It's been nearly a decade since Jim Butcher first introduced his Dresden Files series with the solid urban fantasy "Storm Front."
So it's about time that Butcher's series got what it deserved -- the graphic novel treatment. The first part of the "Storm Front" adaptation is a lean'n'mean mingling of sharp noirish dialogue and Ardian Syaf's gritty, colourful artwork -- and it leaps right into the story with no shilly-shallying, with plenty of gory magical murders and a distinctly unGandalfian wizard.
Harry Dresden is called into a bizarre crime: a couple are found dead in a hotel room, with their hearts exploded out of their chests. Unfortunately the guy is the bodyguard of mobster Gentleman Johnny Marcone, and the girl works for vampiric madam Bianca -- not a nice combination, and it means that there is something particularly nasty in the works. Oh yes, and he's hired to find a missing husband.
Harry's winding investigation brings him into contact with Marcone (who asks him to stay out of the case), the grotesque vampire Bianca (who tries to rip off his face), fairies, junkies, and a ghastly toad-demon. Even worse, the White Council suspects that Harry -- the only wizard in Chicago -- is responsible for the murders. And whoever murdered the lovers is now gunning for Harry -- with deadly intent, obviously.
"The Dresden Files: Storm Front Part 1" has a lot expected of it -- it has to introduce the dark, grimy world of the Dresden Files, while still being a magical, action-packed fantasy-noir.
And while while "Storm Front" was Jim Butcher's first and most unpolished "Dresden Files" story, it translates smoothly into comic books -- plenty of blood'n'gore, witty remarks ("You look like you just walked off the set of 'El Dorado'") and a supernatural underground in modern Chicago. Think giant bat-women, feisty fairies and the occasional slimy demon.
The first part is rather choppy, since it has to lay out the subplots and introduce the important players. But Butcher and Mark Powers quickly smooth out the overall plot; they do a good job stripping away all excess parts of the plot, leaving only a lean magic-noir story behind. And of course, they maintain the windy noir feel and snappy dialogue ("Did the Windy City's finest detective miss yet another clue, or were you saving the panties to take home to your wife?").
And Ardian Syaf's artwork is the icing -- an overcast Chicago, dark Lake Michigan, rich colours tinged with grime, and a rangy stubbly Harry with a suitably rumpled air (although Susan's witchy face and purple hair are distracting). Syaf also has a knack for weaving in some pretty grotesque gore (exploded rib cages!) and big swirly explosive magical fights.
Harry himself is a pretty long distance from your average robed, white-bearded fantasy wizard -- he's a scrappy, rangy guy who doesn't always shave, struggles with his rent, and works as a sort of magical private eye. Not very glamorous, but he's a convincing hero even when he's fighting stark naked (with a potion-addled woman crawling all over him).
Murphy serves well as Harry's police counterpart -- a tough, petite blonde who is open-minded enough to hire a guy who hires himself out as a "wizard." And there are some interesting supporting characters like the shades-of-grey gangster Marcone, the sultry reporter Susan, and the tart-tongued skull Bob. Even the cat has a personality.
And there's a short story of Butcher's rendered into comic form, "Restoration of Faith." It's a decent little look at Harry rescuing a little girl from a nasty ogre thing, but Kevin Mellon's artwork isn't nearly as good as Syaf's. Harry's supposed to look scruffy, lanky and dangerous, not like an oily car salesman with a perpetual squint.
The first part of "The Dresden Files: Storm Front Part 1" is a bit choppy, but the successive chapters are a solid reintroduction with excellent art. And the ride ain't over yet.