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Books of Magic # 1 (Review)

Books of Magic #1
Vertigo Comics, November 2018
Writer: Kat Howard

Back in 1990, fantasy writer Neil Gaiman was recruited by American comic book publisher DC Comics to run with a concept the parameters of which were to include all of DC Comics’ magic-based characters. There are a lot of them, but Mr Gaiman impressively stitched them together in a story called The Books of Magic under DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint.

This limited series title sold well. It was concerned with a boy named Tim Hunter, destined to be the world’s greatest sorcerer, who must decide if he will become a force of good or evil. The limited series spawned an ongoing series which involved Tim Hunter’s initial steps down the path to a world of magic.

The limited series spawned an ongoing series, lasting seventy-five issues (1994-2000), and mostly scripted by Peter Gross. It was collected as a number of trade paperbacks.

With this new ongoing series, the 1990s series seems to have been erased. That is not clear from the first issue, but the sole emphasis upon Mr Gaiman’s work in dreamt flashbacks certainly suggests so.

Vertigo appear to have made the decision to hitch the new series to Mr Gaiman’s work, and to unshackle the outcome of Mr Gross’ six year tenure. This will upset some readers. Mr Gaiman justified the decision in a recent interview:

“Books of Magic was an idea I came up with and did 30 years ago and loved and had an enormous amount of fun with. It was pre-Harry Potter, and the idea of a bespectacled, tousled 12-year-old boy with an owl learning magic was this sort of weird new thing we were trying to figure out as it went along. I love the idea of starting that again now, because now you’re in a universe in which everybody and their brother knows how that kind of story ought to go. Now we’re going to go back and look at ways it can go, both lighter and darker (he said, picking his words with care), than the original. With that one, we’re taking this comic book approach that reminds me a little bit of what DC did when they came up with the concept of Earth One. They took the Flash, and you created the Barry Allen Flash and let the Jay Garrick Flash be the Flash of Earth Two. It’s a new Tim Hunter for a new time, and the old Tim Hunter may well have existed, and that may actually have ramifications for us a little bit down the line.”

There is nothing especially remarkable about this story. Tim Hunter is at school, being bullied, interacting with friends, falling asleep in class, and the usual high school hijinks we see in literature for teenagers. Hunter’s teacher is able to perceive Hunter’s magical potential, and indeed it seems that she is some sort of guardian. In the closing panels we witness her shadowing what looks like a cultish assassin of some sort.

There’s nothing especially innovative in this first issue, and certainly nothing which would justify to long term fans of the original ongoing series painting over the wallpaper, even with Mr Gaiman’s imprimatur.