dreamcatchings: (firefly: find your genius thing)
[personal profile] dreamcatchings
Before I really begin I just want to say that my original plan was to talk about all the series that involve Tim Hunter at once. This was before I saw everything that would encompass. Yes, I know about the original limited series, the proper Books of Magic series, the Books of Faerie as well as a vague knowledge that there were some other titles out there. Once I started going through the digital comics collection I found, I realized that there were entirely too many books to consider in one discussion. Moreover it became clear that some of the offshoots were completely different stories about different characters or even completely different facets of Tim. As such it only made sense to break things down a bit, and the logical point was to take Tim's introduction to magic and his halting, stuttering, tragedy filled first steps into magic on their own. I will admit that when I was reading these, I started with the LS, then read the Children's Crusade storyline (after a brief hiccup involving me going from the LS straight into the proper run wherein I discovered that all those weird allusions to other stuff they made were from CC so I backtracked) before launching into the main series anew.

This wasn't the first time I had ever read BoM although it was the first time that I was lucky enough to be able to get my hands on all the issues. I only vaguely remember when I got the TPB containing the LS. It would have had to have been sometime during high school. Thanks to my English teacher I was completely and utterly in love with both Sandman and Neil Gaiman. As such I was sort of on a quest to find and devour every Neil Gaiman related thing I could get my hands on, which I'm sure is how I found the BoM LS. I know that I got either the first or the second BoM TPB when my father dropped me off at college for orientation/classes. I know that because I took it to the dance mixer some of the girls on my floor dragged me to, and since I just sat there reading it instead of dancing like an idiot I was chided a little by the upper class men supervising the event. It should come as a surprise to no one that I went to a dance and read rather than be social when I didn't know anyone.

I had always wanted to get more of the TPBs and finish reading the series. It was just one of those books that didn't demand my attention, though. It was quiet and somber so it was sometimes easy for me to forget about. It also had the misfortune of not being entirely written by Neil Gaiman. Had it been I'm sure I would have found ways to get it all much sooner. As it was I eventually put the other TPBs on my Amazon wish list and then promptly forgot about them each and every time I made an order. Once they fell out of print I removed them from my list assuming that was that. This occurred during my mostly out of comics phase so it was a lot easier to accept. So you can imagine how excited I was when I got back into comics and discovered all the BoM comics in that beautiful digital comics cache I had. I won't lie. There were times when I was reading the series that I honestly considered stopping because I just didn't feel like the series was at all worthy to is LS predecessor. In the end, though, it pulled together, and I am really glad that I read it because it contains worlds inside of it.

While I'm sure the concept has occurred to me before, I never actually put it into words and a cognizant idea until I was reading BoM. There are some comic books that would never exist if they had wound up being pitched to the wrong company. This might seem like a given to some of you, but it was almost a revelation to me. I was thinking about BoM and Sandman. These are things that never would have happened at Marvel. This isn't to say that Marvel doesn't have magical characters or story lines or worlds. Some of my favorite Marvel characters fall into these very ideals. Despite this fact, though, magic feels very different at Marvel than it does at DC/Vertigo. It's not even anything I can link directly to Vertigo either because some of the titles and stories that involve magic are tied to DC. Maybe it boils down to the fact that there's more of a willingness to be insightful, thoughtful and world building in DC/Vertigo. While I cannot directly attribute this to the large amount of British writers who have crossed the DC/Vertigo gates, I do feel that they allowed that sense to grow and flourish. They took and existing mindset and nurtured it so that now we have a garden full of the most gorgeous, wonderful, rare blooms. They're not all the best of the best. There are problems in every garden. The vine that won't climb as well as the one that tries to choke everything else out. The rose that loses all its petals. The iris that continually falls to the ground so that you have to continually pick it back up. For every prize winning bloom, there's also one that just won't grow right. There are also people who invariably love it anyway. That's sort of what the BoM series can be likened to; it's not the best book out there, but it gets inside of you with everything that it is and it makes a home if you take the time to let it. Just like Tim himself it has a very troubled adolescence and a hard time finding where it fits in the grand scheme of things.

Let's break this down into the parts. The limited series introduces us to Tim Hunter who is himself introduced to the idea that not only is there magic in his world but that he is capable of wielding it. The four issues are basically the trench coat brigade (Constantine, Phantom Stranger, Mister E *ugh, what a name* and Doctor Occult, though not in that order) taking turns launching their own sale pitches for magic. Along the way Gaiman walks us and Tim through various worlds and crosses over with a large number of characters including Dream and Death. Some of the references included in this series are even lost on me, but Gaiman weaves it all in wonderfully as is his calling card. Overall the introductory limited series feels like an ending and a beginning wrapped into one, which is appropriate because that's sort of what Tim is on the inside as we learn later on.

I sometimes find it hard to do these without giving too much away. I want to give you a sense of what's going on, the strengths and weaknesses, what I like, etc. without also completely ruining all the surprises. There are a lot of twists and turns in BoM. Plus I'm talking about 70+ issues all without trying to go on forever. It's a hard line to walk especially when you're as verbose as I tend to be when I started talking about something that actually interests me. Then you have to take into account all the personal recollections I getting sprinkling into these things as though I were seasoning a roast. There's this line I'm trying to walk, but I know that I'm not always doing the best job that I can. So forgive me for being too long, too short, too specific, too vague, too personal, too distant. Forgive me all of that.

