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THE BOOKS OF MAGICWriter: Neil Gaiman
Artists: John Bolton, Scott Hampton, Charles Vess, Paul Johnson
Synopsis: A young, bespectacled English lad discovers he has the potential to be a powerful sorceror. He's given a pet owl and is whisked away to a hidden magical world to begin training. That boy's name, of course, is...Tim Hunter. Hmm. Perhaps a certain famous kid's book author owes Gaiman a creative debt, you think? Anyway, Tim is taken under the trenchcoats of John Constantine, Dr. Occult, Mr. E and the Nameless Stranger to traverse the past, the future, and all the worlds between for a lesson in magic.
How Is It?: Let me state for the record that I will always, always read anything by Neil Gaiman. In fact, I own this book. And yet...there's a certain element of "so what?" to this collection. The point, ostensibly, is to tell a story of the history of magic, or, more directly, the various occult elements of the DC universe. Shades of Crisis on Infinite Earths (shudder). Fortunately, this is a well-done cohesive story...yet despite the epic nature of the tale, there's something kind of perfunctory about it. It's not that Tim isn't a compelling character, it's just that he remains unfortunately uninvolved in what he sees and hears...like a tourist in the world of magic rather than an explorer. And indeed the story we see here bares little resemblance to the adventures Tim undergoes in the continuing series. That's not to say there's anything wrong here. The art is spectacular at times (though at others it's a bit sketchy...I wasn't that impressed with Scott Hampton's watercolours). It's also fascinating to see how Gaiman ties everything in (very satisfactorily) to an overarcing timeline. Still, for a real taste of what Gaiman can do in this idiom, Sandman is a far superior starting point.
BindingsWriter: John Ney Reiber
Artist: Peter Gross
Synopsis: Back home in London, Tim has an encounter with a mystery man claiming to be his real father. In short order, Tim's forced to return to Faerie, where things are going very wrong, to do battle of sorts with a very nasty adversary who's idea of "education" is somewhat different than ours. This ain't Hogwarts, people.
How Is It?: Things get a little funky for me here, because I'm reading the Books of Magic out of order. I said (or say) in the "Summonings" review below that I thought this was a little better than the original miniseries. That remains true for "Summonings" but "Bindings" is more than a little slow. Don't get me wrong, there's some wonderful stuff here; it's baroque fantasy, Alice in Wonderland with a nasty streak. The Manticore is suitably creepy and inscrutable (does he want to brainwash Tim, or merely eat him? Or something else?) and Neiber is an absolute...well, wizard when it comes to distinctive dialogue. Tremendously witty and imaginative, and knowing where the series is going in the next volume (and the fact that Death makes an appearance, which always bumps a comic a few points in my estimation) makes it more than worthwhile. However, you could skip ahead to the next volume and not miss much.
SummoningsWriter: John Ney Reiber
Artist: Peter Gross
Synopsis: When his dad is sent to the hospital by one of the Cold Flame's remaining agents, Tim is left to wander London more or less on his own. At least, he'd be on his own if it weren't for Molly, his girlfriend (not that he'd admit it) and a gaggle of supernatural creatures who are, as always, trying to help Tim, or use his burgeoning magical potential for their own ends. Among the latter are a succubus who moves in next door, a victorian cyborg who's building a steampunk empire in the sewers, a lovelorn chimney sweep, Oberon the king of Faerie, Awn the Blink (the world's best UN-repairman), and a nasty future version of Tim himself, who's determined to make sure he turns out "right"...
How Is It?: Veering sharply away from the style Gaiman established in the original miniseries, we get something that's like an odd cross between Harry Potter and Gaiman's own "Neverwhere". To my surprise, it works rather better than the original miniseries. Reiber has a gift for language, and his characterizations of Molly and Tim (particularly the way Tim talks to himself) are wonderfully eloquent without the kind of over-florid prose that plagues a lot of Gaiman's imitators. And his characters are imaginative and vivid, particularly the Dickensian (by way of Neal Stevenson) Reverend Slaggingham and the affable Awn the Blink. Despite the somewhat grim situation Tim finds himself in, he has a child's optimism and coping skills, nicely subverting the potentially mopey storyline. If I have a complaint it's that things are a bit aimless...Tim doesn't really do anything but wander around London and encounter various characters and situations--yet that, too is true in its way to growing up, which is what the series is really about.
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