The Books of Magic #1 attempts to re-cast Timothy Hunter in a 21st century world, but instead treads on uninventive and unoriginal tropes.
Way back in 1990, Neil Gaiman and John Bolton created a dark-haired, bespectacled wizard in the making named Timothy Hunter for the four-issue miniseries The Books of Magic. Although Hunter was technically the main character of The Books of Magic, he was basically a framing device, a way to showcase the past, present, and future of the magical side of the DC Universe through the eyes of some of DC's best-known magicians.
Hunter was deliberately a generic character in the original Books of Magic series, although later writers would infuse the everyman/boy of destiny with some personality, flaws, and hormones in sequel series and spinoffs. Hunter even managed to co-exist in a world with Harry Potter, another wizard in training with many similar traits, for a few years before he was eventually shelved by DC.
Hunter made a brief appearance in Justice League Dark at the start of the New 52, with almost all of history erased save for his appearance in the original Books of Magic series. And now Vertigo's new Books of Magic series, written by Kat Howard and illustrated by Tom Fowler, seemingly starts off where that first Books of Magic series left off, with Hunter at the crossroads between a mundane life and a magic one.
Unfortunately, it seems that most of the things that made Hunter interesting were erased with his past history. Howard and Fowler's Hunter in Books of Magic is just as generic as he was in his early appearances, which is a problem since he's the main focus of a series instead of simply a way to show off a rich and complicated comics history.
In this new Books of Magic, he's an awkward teen struggling after the loss of his mother. With no friends besides a homeless woman and a mentally absent father, Hunter is adrift in the world and looking to magic for an answer, wanting its powers without the consequences. However, there are vaguely sinister forces at work, trying to kill Hunter before he can fulfill his destiny.
It's not that The Books of Magic is a bad comic; it's well-paced, the art is solid -- especially the opening pages that recap the original Gaiman-written series in a medieval tapestry inspired style -- and the dialogue sounds realistic. However, it's painfully unoriginal and takes no risks or chances either in plot or layout.
The comic has a representation of almost every single popular young adult trope. There's a rivalry with the cruel school bully, a kind-hearted love interest, dead/neglectful parents, a mysterious mentor, and a sage-like elder. Maybe this is a deliberate choice, a setup for some deconstruction or subversion in later issues, but the first issue just feels bland in so many ways. And that's not even touching upon the inevitable comparison to the Harry Potter series, as Hunter will probably seem like a poor facsimile of that franchise's protagonist to new readers, right down to the tie and sweater vest school uniform.
It's almost as if the creative team of Books of Magic set out to create the comic book equivalent of a grocery store birthday cake; a pleasant, fluffy, and entirely generic story that's neither filling or worth remembering. And if that was their goal, they absolutely succeeded. For a comic series attached to the ambitious "Sandman Universe" line, The Books of Magic feels dull and out of place.
Published by DC Comics
On October 24, 2017
Written by Kat Howard
Art by Tom Fowler
Colors by Jordan Boyd