Review: Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files: Storm Front, Vol. 1: The Gathering Storm
Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files: Storm Front Vol. 1: The Gathering Storm
Adaptation by Mark Powers; Illustrated by Ardian Syaf
Del Rey, June 2009, $22.95
It’s never a good sign when anything gets named “[[[The Gathering Storm]]]” – that’s possibly the most generic title in a world filled with blandness and non-specificity. I suppose it’s more understandable when you’re adapting a novel named [[[Storm Front]]], and you have to call the separate volumes something, and then that phrase rises up out of the collective unconsciousness, and you can’t think of anything better…but, still, it’s a flabby, overused title that needs to be retired for two or three generations to have any hope of not being a laughingstock.
But [[[The Gathering Storm]]] is only the very end of an exceptionally long title, so exhaustion is a plausible excuse. This particular Gathering Storm is the first part of a comics adaptation of the novel Storm Front by Jim Butcher, which itself was the first volume in his bestselling (and now eleven volumes long) “[[[Dresden Files]]]” series. In the books, as in this comic, Harry Dresden is Chicago’s only consulting wizard – he’s a real wizard, doing real magic, and protecting people in his mushy post-Chandler pseudo-PI way from the various supernatural nasties that all really exist in this world.
Though this book adapts the beginning of the first “Dresden Files” novel, it’s actually the second “Dresden Files” graphic novel, since Butcher wrote a comics-only prequel about a year ago – subsequently collected as Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files: Welcome to the Jungle, and reviewed here by yours truly – which was a pleasant enough monster-of-the-week story to introduce Harry and his world. Syaf was the artist on that first story, so he’s established the look of Dresden and his Chicago for this series. He’s a solid modern mainstream comics artist – his people look consistently the same across different pages and from any angle, and he can draw them in different clothes when necessary (unlike so many folks drawing steady paychecks). He’s good at facial expressions, which is very important for a book like this that’s as much about talking as it is fighting supernatural monsters.
Storm Front has a more complicated plot than [[[Jungle]]] did, starting with Harry being asked by the Chicago PD – as usual in mysteries ever since Sherlock Holmes, fictional police forces are more than happy to let oddball civilians in to march all over their crime scenes, do weird things, and declare that they know who the criminal is – to consult on a particularly gruesome double-murder. Harry instantly knows that it was done by magic, but also immediately realizes it would take a massive, unlikely power to do so.
The investigation leads Harry through the local under- and otherworld: one victim was the right-hand man of the city’s top mobster and the other was a high-priced call girl whose madam is a vampiress. Along the way, Harry also gets a visit from Morgan, who will become more and more important as the series goes on, but who mostly serves here as the agent of the otherwise unseen White Council of wizards, which trusts Harry about as far as they can throw him.
This volume just sees the storm gather and not break, so there’s no real ending – it stops right after a major battle, which gives a certain amount of closure, but the murders aren’t solved, and Harry is where he usually is in mid-book: far up a certain smelly creek without a paddle in sight. But there’s been a lot of incident and action along the way, so it feels like enough of an ending. I do hope that the adaptation of Storm Front takes only one more volume; if there’s a book of pure middle without beginning or end, that could be a problem.
At the end of this book, there’s also a bonus story, “[[[Restoration of Faith]]]” – subtitled “prequel chapter,” which I think means that it takes place before Storm Front – written by Butcher, adapted by Grant Alter and drawn by Kevin Mellon. Mellon’s good enough, but after a hundred pages of Syaf’s version of these characters here (and another hundred in [[[Welcome to the Jungle]]]), his Harry Dresden looks droopy-eyed and seriously off-model. And the story is very slight: Harry has retrieved a runaway girl but has to fight a bridge troll.
I expect that Gathering Storm will be of the most interest to established Dresden fans, but it’s a sold contemporary fantasy in comics form that could well draw in new readers to Butcher’s fictional world. I don’t think it manages to improve upon the original novel – or replace it – but there will always be people who prefer pictures with their words, and now they have that option on Storm Front.
Andrew Wheeler has been a publishing professional for nearly twenty years, with a long stint as a Senior Editor at the Science Fiction Book Club and a current position at John Wiley & Sons. He¹s been reading comics for longer than he cares to mention, and maintains a personal, mostly book-oriented blog at antickmusings.blogspot.com.
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