Friday, October 5, 2012

Recommended Reading for 10/5: The Dresden Files- Welcome to the Jungle

For the month of October, my favorite month of the year, all my recommended readings are going to be horror and supernatural themed. And to start with, I'm hitting on an original comic book story set in the world of one of my favorite series of novels.

Harry Dresden is more than your average private investigator. He also happens to be a member of the White Council of Wizards. As Chicago's only practicing professional wizard, Harry gets called in when things that go bump in the night are bumping, and he's the thing that bumps back. But your average, everyday person thinks that Harry is a nut, so it's not like he has a lot of allies. But he's your hardboiled detective at heart, and so he's willing to do what needs to be done to protect his client, any kid or damsel in distress he runs across, and to make sure evil knows that if they come to Chicago, they have Harry Dresden to answer to.

Welcome to the Jungle is an original comic story set before the first of The Dresden Files, the New York Times bestselling novels by Jim Butcher, that tell Harry's story. The Dresden Files are urban fantasy, mixing fairies, vampires, demons, and other monsters with the private eye genre. It's a great introduction to the series, since you don't need any foreknowledge of the series or any of its usual players, and you get a fun mystery.

When a guard is mauled at the Chicago Zoo, the police are quick to assume that the killer is Moe, the zoo's alpha gorilla who seems to have escaped his cage. But Lt. Karrin Murphy, head of Special Investigations, the department that investigates things that don't fit anything normal, thinks there might be more to it than that, and so she calls in her best consultant: Harry Dresden.

What follows is a great example of what you get from The Dresden Files. Harry has twenty four hours to figure out who or what really killed the guard before Moe is put down. He meets Willamena Rogers, the beautiful primatologist who is sure Moe is innocent. And a crew working the zoo who aren't all that trustworthy. By the end, Harry has faced demon dogs and hags, and learned that it's really a bad thing to get in front of a raging gorilla.

The story itself is pretty simple, and nowhere near as complex as the novels. The mystery is pretty easy to figure out, at least in the whodunnit aspect. The what of it is a little more mysterious, which is part of the pleasure of urban fantasy; there's usually far more of a motive than just jealousy or money.

People meeting Harry Dresden for the first time will get a good feel for who he is. He's clever, a guy who is actually a good private investigator as well as a wizard. He is a master of that craft too, having some pretty powerful skills, although he himself admits he has a lot to learn. But what is Harry's defining characteristic is his heart. Harry is the defender of the underdog. Because pretty much no one believes Moe is innocent, Harry is even more inclined to save him. The hardluck hero started with the classic detectives of the 30s and 40s, and Harry proudly carries on that tradition, always short on money and unlucky at love. He's the kind of guy who can't resist helping a woman who looks like she needs it. That's a classic private eye behavior, but like all private eyes, you know it's not going to end well; she's either going to turn out to be the villain or she's not going to get what he does and not be able to stay with him. To top it all off, Harry has a quirky and irreverent sense of humor, always willing to poke fun at himself or to toss a jibe at his foes, no matter how clearly superior to him in strength they are. Gotta love a guy who's gonna die with a snarky comment on his lips.

Aside from Harry, Welcome to the Jungle introduces three of the other important figures in The Dresden Files mythology. Karrin Murphy is Harry's police contact, but she's more than that. She's one of the few people Harry trusts, and one of the even fewer people in Chicago that believes in Harry. She's a good cop, a tough cop, but knows there are things that she doesn't understand. She doesn't cut Harry any slack, but their banter masks a mutual respect.

The other two characters you meet are Harry's two... roommates of sorts. One is Mister, Harry's cat. Mister is a giant grey monster of a cat, thirty pounds of cat. The other character is Bob. Bob is a spirit of air, who lives in a skull in Harry's basement. He works as Harry's adviser and all around encyclopedia of magic. So, basically, he's a talking skull who likes to read romance novels for all the good bits and can pull apart pretty much any spell and tell you its component parts in under two seconds. To say Harry has unusual living arrangements would be a bit of an understatement.

The art on the series was provided by Adrian Syaf, who has since gone on to higher profile work for DC, including the New 52 launch of Batgirl. He's got a good clean style, and did a great job of capturing characters I had been reading about and had very solid pictures of in my head. He also draws some really creepy creatures, which is helpful in a world like the one Harry inhabits, where there's something creepy and slimy around pretty much every corner.

The Dresden Files novels are my favorite ongoing series of novels right now. They're full of great characters, action that doesn't stop, and a wicked sense of humor. My wife and I stuble over each other trying to read the new volume when it comes out (this year, we've decided two copies are the way to go). I can't recommend the series highly enough, but if you want to get a taste before investing in a series that is fourteen books and counting, Welcome to the Jungle is the way to go.

Welcome to the Jungle is available in hardcover at pretty much any comic retailer. If you enjoy it, the first novel in The Dresden Files, Storm Front, has been adapted into a graphic novel and is available in two volumes, while the second, Fool Moon, is completeing its run in single issues this coming Wednesday. The new novel in the series, Cold Days, will be released on November 27th. If you prefer your superheroes to your wizards, series creator Jim Butcher wrote a Spider-Man novel for Marvel back when they were releasing original novels. Spider-Man: The Darkest Hours is still available at most bookstores.

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