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Books of Magick 1: Life During Wartime
Words by Si Spencer - Art by Dean Ormston - Published by DC Comics (US), Titan Books (UK) - First published 2005 - Originally published as Books of Magick: Life During Wartime 1-5
It's possible to argue that the original Books of Magic series was a bit twee: despite its explicitly horrific moments, the story of a young boy yanked from the real world and into DC Comics's occult universe, peopled by the likes of John Constantine and pals, still felt a bit more like C. S. Lewis than Stephen King.
This series is something of a restart. Spencer hasn't walked away from the original cast and creations, but has put something of a spin on them. Tim Hunter is now in his late teens, living in a world where there is no magic, only science - not completely unlike our own. Like most other people his age he hangs out, has a part time job and is exploring the recreational benefits of the opposite sex. Unfortunately, back in the world of John Constantine, who plays a significant role in this story, there's a war going on. And Tim Hunter, like it or not, seems destined to be pulled through from his cosy teenage life into Constantine's domain.
Spencer's plot, developed in conjunction with original Books of Magic creator Neil Gaiman, is wonderfully built up. The two universes of magic and science run parallel through the book. On the one side is a teenage boy getting on with his life as increasingly unusual things happen to him. On the other is a bitter war of attrition, whose combatants are trying to break through the divide and bring Hunter back, an act destined to tip the uneasy balance. The juxtaposition is very well crafted - Spencer's time spent honing his script writing at the BBC has clearly not been comics' loss and it's a pleasure to see him back on this kind of form.
Ormston's visuals are equally pleasing, with a darkness that's as at home with the horrors of magical warfare as it is in the comfortably squalid living spaces of a late teenager.
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