Writer: Neil Gaiman
Illustrators: John Bolton, Scott Hampton, Charles Vess and Paul Johnston
Letterer: Todd Klein
Publisher: Vertigo Comics
What's good about it?
Timothy Hunter is an English 12 year old boy. He is offered the chance to take magic into his life and become the greatest mage ever known. He learns about the power of names, journeys into the past to witness the beginning of time, meets the greatest mages of all eras, visits faerie and the delights of the fairy market, travels to the future and sees a tarot deck made real. Finally, a decision.
There's an owl companion, bargains with otherworldly beings, ancient kings and wars of magic, a house on legs and lessons aplenty. Roger Zelazny, author of Lord of Light and the Amber series, amongst others, provides an introduction.
It is a tale of a traditional quest, in this case, the quest for knowledge - the young mage in training goes on a journey to discover his talents and in the process matures and gains knowledge about the world and those who inhabit it.
What's good about it?
Fantasy fans will recognise a lot of themes and features within this book as Gaiman has used familiar mythology and traditions from the genre to build Timothy's world. What makes this book special is the way in which it is delivered. Gaiman has used mythology to great effect in his other books and is able to weave elements of the DC Universe with traditional Western tales in such a skillful manner that we get a real feel for this new world. There are cameos from other DC characters, but knowledge of them is not important to the first time reader. You never get the feeling that you are missing anything, or that you should really know who such and such is. However if you do recognise any of the characters you will enjoy a richer reading experience.
Being English, Neil Gaiman, can write English characters and English cities very well. This is worth mentioning because unlike a lot of popular media, his characters have well developed, nuanced, personalities, and are not simply two dimensional Cockney Geezers or Posh Toffs. This is a rarity.
If you locate the cover shown above you will probably be pleased be discover the quality of it. The title is embossed, the brown borders are matt and the picture of Timothy is glossy. The back cover is a mixture of matt and glossy. It makes you feel like you're holding something really special, and since comics are part art, it's good to see covers that complement this.
And of course, it's a great story. A traditional story to be sure, but told in an interesting manner and with some fleshed out so very human characters.
What's bad about it?
After discussions with some other readers of this title I feel that a criticism could be levelled at the art. Although the art is very good and does it's job or bringing the fantastic into the realm of everyday life (therefore mirroring Timothy's journey), there has been some comments raised about how easy it is to follow.
There is a lot going on in a lot of the panels and this could cause confusion to the first time reader. Some of it may not seem very coherent if you are not used to the medium, or some panels may simply be too busy to read easily, if you haven't come across a comic before.
So, my recommendation is that you should read this book, but it possibly shouldn't be the first comic book ever you pick up. Maybe try some other books first and then pick up this one. It is definitely worth reading and it is very different to a lot of the superhero books out there, so please don't dismiss it, just be aware of it's style when you pick it up.
What's the art like?
I fear I haven't picked the best examples of the art, so forgive me if the scans change at a later date. There's just so much to choose from and so little space!
In common with many other books reviewed on this site, Todd Klein does the letters. Through his attention to detail and understanding of the plot dynamics and the characters his words supplement the art and create a vivid porthole into the narration, thoughts and actions of the characters.