15th Jul2019

‘Books of Magic Vol.1: Moveable Type’ Graphic Novel Review

by Dean Fuller

Written by Kat Howard | Art by Tom Fowler | Published by DC Vertigo

book-magic-1-cover

JK Rowling stole the idea of Harry Potter from Neil Gaiman you know. Tim Hunter first appeared back in Books of Magic issue 1, January 1990, whereas Harry Potter first appeared in print in 1997. Both feature a school attending, glasses wearing English boy with a pet owl destined to be a great magician. Gotcha, JK! Or so the urban myth goes. In reality, as all creative people know, these things bubble away for years before appearing, and JK Rowling had been working on the ideas behind Harry Potter for several years . As Neil Gaiman himself has said, Harry Potter and Tim Hunter both in spirit come from the same source materials. In Gaiman’s case, his inspiration for Tim Hunter was T.H White’s ‘The Sword in the Stone’, about a young boy destined to grow up and become a great hero (in that case, King Arthur). Pick up that 1990 Books of Magic series by the way, it is superb.

So, Books of Magic and Tim are being relaunched as part of the Sandman Universe group of books, all being overseen by Neil Gaiman himself. Which is only fair, as he laid the groundwork for a lot of Vertigo’s success. If you’ve never read Tim Hunter’s adventures before, don’t worry, you can pretty much pick this book up and follow it from the start, as scripter Kat Howard manages that delicate balancing act of throwing in enough to keep long time fans happy, but making things clean enough to allow new fans to join in. I’m an old timer in the sense I did buy a lot of the Books of Magic stuff back in the day, and that original 1990 series by Neil Gaiman is a personal favourite still. All you newbies need to know is that schoolboy Tim Hunter is going to be the world’s most powerful magician, and people and entities from angels to demons want to either control him or destroy him. The worst of it though? He’s just started his teen years, and has to contend with all those mundane things too. Life sucks.

This volume collects together the first 6 issues of the Books of Magic ongoing (as well as the Sandman Universe Special) and handily includes at the very beginning a quick potted history for Tim, nicely packaged up as a daydream from which he wakes in class. Writer Kat Howard makes the point from the start that Tim is in many ways a normal kid. Dozing off in class, trying to impress classmate Ellie with his magic tricks (it goes wrong, he doesn’t), being bullied by class idiot Tyler, and being picked on by teacher Dr. Rose. Dr Rose is where the normal kid bit disappears, as it soon becomes apparent that Rose knows a thing or two about magic herself. She knows all about Tim, but we know next to nothing about her. What we do know is that she seemingly murdered his previous teacher Mr. Brisby, as shown in the Special. Is she good or bad? neither? both? Anyway, she explains to Tim that his destiny is still a long way off, and he needs to work at magic to truly learn and understand it. She gives him a book with seemingly blank pages, and tells him when he is ready to read , the book will reveal the writing. Not your typical day at school.

We learn a little bit more about Tim in these early pages, his friendship with homeless Hettie, who may be more than she seems, and his poor relationship with his father, who has closed himself off from Tim since his wife, Tim’s mother, disappeared. While in his bedroom Tim’s book starts to reveal its words, and this triggers a lot of activity elsewhere. I loved Kat Howard’s using three old people in hooded rags around an open trashcan with a fire blazing in it as a little wink to the three witches in Macbeth, though to be fair we don’t really do those open trashcan fires in England. Nice touch, though. An assassin is sent, but, unknown to Tim, defeated by Dr. Rose herself, who is keeping a close eye on his house, seemingly to protect him. These first few parts of Tim’s story are very much about him finding his feet, about establishing the world and its characters around him, about his dual position as a trainee wizard of sorts and just a regular schoolboy.

As the story progresses it becomes clear that not everyone is who they seem, and that it is hard to tell friend from foe. Some on the side of dark magic would like Tim alive to turn him to their side, while some on the side of good magic would like him dead to take away that risk. Perfect fodder for a good writer, with everything up in the air. We end this volume with Tim taking a trip to The Dreaming, the sleepscape he has visited before, but which he finds much changed. It is decaying, and the only person he finds to talk to is Eve, who again reinforces the above point to be careful who you trust. Tim makes a decision to trust Dr. Rose, who decides to take Tim away as it is increasingly not safe for him after classmate Ellie is kidnapped. Which is where we leave this part of the story.

This was a solid start to the soft reboot of sorts of Tim Hunter and his Books of Magic. Kat Howard did a nice job of creating his new status quo, peopling it with all sorts of friends and foes, throwing in a whole lot of teen angst and stirring it all up in a nice stew. It was a great read. The art, by Doom Patrol favourite Tom Fowler, was perfect for the book. It had a slight air of edge to it, just loose and scratchy enough to suit the tone of the book but not distracting from it. This creative team work beautifully together.

If you are looking for a fix featuring young wizards, with a slighter harder edge, this is for you. If you love your fix of Gaiman-verse related characters, this is for you. If you love entertaining words and pictures, this is most definitely for you.

Solid entertainment in the Vertigo tradition. Recommended.

****½  4.5/5

Books of Magic Vol.1: Moveable Type is out tomorrow from DC Vertigo. Pre-order your copy here.

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