed in tandem with the writing—this is the first major comics project for both Syaf and Butcher. They’ve both earned the right to be cut a little slack.

It’s worth nothing that Missouri, where author Jim Butcher makes his home, suffers from no shortage of supernatural detectives. M.R. Sellars’ pagan detective Rowan Gant is featured in a series of novels, and bestselling author Laurell K. Hamilton has investigator Anita Blake shtupping and battling vampires and werewolves in novels and comics. Don’t forget Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt’s successful Oni comic, The Damned, with its undead protagonist solving mysteries in a demonic version of gangland Chicago. They’re all from the land of PLAYBACK:stl. | Byron Kerman

To learn more about The Dresden Files, visit http://www.jim-butcher.com/books/dresden/

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