In 1990, at the height of the “Sandman” upheaval, Neil Gaiman wrote a little book that redefined the world of magic in the DC Universe. Of course, being totally straight edge, and only ten years old, I didn’t read Sandman or The Books of Magic or any of that “goth” crap. Heh. It just didn’t appeal to me… I was still more interested in G.I. Joe and Transformers and teenage ninjas. 18 years later, fully at ease with the “drama club” facet of my personality, I picked up The Books of Magic at my local Borders. I wasn’t going in completely blind here. For one, I got around to reading the complete Sandman last year, which in all honestly wasn’t as good as I had been led to believe, and two, I’d read at least one Harry Potter book all the way through. Oh, that isn’t Harry Potter? Ah, but he’s got glasses and an owl… and he’s English. He looks just like him! Okay, okay, it’s not him. I see that now. At least, I saw that once I got about 20 pages in. This shit is WAY better than any of that crazy Potter nonsense.
The story centers around a kid named Timothy Hunter and the beginning of his epic journey to become the greatest wizard of this age… wow, yeah, still very Pottery, but remember, this book was published well before the media giant that is HP and I think we can all take that TINY leap of logic and assume it had some influence on JKR, no matter what anybody says… that was the uber digression of the year, where was I? “Greatest wizard of this age” with the help of four of the most powerful white hats around. For a semi-continuity buff like myself, it was cracklingly cool to see magic’s elite sprinkled throughout the mini. First, we got our four teachers: The Phantom Stranger, John Constantine, Dr. Occult (and Rose), and Mr. E. We also get cameos by Zatanna, Madame Xanadu, Dr. Fate, Nightmaster, Felix Faust, The Wizard, Deadman and countless others… even the Endless, which makes me so glad I read Sandman last year, otherwise I’d have been so lost. Like that part at the end where… HOLD UP, no spoilers here, I’m not going to be the one to ruin this one for anybody.
Wonderfully illustrated by John Bolton, Scott Hampton, Charles Vess and Paul Johnson, The Books of Magic is a spellbinding experience (that was so lame) and one that you’ll barely be able to put down. Although each issue is oversized and filled to capacity with vibrant images and thought-provoking ideas, it’s a quick read. Rarely have I ever been more satisfied with a blind purchase. The way Gaiman has structured the narrative is what makes the thing so much darn fun. He’s not re-inventing the wheel here, but its solid work throughout by every talented person involved. In each book, Gaiman employs a different magical guide to instruct Timothy on the way and means of magic, and in each, we get to travel to a unique “sub-world” of our everyday reality. The Phantom Stranger takes Timothy into the past to learn about the origins of creation. John Constantine tours him through the present day, giving us a “who’s who” of magic users in the DC Universe. Next, Dr. Occult and Tim cross to the “other side” to the land of Faerie, where goblins and elves dwell. In the closing chapter, Mr. E walks Tim to the end of time where the mysteries of the Universe, and Timothy’s fate, are finally revealed.
Once again, I can not recommend this book enough. Although it’s littered with clever Easter eggs throughout, newcomers to the DCU shouldn’t be intimidated. With great pain, Gaiman laboriously explains everything you need to know and does it in a way that is neither painful nor laborious for the reader. And after you read it, sling at your favorite Potter fan… everyone can do with a little perspective now and then.