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Graphic Novel Review: Welcome to the Jungle by Jim Butcher and Ardian Syaf

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Jim Butcher’s blue collar wizard for hire Harry Dresden continues his career in novels, has taken a brief tour through television, and now has a branch office opening in comics and graphic novels. Welcome to the Jungle (Del Rey) was a four-issue arc in comics that has now come out as a hardcover graphic novel. In coming months, the books are supposed to be serialized as comics, then gathered again as graphic novels.

Welcome to the Jungle is an original story set earlier in Harry Dresden’s career as a wizard. It’s sort of a prequel, which is a good thing because Dresden’s life has gotten larger and more complicated as the novel series has progressed. Butcher admits to writing the comics as a personal desire to do new material and explore some of the character’s backstory.

The Dresden novels are a fun mashup of noir private eye novels and urban fantasy. Dresden drives a heavily used Volkswagen Beetle, consults for the Chicago Police Department when they run into magical trouble, and barely keeps his bills paid. The concept feels familiar but offers something different and occasionally distinct.

In this story, Dresden’s relationship with the police department again comes to the forefront when a mysterious mauling at the Chicago Lincoln Park Zoo turns magical. Detective Kerrin Murphy (a regular from the book series) pulls Dresden into the case, and the wizard’s senses start tingling immediately, though he doesn’t know what precisely causes the reaction.

The story is straightforward and enjoyable without being a strain. Although the first three issues end on cliffhangers, I didn’t feel compelled to finish the book in a single sitting. The breaks are natural and give the reader a chance to read the whole story in bits and pieces without demanding too much.

The narrative sections were a little heavy for the graphic novel medium, but Butcher was also telling the story in first person, which lends itself to a lot of verbiage. But none of it’s truly wasted. They offer interiors of character and backstory.

Ardian Syaf’s art is really good. He lays out the panels with strong, clean lines and manages to bring muscular action to the page. As I was reading, I often found myself flipping back through pages of a scene just to re-experience the art without dealing with the dialogue and narrative. I enjoyed his viewpoint shifts a lot, and there is more than enough variety to keep the story from turning into a montage of similar drawings. His supernatural creatures looked amazing and menacing at the same time.

Although regular readers of the Dresden series may be frustrated with the fact that Butcher backtracks on his story in a big way, Welcome to the Jungle offers a good detour and a great way for new readers to jump into the books with both feet. This is a younger, less cynical Harry Dresden, but all the action and danger is still there.

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