I never read Neil Gaiman’s original 4-issue run of Books of Magic, nor did I read any of the subsequent runs, so, naturally, of the four titles initially announced for the first wave of Sandman Universe series, this one was the one I was least interested in. It’s not that I wasn’t interested in the premise – I love a good story about people learning how to do magic – but it was more the idea that, due to my lack of knowledge of any of the previous stories, I’d be totally lost going into this comic and find myself unable to enjoy it for what it is. Thankfully, that’s not what happened. Unfortunately, it is still my least favorite ‘volume 1’ of the three in the Sandman Universe that I’ve read so far. (Mild spoilers follow!)
Books of Magic, Volume 1: Moveable Type (written by Kat Howard, illustrated by Tom Fowley, colors by Jordan Boyd)
While Tim’s trying to study and attract the cutest girl in his class, there are cultists who want to kill him, believing his magical powers will eventually corrupt him, turning him into a merciless mage that will bring upon the end of magic forever! But when a mysterious new substitute teacher for his school called Dr. Rose wants to mentor and educate him in the magical arts so that he can discover the secrets behind the Books of Magic, Tim believes he has the tools to find his missing mother. Is this sudden guidance too good to be true, and what connection–if any–does Rose have to the disappearance of Tim’s teacher Mr. Brisby?
Books of Magic: Moveable Type isn’t a bad graphic novel; it’s just very average. The biggest issue is that it moves at such a break-neck pace that it’s very hard to really immerse yourself into the story or to connect with the main character – especially when compared to titles like The Dreaming or Lucifer. But, some positives first. This book is surprisingly accessible to those who have never read a single comic in any of the previous iterations of the series. The first issue opens with a very quick recap of Gaiman’s original miniseries (told in a very clever dream sequence that doesn’t feel particularly expository) that gives you just enough of the vital backstory in order to understand and enjoy this new story being told. Also, based on a bit of research, it appears that this title is disregarding every previous Books of Magic series, aside from Gaiman’s original. So, there’s that. After that, we’re fairly quickly thrown into the action as Tim Hunter is given a Book of Magic by his new substitute teacher and the action pretty immediately explodes.
Don’t be fooled: while this comic centers around a teenage protagonist, it’s very much a comic for more mature readers. There’s a lot of gore and violence and language in this comic, making it clear that the target audience is definitely the same as the rest of The Sandman Universe‘s. But, interestingly, the writing itself doesn’t feel very mature. Very little time is spent getting to know any character besides Tim and, even then, we don’t really get to know him outside of his – pretty typical – teenage impulses and his drive to figure out what happened to his mother prior to the beginning of the series. Other than that, he feels a bit like every other teenager protagonist in stories like this. He’s inexperienced and rash and impatient. Perhaps that’s the point; perhaps he’s supposed to feel very “everyman”, but the comic doesn’t really make it clear that’s what it’s going for, so it does come across as feeling a bit underdeveloped. Especially when you couple it with just how quickly the whole volume is paced. Everything happens so fast and very little time is spent with any individual event before we’re rushed into the next one. Again, it’s a choice, but I tend to prefer comics that take a bit more time to explore their plots. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the pacing is a problem but it’s something that didn’t really work for me.
The artwork, penciled by Tom Fowley and colored by Jordan Boyd, falls into a similar camp. It’s very stylized – intentionally so, I’d suspect – and does mostly work for the kind of story that’s being told. It does take a bit of time to really get used to the style of artwork, though, especially when it comes to the facial expressions of the characters. This period of adjustment is most applicable when it comes to Tim Hunter’s character design; he’s full of sharp angles and exaggerated expressions and it can often seem out of place in the visual context of the rest of the scene. There were numerous times where the artwork seemed to be showing Tim in a more sinister light while the text itself – and the rest of the visual clues – didn’t seem to support that. But, aside from that, the artwork is very good. I particularly dug Fowley’s background artwork and creature design. He does a superb job in issue 5 with depicting The Dreaming; it looks similar enough to the artwork in The Dreaming to be identifiably The Dreaming while still maintaining Fowley’s established style within the work of Books of Magic. Boyd’s colors, however, are superb. They go a long way toward bringing Fowley’s linework to life and the combination of Fowley and Boyd’s styles makes for a very visually interesting experience.
All in all, Books of Magic: Moveable Type is not a bad graphic novel, but it’s not quite as good as The Dreaming and Lucifer are. Perhaps it’s merely down to the fact that this comic seems to be targeted at different audiences than those two are; perhaps it’s more of a personal taste issue, it’s really hard to say. What I can say is that I just don’t have any strong feelings about this book positive or negative. Everything moved so quickly that I don’t feel like I really got a chance to connect with the main character of the series, so it’s hard for me to be emotionally invested in his personal journey. The world of the comic is cool, but I don’t really feel inspired to continue reading the title past this volume. I’ll probably pick up subsequent volumes at some point and see if the story develops into something that piques my interest a bit more, but I won’t exactly be rushing out to do so. But that’s not to say this is a bad comic; I definitely don’t think that. There’s a lot of good stuff here: some really great visuals, some interesting characters (that just really need some more development), and a plot that has the potential to go somewhere really interesting in the future. If you dug Gaiman’s original mini-series, I suspect you’ll dig this. If you didn’t, it still might be worth a try. You never know, what didn’t work for me might work a lot better for you.
3 out of 5 wands.