I’ll start by admitting something that embarrasses me a little bit. Vintage Vertigo books have always intimidated me. It feels a little silly to say out loud, considering I pride myself in tackling some of the weirdest and most convoluted things the DC Universe has to offer. I can sort out the multiverse during a Crisis or debate the finer points of the Speed Force all day long, but books like THE SANDMAN always felt particularly arcane. I could identify characters if I absolutely had to, but that was about as far as I could get you when dealing with the realms beyond spandex and alter egos and cities that needed saving.
So, it won’t come as a surprise to learn that when I heard the news about Tim Hunter’s return to the wild world of comics, my first reaction was “…who?”
Look, I’m not proud of it. But there’s no use pretending that I’m an expert. The original Books of Magic was never something I read. My first ever experience with Tim happened in THE SANDMAN UNIVERSE #1. I’m the very definition of a new fan here. But, lucky for me—and for you, if you happen to be in the same boat—BOOKS OF MAGIC #1 is a perfect place for new fans to jump on. Take it from me, a person who knew literally nothing going in and never felt lost.
Tim’s story isn’t exactly a simple one, but don’t let that scare you. It touches upon some extremely intense corners of the magic side of the DCU, which is a pretty fun bonus feature if you’re like me and a fan of the more traditional cape and cowl stuff. You’ll notice some pretty prominent cameos right off the bat with the whole Trenchcoat Brigade (that is, Constantine, the Phantom Stranger, Doctor Occult and Mister E) appearing to Tim in a dream. Did you know that the original BOOKS OF MAGIC #1 back in 1990 was the first “official” appearance of the Trenchcoat Brigade as a team? The more you know!
Here’s where things get a little crazy. Tim’s whole story revolves around the Brigade actually taking him on a journey through time and space where he, essentially, gets to watch how events in the past and future will play out before he makes any decisions about his own life. This is important because, it turns out that Tim is actually a conduit for some insanely powerful magic—so powerful, in fact, that him falling under the wrong influence has the potential to be apocalyptic. So, you know, no pressure, right?
It turns out the hard part of Tim’s life, after his mystical revelation, isn’t deciding whether or not he wants to pursue magic, it’s getting that magic to actually work.
This is where I really started to love Tim’s whole situation. There’s a trope in fiction that comes up pretty frequently where characters are set up to make major decisions that ultimately boil down to whether or not they want to take on a cool, fantasy adventure or stay with their normal, safe lives. And while, sure, I get why that would be a tricky call to make in real life (I’m a big fan of things being normal and safe as far as my everyday routine is concerned), it doesn’t always make for the most compelling fiction. If you’re going to put a character at a crossroads and tell me one path is about learning magic and saving the world and the other is about not learning magic or saving the world…well, guess which path I’m going to be rooting for every single time?
What I mean to say is that I appreciate Tim’s readiness to accept magic into his life. He doesn’t even take any time to weigh his choices, he makes his decision immediately.
Of course, that may have been a mistake, but, hey, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. And we’re probably going to be coming to it pretty rapidly here, based on the creepy trash-can oracles (?) and the hooded assassin (??) now standing outside of Tim’s house. But still, the important part is that things are moving, magic is being learned, books are being read and danger is very much afoot.
Here’s hoping Tim actually is as ready as he seems to think he is.
Meg Downey covers movies, TV and comics for DCComics.com, and writes about Batman each month in her column, “Gotham Gazette.” Follow her on Twitter at @rustypolished.