In Review: Books of Magic #1

This series cannot expect to last with visuals or stories like this.

The covers: A magical trio for you to gather if you don’t want your collection to be incomplete. The Regular cover is by Kai Carpenter and is beautiful. It’s an illustration of Tim reading a book. The look of concentration on his face is intense. Behind him is a wall that contains several fantasy images. This is fantastic. Josh Middleton has created the Variant cover and it is also a winner. Tim is front and center holding up a book that’s levitating out of his hands. He looks at the reader sadly, as though this wasn’t something he’s planned. To the left are the three oracles looking into a flaming trash can. A yo-yo Tim receives separates this trio from the characters to the right. Dr. Rose is looking haughtily at her pupil and she’s surrounded by her namesakes. Just above her is a massive tree limb which supports a gypsy-like woman with feral eyes. Great teases, great art, and electric colors. There’s also a Blank Sketch Variant cover. This features the Sandman Universe banner at the top and the book’s title just below it. In the bottom right corner are the book’s credits and the issue number. The rest of the space is blank, as is the back side, so that one could get their favorite artist to create a one-of-a-kind illustration or to have the book’s creators sign it. I always approve of such variant covers, but left blank they’re not much to crow about. Overall grades: Regular A+, Variant A+, and Blank Sketch Variant C

The story: Aside from the phenomenal four issue limited series from 1990-1991, every other previous appearance by Timothy Hunter looks to have been cast aside. This is not a bad thing, as this relaunch, overseen by Neil Gaiman, who wrote the original series, may have a more consistent story. This premiere written by Kat Howard is an introduction to the character that teases some of his friends and foes. The book opens with a quick four page summary of the limited series that provides the basics for a reader to understand what’s occurred. Tim wakes with a start from this flashbacks, proclaiming that he chooses magic. This causes some odd looks in his classroom, as well as a barb from classmate Tyler. Dr. Rose is quick to stop this interruption and return to teaching the class. This is fairly rote material for a magical young boy. In fact, this series is going to be hard pressed to differ itself from the more famous English magical youth, though Tim did precede Harry by many years. That’s my one major complaint with this first issue’s story: I know all this. I’m old enough to have purchases the miniseries and monthly exploits when they were new, so this new take covered familiar ground. It also had several expected tropes: the class bully, the girl he pines for, the teacher looking out for him, etc. There are some supporting characters that show promise: Dr. Rose looks to be an interesting character, since she has knowledge that Timothy doesn’t, there’s a friendly bag lady he passes named Hettie, a mysterious trio around a trashcan, and that person who appears on the final page. This is a first issue and should set things up, but it won’t do anything for veteran fans but lighten their wallets. Overall grade: C

The art: The visuals by Tom Fowler are going to be an issue for me. The first page is a splash that features Tim walking down a deserted street at night. This style looks very similar to Peter Gross, an artist from the past ongoing series. It was never a great look due to it being very simplistic. Also not helping on this splash page is an attempt to create an illuminated lettering effect on two images. It’s so simple as to deter from the overall visual appeal. Why include or try such a visual feature when it’s going to be so underplayed? Better are the next three pages which use the stylized art of each of the original Books of Magic. However, when the real world story in the present begins the characters have very thick lines to define their characteristics, especially on the cheeks. Tim looks as though he has the mumps on the first page in the present. Dr. Rose looks fine, thankfully. The scene in the hallway has the students looking good, with Ellie and her friends finely rendered. The setting is also well done. Dr. Rose’s office would rival a college professor, but given she’s looking out for Timothy it’s excusable. The lines for tones on Tim draw the eye too often, making me think he’s been in a fight with a cat and gotten tagged under his chin: it’s giving him an upside down Harry Potter marking. Harry grits his teeth often in this book, so much so that I went through and counted up the panels. If you want in on the action, check for yourself. He’s going to need braces in his immediate future, to say the least. Heck, he’s even gritting his teeth in his baby pictures! The two pages with Hettie are good; the character has an interesting design and the setting is very well done. The final two pages introduce several supernatural characters into the group, though their identities are hidden by cloaks. I’m anxious to see how they appear next issue. I want this book to be the best it can be visually, and I’m not getting it in this starter. Overall grade: C

The colors: Jordan Boyd is the colorist for the issue and it’s okay. There wasn’t anything done to save the opening pages’ illuminated lettering without spending days on it. However, the rest of the opening splash is practically a monocolored fizzle for a beginning of a new series. The next four pages of flashbacks are fine, as is Tim’s waking from his dream. The colors of the real world are very blasé. Boyd tries to change things up by inserting brighter background colors, but even they are muted in the educational setting. Rose is a standout character due in part to the coloring of her suit and her office, which seems to be situated in a location to receive the sun from the Arizona desert. The colors go mute again when Tim is on the streets and at home, though the blues in both locations are pretty. Bolder colors would have perked up these visuals considerably. Overall grade: C+

The letters: The opening illuminated letters, narration, dialogue, and book text comprise Todd Klein’s duties on this issue. The opening illuminated letters look okay, but just don’t thrill or set the story well. I’m happy to see that the narration and the dialogue are presented in different fonts, since they are different forms of communication. Both are easy to read throughout the book. The only other text comes from the words formed in Tim’s books, which resemble the expected Royal fonts one would expect to see in a magic book from England. Overall grade: B

The final line: This series cannot expect to last long with visuals like this for new readers or stories that fail to do anything original for veteran fans. This pushes all the buttons one would expect of a secretive teenage magic user in modern day England. It will have to do something completely different from J.K. Rowling’s blockbuster to come out of its shadows. It will also have to have much better visuals. I’ll go one more issue, Vertigo, but my hopes are not high after this reboot. Overall grade: C+

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Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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