THE SANDMAN UNIVERSE: BOOKS OF MAGIC, VOL. 1 – MOVEABLE TYPE / AUTHOR: KAT HOWARD / ARTIST: TOM FOWLER / PUBLISHER: VERTIGO / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Neil Gaiman’s legendary comic series The Sandman, which followed the Lord of Dreams, originally ran from 1989 to 1996. To mark its 30th anniversary, DC recently began four new titles set in the same universe. The range was launched by a one-shot introducing us to the various characters, which is reprinted in this new volume alongside the first six issues of one of the titles, Books of Magic.
Books of Magic follows Tim Hunter, a nerdy kid who finds out he’s destined to be a great magician. He must learn to use his powers, seek out his destiny, and stay safe from various mysterious forces, all while dealing with the usual teen issues of school bullies and young romance. He also wears specs and has a pet owl. And – before you say it – the character was actually created by Gaiman for a limited series back in 1990, predating the first Harry Potter book.
You don’t need to worry about all the continuity, though, as this volume, written by fantasy novelist Kat Howard, is a great entry point into Tim Hunter’s world. New teacher Dr. Rose shows up at school with knowledge of Tim’s powers and a promise to help him focus them. But at the same time, a group of hooded zealots called Cold Flame are determined to kill Tim before he can fulfil his destiny. The plot escalates steadily, with several surprising turns and a sense that you never know who Tim should really be trusting. With so many questions left open, it’s easy to finish the book in one afternoon and be left looking up when Volume 2 is out.
That said, while it is true that the character predated Harry Potter, it’s also true that there are a lot of similarities between the two worlds, and a lot of elements in this story which you’ll have seen many times in the years since Hunter first graced comic pages. Not just from Potter; the idea of Tim having a school mentor with a secret job of training him in his powers feels very alike Buffy, while some of the teen angst sub-plots are reminiscent of... well, just about every teen story. How much this affects enjoyment will vary between readers, but the part of the book that stands out most is the deviation when Hunter enters the Dreaming, a mythic world that remains unique to the Sandman universe in its extraordinary and imaginative qualities.
Howard’s scripting is well complemented by Tom Fowler’s art, which is perfect for this kind of story – expressive and not overly fussy, with a great sense of characterisation and pacing. Jordan Boyd’s colours help build the world, with the murky browns and blues of the main London setting contrasted by the delightfully vibrant look of the Dreaming.