The Dresden Files – A Wizard And The World Around Him

dres2Comic Book readers are used to the idea of a grand universe of characters maintained inside of a cohesive yet ever expanding universe. We've seen it with multiple publishers and participated in by a plethora of creators. But some times those universes get rebooted or a character steps out of continuity… It can be a lot to deal with. Imagine if the universe was grown over 17 years, across multiple platforms, and mostly maintained by only one person… the original creator. That would be rather impressive.

That's exactly what Jim Butcher has done with his Chicago based wizard Harry Dresden. The Dresden Files consists of 15 novels, a collection of short stories and five comic series / graphic novels. And he's not done yet, there is a 16th novel and a new comic series coming soon. There is also a collectible card game coming out and there was a short-lived television series based on the character starring Arrow's Paul Blackthorne. And while the TV series wasn't cannon, the comics from Dynamite Entertainment are and have been referenced in the novels.

Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden is the child of a powerful wizard mother and a stage magician father. He lost his mother at birth and father years later from a suspicious heart attack. After years in social services, he was adopted by a wizard named Justin DuMorne who would mentor him. But also try to control him and another apprentice, Elaine Mallory. When he discovered DuMorne's true intentions, Harry ended up fighting his mentor and killing him… breaking the most important rule of magic and labeling him as a warlock, punishable by death. The White Council, the ruling body of wizards, put him on trial and Harry was only saved when a member of the council, Ebenezar McCoy stood up for him and took him on as an apprentice.

Harry would grow up to be an extremely powerful wizard (though not a very precise one). He got his private detective license and opened up shop in Chicago as a wizard, advertising openly in the local yellow pages. He would also become a consultant for a branch of the Chicago P.D. called Special Investigations run by Lieutenant Karrin Murphy. S.I. handles all the unexplainable cases and is pretty much the dumping ground for cops that the brass want out of sight. This is the set up as the first book, Storm Front, begins and while we get some of their prior dealings in the first comic series Welcome to the Jungle and a short story that appears in the anthology Side Jobs, the best place to jump in is Storm Front… whether through the original novel or the comic adaptation.

dres1The first couple books in the series read like stand-alone stories you'd expect to get from any author, with a small amount of world building… except it's a lot more than that. By the time we get to Summer Knight, you see that the world building has created an enormous structure that Butcher would then spend building up over the next decade and a half. Dresden is part of the world that contains vampires, werewolves, fairies, trolls, mob bosses, crooked cops, holy warriors, fallen angels, skin walkers, demonic islands, mythological gods and perverted spirits of intellect. It is one of the most expansive universes out there and at the heart is one of the most unique character in literature. He's the broken detective from hard-boiled mysteries as well as the earnest hero from fantasy novels. He carries the weight of the world on his shoulders never realizing that he has a group of friends who are more than willing to share his burden if he would just ask. But with all of this, he is also the tempest in the tea cup, possessing powers that are only held in check by his moral strength and his lack of understanding of what he could do.

My first experience with the Dresden Files was the television series on Syfy that lasted 13 episodes. I enjoyed the concept and it was similar in feel to my own Lucius Fogg books. When I found it was based on a series of novels, I picked up the hardcover out at the time, Proven Guilty. This was a mistake. That was the eight book in the series and in a way, it was like trying to pick up on a comic book event series half way through. I got lost too much in the first few chapters, put it down and never got back to it. If it wasn't for spending time with a fan of the series over the last couple years that I decided to give it another shot, but this time I got the audiobook of Storm Front. It was read by James Marsters (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and was fun to follow. I listened to the second book, Fool Moon, on the way to Phoenix Comic Con last year where I was going to get to meet Marsters… By the end of that book I was hooked and have gone through all of the novels and comics in basically a single year. I have written about the series in the past, but this is the more of a look at the series as a whole.

Now, this may sound like an insult, but it's not. Jim Butcher is a storyteller, not a literary author. I like storytellers. They weave a tale that excites the reader, hooks them in and mix moments of shocking horror with bits of humor, always driving the plot ahead. Literary authors focus on each word on each page, trying to paint a masterpiece with every letter typed. When done well, their stories become "classics" and high school seniors are forced to write papers about them. I'll take a storyteller every time. You can tell a true storyteller is the one with multiple books and multiple series. Stephen King, Tom Clancy, James Patterson… storytellers. Butcher also has the ability to take his characters from prose and, with co-author Mark Powers, bring them onto the comic page in series that fit into the universe perfectly.

dres3But the true sign of a good universe is when you are affected by the changes that take place. You miss characters when they die, you hope the relationships work out when things fall apart, you feel bad because of a lost pet or the destruction of a favorite vehicle. You get that with Dresden. You see the characters growing over the years, becoming so much more. Murphy going from untrusting and skeptical to fiercely devoted and knowledgeable. The meek Waldo Butters going from the morgue to kicking ghoul ass. The bond between Harry and a vampire named Thomas and the bond between Harry and his apprentice Molly. One of the most interesting is the friendship between Harry and Michael Carpenter, a Knight of the Cross. A holy warrior that carries a sword that contains one of the nails from the crucifixion. Harry doesn't believe in religion while Michael is a warrior of faith. Both points of view are given respect and neither supersedes the other.

And there is Mouse, a Tibetan Temple Dog that is one of the coolest characters in literature, period. If you don'f fall in love with this dog instantly, then you may not have a heart. Mouse is more than a dog, and he stand with Harry no matter what the danger. I would seriously buy a novel that focused on Mouse alone… he's that freaking cool.

The Dresden Files is a big series, which may seem daunting, especially if you try to jump in the middle like I did. It's also an amazing creation of a very talented writer who I hope will continue telling Harry's story for a long time to come. If you are looking for a new world to get lost in… find a copy of Storm Front and jump in. You won't regret it.

Cover art by Chris McGrath / Model Jim O'Rourke

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About Dan Wickline

Has quietly been working at Bleeding Cool for over three years. He has written comics for Image, Top Cow, Shadowline, Avatar, IDW, Dynamite, Moonstone, Humanoids and Zenescope. He is the author of the Lucius Fogg series of novels and a published photographer.
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