Summary

THE BOOKS OF MAGIC #1 opened up a whole new world of magic. It added many new features to the DC/Vertigo landscape, and its consistently referenced as one of the greatest dark fantasy comics of all time.

REVIEW OVERVIEW

Writing/Story
Pencils/Inks
Colors
Letters

Longbox Legends: How THE BOOKS OF MAGIC #1 (1990) Revolutionized The Hero’s Journey

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We had the pleasure of revisiting legendary writer Neil Gaiman’s work THE BOOKS OF MAGIC #1 recently, and we want to share some of its best features. After the comic book world had time to digest the unique story within, the landmark series set the bar for what a good comic could be throughout the nineties. And as fans know, few books came close to matching the originally and sheer breadth of Gaiman’s storytelling. This tale in particular weaves together elements of the traditional hero’s journey formula, but refashions it into something far greater.

Story

Timothy Hunter, the star of this story, isn’t your typical hero. In fact, one might hesitate to call him a hero at all. Readers are introduced to the 13-year-old on an abandoned London street, only to notice a group of men following him just seconds later. Things progress even faster and soon one of the strangers, Dr. Occult, asks him if he would like to enter the world of magic.

This is the place in most heroes’ journeys in which there comes a period of deliberation. And indeed there is for Tim. But unlike those popular tales of heroes coming from poor circumstances, Tim is relatable to the average reader in the sense that he has plenty to lose. He is a relatively well-off boy living a normal life. But when pressed, the teen thinks to himself, “If I could do that stuff they’d have to treat me different. That’s for certain. I wouldn’t have to take any crap from anybody. Not ever.”

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In a masterful stroke of narrative brilliance, Gaiman’s hero forgoes all consideration of the dangers of magic, accepting Occult’s offer solely for self-centered purposes. And just like that, Tim’s reality is changed forever.

Tim (and readers) are whisked away into the great unknown in a moment of exhilarating fantasy made possible by a brilliant storyteller like Gaiman. Knowing little of the character, we are nonetheless drawn into the adventure with him through his uncanny relatability.

Artwork

John Bolton’s penciling, ink work, and coloring is the perfect visual match for Gaimain’s dark fantasy storytelling. The boundaries between Tim, Occult, and the other characters seem to blend in with their surroundings, representing the nebulous nature of the magical realm itself. Adding to this effect are the dark hues mixed with those that are unsettling bright. These panels are also covered with a grainy texture covering everything to complete the tone. What’s more, Todd Klein’s lettering fits in well with the illustrations; they’re strategically placed so as not to distract readers from the scenes’ grandeur.

Conclusion

THE BOOKS OF MAGIC #1 opened up a whole new world of magic. It added many new features to the DC/Vertigo landscape, and its consistently referenced as one of the greatest dark fantasy comics of all time.

What was your favorite part of this issue? Let us know in the comments below!

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Corey Patterson
A comic book nerd and reviewer with a special interest in the underlying themes of superhero, sci-fi and fantasy stories. He enjoys writing for Monkeys Fighting Robots, Pop Culture and Theology and other publications.