Monday, April 14, 2014

The Books of Magic - 1991

I've had a mixed relationship with Neil Gaiman over the years. He's written a bunch of things I've loved and a number of things that just haven't connected with me, for whatever reason. Fair enough. But for me, it all began with one thing - "The Books Of Magic."

BoM was a four-issue miniseries that was originally conceived to be a sort of tour guide of the more mystical characters floating around the DC Comics universe. The Vertigo universe was starting to coalesce (the imprint would be officially launched in 1993), and DC was trying to get a good handle on who belonged where.

The premise of the story is that a young man named Tim Hunter has the potential to be the world's greatest magician, or the world's most deadly. To ensure that Tim goes into this choice with his eyes open, four of the biggest mystical heavyweights decide to give him a tour, so he can make a decision about what he wants to do with his life at least informed about what lies before him. Each of the guides will show him a different facet of the mystical world around him that he's been unaware of up until now. The guides are jokingly referred to as "The Trenchcoat Brigade." It's a fitting appellation.

Each of the four books of BoM has a different artist, which helps set the tone for each book.

The first book, a tour of the roots of the magic in the DC universe, is led by The Phantom Stranger, and is illustrated by John Bolton, whose artwork I fell in love with from this moment on. One of these days, I hope to own a piece of his original art, preferably one from this book. We learn where magic begins in the DC universe, and how those early days would shape so many things to come later.

The second book, a tour of the modern day magic in the DC universe, is led by John Constantine and is illustrated by Scott Bolton. This was my first introduction to John Constantine, and since then, I have gotten every trade paperback Constantine is in, and the character is one of my absolute favorites (and it's breaking my heart what they're doing with him at DC now). This book alone is absolutely worth the cover price.

The third book, a tour of the fae and faerie realms, is led by Doctor Occult and is illustrated by Charles Vess. I'd find myself seeing a lot more of Vess shortly after this book, as Books of Magic is what launched me into reading Sandman, and he made a bit of a splash over there.

The fourth book, a look at the possible future of magic, is led by Mr. E and is illustrated by Paul Johnson. Johnson's since retired from comics, which is a shame. I rather liked his painterly style, and would've loved to see more books from him, but he found his options limited and is now, if the internet is to be believed, an acupuncturist.

Books of Magic represents one of my favorite graphic novels, and I think I may even have to buy a new copy of it soon, the spine's been worn so much. I read this book generally once every year or two, and each time, I still find the story wonderful. The raw beginnings of magic. Zatanna calling out Constantine. Titania and Oberon. The wonderful final twist.

If you're thinking of dabbling into comics, The Books Of Magic is a great place to start - it's self-contained and will give you a good idea of the players and the landscape that made up the mystic section of DC Comics around 1990. Hopefully DC finds its way back to making this kind of top shelf entertainment soon.

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