In Review: Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files: Down Town #1

The perfect mix of mystery, thrills, humor, and magic. Highest possible recommendation.

The cover: This is the way to begin a series! Outstanding cover by Stjepan Sejic of Harry Dresden looking shocked as he gazes down at something. His staff crackles with fiery energy. Next to him, crouched low to get a better view, is his apprentice Molly Carpenter, and she is shocked at what she sees. Readers cannot see the terrors below them, but it’s creating such a huge blaze that burning embers tumble up to our heroes as they are atop a gothic outcropping, while snow gently falls upon them. Perfect illustration and perfect coloring. Superb! Overall grade: A+

The story: Jim Butcher, the creator and novelist of Harry’s continuing adventures, and Mark Powers have written a terrific story that allows easy access to the Dresden universe without any earlier reading required to enjoy. This is accomplished through a short and concise summary on the inside cover. However, if one is a faithful follower of this wizard, there are several moments that will make them howl in delight. An unseen man begins this tale as he grabs a snowglobe containing an image of Chicago and shakes it, saying, “Better. Cold outside. Should be cold in here, too.” Here being a subterranean lair he’s lit with several candles so he can see. As he scampers through his makeshift home, he comes to an altar he’s created from red cloth, blades, candles, and demonic skulls. He says, “Order must be established and maintained,” and places a picture of an old man on the blood red cloth, and it’s quickly consumed by some gelatinous substance, “…And that, gladly, requires sacrifice.” The scene then moves to the older man from the picture who runs an upscale pawnshop. Sam Fogle purchases a pocketwatch from a woman, telling her, “It’s just a thing, remember. It can’t feed you.” The transaction completed, she leaves and he closes for the night when a violent WHAM hits his back wall. He thinks it’s construction, but the wall collapses inwards, showing a gigantic creature in the dusty debris. It lunges at Fogle and the pocketwatch he’s just purchases breaks on the floor, just like its new owner. The next four pages show Harry at home training Molly, establishing their characters and their relationship before a call from Sergeant Karrin Murphy of the Chicago Police Department has them going to Fogle’s store. The visual joke in the third panel of Page 6 is a pure Dresden moment, and Harry’s dialogue is full of humor (Page 8, panel five) and hard boiled detective narration (same page, panel three) readers want from this series. There’s the welcome appearance of a relative in this story when Harry seeks out to assist with the solving of this murder. A formidable villain appears on the final pages that sparks the hero into sticking his nose further into the case. I like the villain and love the henchmen. There’s also magic involved in this issue, not from Harry but Molly. This can only mean that Dresden’s saving up his strength for something big and I’m going to be following him every step of the way. Overall grade: A+

The art: This is the type of detailed work every comic wishes it had. Carlos Gomez is the penciller on this book and his visuals are spectacular. The first four pages show that he’s a master of realism–his set pieces look outstanding and his characters are solid. Harry is a strong looking leading man, but not of super hero proportions, which I really appreciated. Molly looks like a bad girl, but her actions and reactions on 9 and 12 – 13 show this to be a façade for a young woman who cares. With this being a book that contains magic, Gomez must also be able to create the fantastic, and he also accomplishes this easily. The story allows a slow build with the disturbing altar and the gooey substance on Page 2, and he expands it to an epic, yet partially hidden, scale. By keeping the form hidden in the destruction of Fogle’s store, Gomez will have readers raising and lowering the book as they try to discern the entity’s full form. And I must give praise to the Blue Beetle which makes an appearance on 14. Automobiles seem to give many illustrators issues, but Gomez has rendered it so smoothly it looks as if it could be a glossy ad promoting Volkswagen, if one didn’t mind the paint job. Mr. Gomez, never stop drawing! Overall grade: A+

The colors: The work of Mohan should also be praised. He begins the book in beautifully dim earth colors to suggest the underground before it’s revealed as being so, and the candlelight is wonderfully strong. The shock of red cloth covering the altar suggests blood more so than any textile should. This is a great connotation to give readers. The destruction that occurs on Page 4 is a super dimly lit scene that will make readers curious. The sounds on this page, and others, are gloriously bright and make the sounds even louder. The coloring on the characters is also great, with Molly’s hair being especially gorgeous. Mohan is all aces on this book. Overall grade: A+

The letters: Dialgoue, narration and scene setting (the same font), and sounds are created by Bill Tortolini. All are well done with the sounds being very bold, which emphasize the importance of each specific noise in this tale. Overall grade: A

The final line: The perfect mix of mystery, thrills, humor, and magic. It must be magic because this series is topping the previous Dresden comic adventure. Highest possible recommendation. Overall grade: A+

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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