That diatribe makes me want to say a little something about Tim. Tim is probably one of the most real characters I have encountered in comic books. So many things about him and his personality ring true. This is a boy who on one day just like any other day is approached by four rather sketchy looking men and told that he's a wizard and would he like to learn magic. Tim, not an idiot, thinks the worst and tells them to get lost. Even when they do convince him that they're not there to mess with him, he has trouble believing and accepting. Any of us would. Through the course of the series, Tim makes bad decisions and does terrible things. He hurts those who love him because he says something stupid without thinking or forgets about something or becomes too wrapped up in his own world and all this crazy magic stuff that keeps happening. This is a character who annoys not only other characters but the reader and, ultimately, himself as well. One of the larger story arcs in the series is aptly called "Rites of Passage," but I contend that this title could be applied to the entire run and perfectly describe the tone. Books of Magic is Tim's journey into adulthood and tells of his trials and triumphs along the way.

While there are other creators who get their hands into it, the two people predominately responsible for BoM are John Ney Rieber and Peter Gross. The first fifty issues are mostly written by John and drawn by Peter. John's run is problematic, and it was actually during this time that I considered not reading it through to the end. (I wouldn't have actually done it, though. I'm entirely too much of a completest to abandon it mid-way through, and I've forced myself to wade through worse. The most recent run of Gen 13 proves that.) John never feels comfortable with either Tim or the world he's spinning around him. In fact it is John's female characters who resonate the loudest. They are better conceived, more interesting and it's almost as though he builds who Tim is through his relationship with the females in his life. This is not to say that there aren't good things during John's run, but he mostly seems to introduce fascinating ideas and concepts simply to abandon them.

I'm going to stop and provide an example that doesn't really spoil much of anything, but if you're determined to remain completely spoiler free than you should skip this paragraph. A big part of the aforementioned "Rites of Passage" story arc is Tim's journey through America in search of a home, a mention, himself. During this voyage, he encounters a number of strange things. One of these is a town in the Southwest that appears to be composed of movie props and is populated with the sort of cowboys one would expect in such a film. The town is stuck doing the same actions day after day, but all the characters are cognizant of their plight. The town is watched over by an Indian man who prevents the players from leaving. Their roles change each die, and they seem to die each day only to rise again, change roles and play everything out once more. Tim encounters the town and its watcher. Being him, he is able to discern what the town is and that the people trapped within it are ghosts who have been dead a long time. He tells the Indian to let them go, and the Indian directs him to go to the town and free the men there. The encounter between Tim and the men in the town is very short lived. He walks among them and talks to him. Then he asks the question that becomes the pivot point. He asks about where the horses are because what use is a cowboy without his horse really. The men have no answer, but the Indian does when Tim returns to him. The Indian is not an Indian. He is not even the spirit of an Indian. He is the spirit of the collective horses who were slaughtered in the name of making all those cowboy movies. Once Tim hears the truth, he leaves. He just turns his back on the town, the men, the horse spirits made Indian and walks away.

Tim walks away from a lot of things. It's one of his biggest flaws. While reading I wanted to shake him, tell him and turn around and stay, but he doesn't. He's actually incapable of it in some ways, but I won't go into more detail about that because it would spoil more of the series. Needless to say I feel like his constant penchant for walking away keeps us away from exploring what could have been some very interesting story lines. Having finished the story I understand why he behaves the way he does. BoM is set up beautifully that way. It actually all makes more sense once you finish it and then look back at the rest of the series to see the thread you've been following clearly revealed now when you couldn't see it before.

I think the only reason that sense of completeness is possible is because of Peter Gross. Peter's art during John's run is exceptional and truly fits with the feel of the story. You don't realize his genius, though, until he takes on the task of writing and drawing the series. He picks up with issue fifty and carries the series through to its culmination in issue seventy-five. Gross has a better understanding of Tim, and he quickly works to explore Tim on his own rather than through the females in his life. This is both a wonderful writing device as well as somewhat disheartening because those female characters were so well done and so integral to our understanding that it feels as though both we and Tim are having to learn to walk on our own again. Gross had to do it, though. The only way to actually tell Tim's story is through him rather than through those around him. This entire series is really just a big allegory for growing up and finding one's self. Gross himself actually calls his part of the run Tim's "boy time," and this is evident not only in the disappearance of most of the female characters but also in the introduction of more male characters into Tim's life: a step-brother, a mentor, an alternate version of himself, friends at a boy's school, etc.

There are still things that Gross could have done better, but the second part of the run feels more consistent and loved than the first fifty issues do. It also can't be an easy job to be responsible for the writing as well as most of the art on a monthly series. There are the occasional issues written and/or drawn by other people likely to keep Gross from going insane, but by and large the tone of the this part of the run feels comfortable. It's like slipping on a pair of well-worn shoes. Gross is content with Tim. He seems to understand him more than John ever did. Gross builds on what John left him and ultimately makes it all understandable and even more relatable. Tim still has those moments of being profoundly selfish and annoying because, hey, he's a person and a kid. That's what humans do.

Ultimately BoM ends with lots of answers as well as questions. There are characters and plot lines that are scattered along the way that might be picked up in some of the following books or might have just been lost to time. (I am especially interested in what happened to Nikki and Khara.) Despite it's growing pains, though, BoM leaves us with a sense of who Tim is and that he is finally free to make his own way and find himself as well as his magic on his own. So much of the series was about Tim's fate. He was fated to do and become certain things. By the end, he has smashed all of those expectations. He has learned to stand on his own two feet without mother, father, girlfriend, teacher, brother or even this preconceived notion of who he will become. Tim has found himself, and we were lucky enough to be able to experience all of that with him. From the initial setup by Gaiman to the rocky rites of passage with John to the culmination of realization of independence with Gross, this series has a lot of growing pains to go through just like life, which once again simply proves how much Tim is like you and I and how that makes him one of the most real characters I have ever encountered. Do yourself a favor and pick up BoM.
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July 2012

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