The Names of Magic

By Dylan Horrocks & Richard Case (Vertigo)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-888-4

Way back when Neil Gaiman was just making a name for himself at DC he was asked to consolidate and rationalise the role of magic in that expansive shared universe. Over the course of four Prestige Format editions a quartet of mystical champions (thereinafter known as “the Trenchcoat Brigade”) took a London schoolboy on a Cook’s Tour of Time, Space and Infinite Dimensions in preparation for his becoming the most powerful wizard of the 21st Century, and an overwhelming force for Light or Darkness.

Shy, bespectacled Timothy Hunter (co-created by John Bolton) was an ordinary lad unaware of his incredible potential: a natural but untutored magical prodigy (and yes, I know who he looks like but the series came out eight years before anybody had ever heard of Hogwarts, so get over it).

In an attempt to keep him righteous the self-appointed mystic guides provided him with a full tutorial in the history and state of play regarding The Unseen Art and its major practitioners and adepts. However, although the four guardians were not united in their plans and hopes for the boy, the “other side” certainly had no doubts. If Hunter could not be turned to the Dark he had to die

The Books of Magic spawned a 75 issue run of issues under the Vertigo imprint plus attendant annuals, mini-series and spin-offs as the neophyte sorcerer struggled to find his way and learn the craft, aided and/or hindered by sort-of girlfriend Molly and a hidden personal history akin to a colossal, convoluted cosmic onion skin. His enigmatic lineage and true origins remained a crushing, crippling but crucially important mystery – especially since all the mystic powers of this world and many others either wanted him dead or enslaved…

By 2001 and the advent of this excellent tome (collecting the five-part Names of Magic miniseries) Hunter is a lonely, isolated fourteen year old runaway with no past, roaming the streets of London. His loving family have been exposed as fakes and surrogates, he’s lost or been abandoned by all his human associates and the final reeling shock was finding out that his real mother was Titania, Queen of Faerie and his sire her mortal falconer and plaything Tamlin

However when he is simultaneously attacked by a raiding party of the Theena Sidhe from the Higher Realms and a politically influential mortal magician’s cult in ‘Invocation’, Tim is rescued by a sword-wielding stranger and old mentor Dr. Occult and his life is once again collapsing around his ears…

The stranger is Ash; a Walker and one of a hidden human brotherhood who police the ancient magical places of Earth, charged with taking the unwilling boy on a pilgrimage down those venerable lost paths to save his life and find his calling.

The Rosicrucian sages of The Cold Flame of the Golden Lotus, who want to co-opt Hunter’s power or negate his threat potential, have been embedded in the fabric of British Society for centuries and soon have their media tools and pet coppers on the trail whilst the rival Faerie stalkers – supposedly under a truce to leave Tim alone – rely on their own arcane methods to relentlessly pursue the fugitives…

When man and boy rendezvous with the “Trenchcoat Brigade” in Cornwall it is decided to closet the lad at the puissant magical college known as the White School where he can be safely trained in the use of his incredible powers.

Of course, there’s a snag: to enter a student must simply utter their True Name but when Tim tries he discovers that even his own identity is a lie…

Reeling in shock at the School gate, Tim and Ash narrowly escape a police ambush in ‘Trust’ and the boy almost succumbs to a beguiling spell from Lotus master Mr. Lily before stumbling into another Faerie trap. It appears that one clan of Fair Folk has made a pact with the eternal enemy of The Unseelie Court to destroy Tim, but the fugitives turn the tables on their hunters and Tim saves one of them from death, binding her into an unbreakable debt that she must repay twice-over…

‘Secrets’ sees Tim and Ash recruit modern Pagan “Bearclaw” Clarke to their Spirit Quest. However the Cold Flame close in and a police raid disrupts the astral journey before any secrets can be uncovered. Ruthlessly shooting their way out, the trio take ‘Flight’, daringly hiding deep inside the Faerie Kingdoms.

On Earth Mr. Lily turns his attention to Tim’s lost love Molly in his attempts to trap the young mage whilst, after a climactic struggle in Elfland, the seekers are captured and dragged before High King Auberon who denies all knowledge of Tim’s troubles. The Faerie Lord swears to ferret out the renegades working with the Seelie Court, and Tim finally learns his True Name, just before Iolanthe, eager to expend her onerous debt, warns him that he’s walked into another trap…

Battling free, the fugitive four head back to Earthly Cornwall where they wait helplessly for their following foes – both Faerie and Cold Flame – to converge for a final assault. With their backs to the sea and sure death approaching on all sides Tim and crew take refuge in tourist trap Merlin’s Cave, where as the various factions slaughter each other to get to him, the boy finds a hidden door and discovers the whole and unexpurgated ‘Truth’

Although a series with a lot of highs and lows and one which never really lived up to its promise, Books of Magic was a popular early foray into mature comic publishing for Vertigo and subsequent returns to the characters have proved quite impressive.

Here Dylan Horrocks and illustrator Richard Case – augmented by cover artist Bolton – have recapitulated and reconfigured the past whilst crafting a compelling and enjoyable fantasy yarn that reads well, looks great and stands solid enough on it own to easily serve as an introduction to the saga of Tim Hunter.
© 2001 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Books of Magick: Life During Wartime

Books of Magic: Life During Wartime 

By Si Spencer & Dean Ormston (DC Comics)
ISBN 1-84576-005-0

Neil Gaiman is a big name in comics. He’s one of those guys who’s “made it” in the realer world but hasn’t completely turned his back on comics. He is also one of a small creative elite whose name liberally spread out on a book cover can bring non-comic clientele to a package, which is a long-winded way of saying that no comic title he’s been involved with will long stay in Limbo.

The latest return of The Books of Magick and super magician Tim Hunter features yet another revamp of the young, guileless innocent that Gaiman, John Bolton and a small band of painterly superstars tasked with a journey of self-discovery through all the Mystic Realms of the DC Universe back in the 1990s. Unfortunately a lot of pages have been published since then and the scrofulous young yob starring here is no kin to that waif.

This in itself is no bad thing. The adventures begin in another universe where humanity and demons are at war, a supernatural global conflict that has pushed Man to the brink of extinction. One last bastion lies besieged and Vertigo stalwart John Constantine is their embattled leader, as they await the return of their all-powerful deity, The Hunter.

The echoes of William Hope Hodgeson and C. S. Lewis are interrupted with a segue to a young adult Tim in what looks like our reality, dossing about after graduating university, doing drugs, swilling beer and shagging totty, just like anybody. As the story progresses long-time readers will realise that something is amiss, though. This life is just as out of whack as the demon war-scape and events lead to the inevitable conclusion that a deadly congruence of circumstance will catapult Tim and his coterie of reprobates into an alien Armageddon.

My poncey locution aside, this is quite an enjoyable fantasy ride. Si Spencer brings his television writing (Grange Hill, Eastenders) into the mix of earthly and unreal to great effect – let’s face it, most comics are soap-operas these days – and Dean Ormston manages to be grungy and stylish at the same time. My quibble stems from what I said earlier.

Although a re-interpretation, much of the narrative depends on a more than passing knowledge of the DC Universe (Hellblazer, Zatanna etc.) and especially the characters such as idealised girl friend Molly, from the long previous runs of Books of Magick. If those comics had sold well enough to garner a solid readership, we wouldn’t be discussing this new version at all, and to ask new readers to muddle along knowing there’s a subtext but not getting it seems at best harsh and at worst a recipe for yet another early bath.

For those Gaiman groupies, it might be an actual turn off from an otherwise useful addition to comics’ adult fantasy stable, and even comics in general.

© 2005 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.