Comic: "The Books Of Magic"
Published by: DC Comics
Written by: Neil Gaiman, John Ney Rieber, Peter Gross
Plot: Before Harry Potter, there was another boy wizard named Timothy Hunter, who was destined to become the world's greatest magician, but whether he would use his talents for good or evil remained to be seen.
Review: The Books of Magic is one of my favorite comic series and among the best work ever published by Vertigo Comics, yet it is often criminally overlooked next to some of the imprint's other titles. The thing I love most about this series is the way it perfectly blends the fantastic and the mundane, to the point where you feel like literally anything can happen, resulting in one of the most imaginative, unpredictable books I've ever read. Tim Hunter regularly rubs elbows with faeries, gods, demons, mages, mythical creatures and hideous monsters while also trying to simply enjoy time with his girlfriend and juggle the responsibilities of being a teenage boy in England.
In the introductory mini-series written by Neil Gaiman (each issue featuring vastly different art by some of the finest talents in comics today), young Tim is approached by the "trenchcoat brigade" (the nickname given to some of DC's classic magical characters: the Phantom Stranger, Mister E, Doctor Occult, and of course, ever the charming bastard, John Constantine), and told that he has the potential to become the world's most powerful mage. They take him on a journey through time and space, showing him different realms and possible realities, so that he can understand the weight of the responsibility that falls to him.
As good as Gaiman's mini-series is, the book got tremendously better under the guidance of regular series writer John Ney Rieber, who perfectly captured the nostalgic feeling of adolescence in a way few other writers have. He stayed with the book for fifty issues, taking Tim through adventures both magical and mundane, always capturing my imagination completely whether Tim was visiting the realm of Faerie or simply enjoying a day with his girlfriend Molly. It's probably one of the top five Vertigo books ever published (and that's saying a lot), which is why it's such a crime the way Vertigo has completely mishandled it since the completion of the initial series.
Various artists contributed to the book throughout its run, but they always managed to find talent that could easily straddle the line between drawing freaky Hellish realms and the aisle of a convenience store. My favorite artist on the book, Peter Gross, contributed longer than anyone, and after Rieber left the book, Gross himself took on the writer's reigns as well as artistic duties, wrapping up the title over the next twenty-five issues. The real shame here is that DC never got around to collecting these final 25 issues in trade paperbacks--not because they're not worth reading so much as they just never got around to it. It's a bit of a pain tracking them all down in back issue bins, but believe me, it's worth the trouble to see how it all turns out (this chapter of Tim's life anyway).
I do have to warn you that the two follow-up series that came after this, The Names of Magic five-issue miniseries, and the twenty-five issue Hunter: The Age of Magic are best avoided as unimaginative, tedious shit. There was a short-lived series Books of Magick: Life During Wartime, which despite the awkward title had some serious potential, but unfortunately writer Si Spencer took too long to rev things up, keeping the reader floundering in the land of confusion a tad too long, and DC pulled the rug out from under it before it could really get into the meat of the story.
And Tim Hunter, one of their best and most empathetic characters, has lain dormant ever since (about six years now). I keep hoping that Vertigo will come to their senses and give this series the proper treatment (and respect) it deserves. Perhaps someday a new writer will come along and pitch a new BOM series, sparking a renewed interest in the title, and causing a whole new generation to experience what was easily one of Vertigo's most fantastic (in every sense of the word) books. If only they would put all the trades back in print (and finish collecting it), that would be a start.
(Scored on a 0.5 - 5 pickles rating: 0.5 being the worst and 5 being the best)
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