Before Harry Potter came around, there was a different young boy who learned of his great destiny as a magician. The Books of Magic by Neil Gaiman tell that story.
Timothy Hunter is just a “normal” twelve year old boy trying to get by. That is, until he is visited by a group of magicians who tell him he has a great destiny.
The similarities between Harry Potter and Timothy Hunter are very obvious, particularly with their appearance. But, The Books of Magic tells a much different story from what J.K. Rowling did.
This story takes us on a journey through the magical side of the DC Comics universe. Tim is introduced to some of the most powerful magicians around and tries to process all that information. The book also serves as a re-introduction for several characters that the reader may be unfamiliar with.
Neil Gaiman’s The Books of Magic collected edition brings together four books. The books were done as a mini-series, but proved successful enough to launch a regular title years later.
Comic Books Collected: Book I: The Invisible Labyrinth, Book II: The Shadow World, Book III: The Land of Summer’s Twilight, Book IV: The Road to Nowhere
Written by: Neil Gaiman
Artists: Paul Johnson, Charles Vess, Scott Hampton, John Bolton
Where to buy: Trade Paperback
Where to buy: Digital Comic (Kindle/Comixology)
Key Characters and Organizations:
The official synopsis, from Vertigo Comics:
A quartet of fallen mystics dubbed the “TrenchCoat Brigade “is introduced in this first collection of the adventures of Timothy Hunter. John Constantine, the Phantom Stranger, Dr. Occult and Mister E take Hunter on a tour of the magical realms. Along the way he’s introduced to Vertigo’s greatest practitioners of magic and must choose whether or not to join their ranks.
Young Tim doesn’t believe that magic is real. That is until he meets a group of magicians known as the “Trenchcoat brigade”. These are some of the most powerful magicians in the DC universe. They know that Timothy has great potential as a magician, but they don’t share what their plan with him is.
The plot of the comic isn’t all that complex. For the most part, it is simply a tour of the magical side of the DC Comics world. Tim is led around by the Stranger, as well as Constantine and Zatanna. He gets to see some magic being performed, although he is often being asked more philosophical questions.
The story does have some more adult and deeper moments. There isn’t really any grotesque images or adult language, but there are some deeper themes and questions raised by the story.
If you are looking for action, this is not the comic book for you. Tim spends most of the story being passive and observing what is going on. At times, it feels similar to Scrooge being led around by the Christmas ghosts. That makes in interesting, but not very action-y.
Overall, the story is interesting mostly despite its plot. It serves more as a very good introduction to a potentially better story down the line. Unfortunately, Gaiman only wrote these initial 4 issues of the story. The Books of Magic did return for a regular series in 1994, but it was with a different creative team.
The characters are by far the most interesting part of The Books of Magic. After all, the arc is essentially meant as an introduction to a variety of characters. And I’ve got to say – it is a blast to see a quick glimpse of nearly all of the important magical characters that DC and Vertigo Comics have ever seen.
Pick a famous magical character and they most likely at least have a cameo in one of these 4 books. I was surprised with how well Gaiman was able to use so many characters without it feeling terribly forced. Yes, there are some plot conveniences to get the characters together. Seeing all those characters interact was a blast though, which made it easy to overlook any flaws.
As an idea, Timothy Hunter is a very intriguing character. He was created in 1990, seven years before Harry Potter, and the similarities are striking at times. Unfortunately, we don’t get to see enough from him to know what his character will become. The setup is there, but we don’t get enough in this mini-series to form an opinion of the character.
The artwork does a good enough job to help tell the story that is being told. A lot is asked of artists drawing magical stories, but the artists deliver with some rather complex ideas. While the style of the art doesn’t match with my personal tastes, it isn’t distracting and doesn’t take me out of the story.
Unfortunately, Timothy Hunter hasn’t had much of a chance to shine in recent years. Outside of a minor role in the New 52’s Justice League Dark title, he hasn’t been seen much. It’s possible DC is shying away from the character to avoid the Harry Potter comparisons. It’s also possible creators have decided to focus on some of the other magical characters.
DC/Vertigo does have a deep stable of magical characters at their disposable. Justice League Dark was a great concept to bring some of them together. They’ll likely be rising to greater prominence is popular culture with the upcoming Justice League Dark animated film and the live-action Dark Universe film that Doug Liman is directing.
It’s easy to see the allure of combining characters like Constantine, Zatanna, and maybe even Doctor Fate. If Harry Potter had never become a blockbuster film franchise, a film based off of The Books of Magic could have been a great hit. Unfortunately, we may never see what it could have been.
The Books of Magic by Neil Gaiman isn’t the greatest story the writer has ever told, but it is an intriguing read. It is an excellent book if you are looking to learn a little bit about DC’s magical characters. It serves as a quick encyclopedia of magical characters and shows how fun their interactions can be.