Books of Magick: Life During Wartime #1-2

Story by Si Spencer and Neil Gaiman
Written by Si Spencer
Art by Dean Ormston
32 pages, color
Published by Vertigo/DC Comics

What do you do when one of your flagship books is, well, flagging? The Books of Magic started as a mini-series written by Neil Gaiman, introducing Tim Hunter as the world’s most powerful magician provided he headed down that path. Next was a 75-issue Books of Magic series written by John Ney Rieber and Peter Gross, and the Hunter: The Age of Magic series helmed by Dylan Horrocks. And for a while… nothing. Now Gaiman’s come back to the fold to help give a new series its initial push out of the gate, but is it too late for Tim Hunter to make a return?

It’s been fifteen months since the magical war began, and the world is in ruins. John Constantine and Zatanna are trying to hold down the proverbial and literal forts as best they can, even as demons and magical creatures take over more with each passing day. Keys for the mysterious Books of Magick are being discovered, but even they might not be enough to safe them. All their hope lies in Tim Hunter… but he’s been hidden in a world no one would ever think to look. A world without magic.

Teaming up Si Spencer with Gaiman to write Books of Magick (the first storyline was co-plotted by both of them, then Spencer writes the actual comic) works quite nicely and gives me hope for the future of the series. We’re starting in the middle of the story, but Spencer carefully doles out the information we need versus that which isn’t necessary. It isn’t necessary to know how Jerusalem got taken over by demons, for instance, or how the world was first invaded. Instead Spencer focuses on the here and now; the mystery of where Tim Hunter was hidden, or Zatanna’s quest for the various keys. It’s a slow surrender of information, and as each piece of the puzzle falls into place it results in a richer big picture to concentrate on. Spencer and Gaiman have also created an interesting world for Tim to be spirited away in; the idea of a world where no magic also meant no religion or mythology, for instance, is an intriguing one and it begs the question of just where exactly Tim truly is. At the same time, the first glimmerings of magic in this world are made all the creepier upon their arrival, truly appearing as something alien and impossible as bookstores flood with water, or people are vaporized on the street. Magic should be out of the ordinary and creepy, and that’s what we get in Books of Magick.

Of course, if you want magic that’s unsettling, Dean Ormston is a great selection on who to draw the book. Ormston’s character designs have always looked slightly sinister and out of the ordinary, from gigantic mask-headed demons to gigantic eyeballs with roots that people communicate through. It’s hard to describe why Ormston’s art always looks slightly creepy; maybe it’s his skillful use of shadow, or an innate sense to make everything just a little off-kilter. He’s able to make menace in tropical fish swimming around our protagonist, to say nothing of gigantic tattooed creatures from our nightmares.

The team of Spencer, Gaiman, and Ormston have created something different and creepy in Books of Magick: Life During Wartime. I hope it’s able to keep an audience, because I think that they’ve found a way to make Tim Hunter both recognizable to old fans, and interesting to new readers. I’m dying to read the third issue, so they’re definitely doing something right.

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