Did you miss me last week? I was dealing with toddler tummy flu, mericfully mild on the external symptoms, but high on the clinginess scale.
The Books of Magic by Neil Gaiman. Illustrated by John Bolton, Scott Hampton, Charles Vess and Paul Johnson. This is an old Neil Gaiman, originally a 1993 miniseries, just brought back into print as a single graphic novel. Hooray for back in print Neil Gaiman! Twelve-year-old Timothy Hunter has magic potential, and a team of four mysterious (but probably familiar to DC fans) men in trenchcoats are watching him skateboard and deciding if they should offer him the chance to have a tour of the magic world. The men include John Contantine, Dr. Occult, and Mr. E. After Timothy’s yo-yo is turned into an owl, Timothy agrees to the demonstration/tour, following which he is to be offered a chance to start proper magical training or not. Each of the four mysterious men takes him to a different realm – past, present, Fairy and future. In each realm, he meets with famous people, some universally famous, like Merlin in the past and Baba Yaga and the Fairy Queen in Fairy, but also lots and lots of magic-using DC characters. I don’t read very many of the ongoing series type graphic novels, so most of these characters were familiar to me only from my work selecting graphic novels for my library, but while knowing them might have added to the story, I didn’t feel that I was missing anything not knowing them. (I’ve read only one short Zatanna comic book, but have seen lots of her on covers, and was quite tickled here to see that Timothy reacts with horror to the sight of her in her costume, when she changes out of her everyday clothes. Like most female superhero costumes, it’s ridiculously revealing and impractical.) In every realm, Timothy is in danger, both from the dangers inherent in traveling someplace one doesn’t really belong while wanting to get back to where one does belong, but also because Evil knows that Timothy is out there, and would like to either recruit or eliminate him. Timothy will witness things along the way that you probably wouldn’t want your twelve-year-old seeing – more along the lines of death than sexuality, probably fine for older teens and less sensitive younger ones, but still put in our adult rather than teen collection. This is a basic magical journey story, something that in the hands of a lesser person might be stereotypical. However, it’s Gaiman. It works beautifully, despite having a very limited amount of space to tell the story. All of the artists are top-notch as well, a different one for each of the original four comic books. It’s beautiful to look at just as art even while it’s art with a job to do: telling the story, maintaining continuity and the ability to recognize the characters from one volume to the next, at the same time as showcasing the artists’ distinctive styles. Any Gaiman fan will of course want to read this, as will those who enjoy a good fantasy yarn.