BOOK REVIEW: The Books of Magic by Neil Gaiman

The Books of MagicThe Books of Magic by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Timothy Hunter is a young man faced with a big decision: take up magic and become the powerful sorcerer that he’s prophesied to become or live a magicless existence among muggles. The story’s structure is reminiscent of “A Christmas Carol,” except that instead of three ghosts showing the protagonist what a jerk he is, it’s the four members of the Trenchcoat Brigade (John Constantine, Mister E, Doctor Occult, and the Phantom Stranger) introducing Hunter to the good, the bad, and the ugly of the magical world. There’s much more adventure than in Dickens’s story, owing to the fact that there’re many who don’t want a powerful new magician coming on the scene, and so Hunter is being hunted.

This is a quick read and a straightforward story. It’s a little unusual in that Timothy, the protagonist, so often doesn’t have much agency, but in many ways it’s as much a Trenchcoat Brigade story as a Timothy Hunter story. Also, it’s hard to avoid with a character who is just a regular boy among powerful practitioners of magic.

There’s a lot of connection to the Sandman universe as well as references to the broader DC universe of characters.

I found it to be an intriguing story, and I thought the art captured the trippiness required of this kind of story. If you like Gaiman’s DC / Vertigo work, you’ll enjoy this book.


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BOOK REVIEW: Lucifer: Book One by Mike Carey

Lucifer, Book One (Lucifer, #1)Lucifer, Book One by Mike Carey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This sixteen-issue collection consists of three issues of “The Sandman Presents: Lucifer” in addition to the first thirteen issues of “Lucifer.” As the former title suggests, this is based on a character from the vast cast of “The Sandman” comics, and this volume does occasionally touch upon the broader Sandman universe, though it largely sticks to the Abrahamic mythology bits.

Each of the five story arcs in the volume standalone, but the last three (i.e. “Born with the Dead,” [1 issue,] “The House of Windowless Rooms,” [4 issues,] and “Children and Monsters,” [5 issues]) form an epic arc with a young girl Elaine and a portal to an alternate dimension at its heart. This larger arc impressively works to biblical proportions, involving grandiose stakes. I will say the first arc [from “The Sandman Presents…] was harder to follow the motives driving the story, but I can imagine it would be much easier for those who’d followed The Sandman comics from the outset. [Also, it’s only fair to have some challenges in finding a direction when dealing with such a massive cast and sprawling over-universe.]


If you’re wondering how this Lucifer compares to the television version, this one is less neurotic (though flawed in many of the same ways) and is more serious and a tad more wrathful. The TV version is lighthearted and comedic to a larger extent, while the comic book version bumps up against horror a bit more, but that’s not to say the comics have no comedy or the television version lacks all intensity. From a broader perspective, the Lucifer comic also not only more frequently touches on the Sandman universe, but also on mythologies outside that of Abrahamic religion – e.g. Lucifer ventures into the realm of Japan’s Izanami / Izanagi in “The House of Windowless Rooms.” It’s always nice to see a show can diverge from the source material and still be good, and I think that’s very much the case here.


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BOOK REVIEW: Hellblazer, Vol. 1: Original Sins by Jamie Delano

Hellblazer, Vol. 1: Original SinsHellblazer, Vol. 1: Original Sins by Jamie Delano
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This volume gathers eleven issues, comprising six stories. The first nine issues are from the “Hellblazer” title in which John Constantine is protagonist, and the final two are from “Swamp Thing” (the title in which Constantine was originally introduced.) There is a huge variation in the quality of stories in this collection, with most being compelling reads with an intriguing lead character.

The best stories include: 1.) the two-issue “Hunger” / “A Feast of Friends” in which a heroin addicted (amateur magician) acquaintance of John’s unleashes a demonic swarm upon the world; 2.) the creepy “Waiting for the Man” which draws upon the child abduction terror of the 80’s; and 3.) the four-issue arc “Extreme Prejudice” through “Shot to Hell,” which imagines a cult forcing a young woman to bear a celestial child.

The only really bad story is the single-issue “Going for It.” This issue is a stinker because instead of subtly embedding a political message in a story, it presents a political rant and tries to make it look vaguely story-like. [And if there is anything worse than getting a political rant when you’re expecting a story, it’s getting an archaic anti-Thatcherite political rant from the mid-80’s.] The author’s politics show through in a number of other stories, but not in place of the story. “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” has a great premise, but the “protagonist” (Constantine) is reduced to the role of passive spectator. The two “Swamp Thing” titles (“L’adoration de la Terre” and “Infernal Triangles”) also make for a fine story, but they’re out of place, and presumably are meant to serve as reminder of Constantine’s roots, though he’s a supporting character.

Overall, I enjoyed this volume, despite its few flat notes.


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BOOK REVIEW: Preacher, Book One by Garth Ennis

Preacher, Book 1Preacher, Book 1 by Garth Ennis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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After hearing glowing praise about the television series, I picked up this volume, intending to watch the series and wanting to take in the source material. As both the television show and this book were available via Amazon Prime, I ended up reading it in a period overlapping with watching the first season. [I don’t recommend doing it that way. The comic book and series share the same basic premise, but are wildly different in the story details and even shared plot points are revealed in different ways or at different points in the story. One can end up conflating the two in confusing ways because they are neither so close nor different that the stories merge or completely distinguish themselves.]

The book involves an unwholesome but likeable trio who travel together in search of divine answers. The lead character is Jesse Custer, a preacher prone to cursing, drinking too much, and getting in brawls. Early in the telling of the story, we also learn that Custer has been granted a godly superpower – the ability to give people orders that override their freewill – which we learn is called “Genesis.” The other two characters are Tulip, Custer’s love interest, and Cassidy – an Irish Vampire who parties hard but has surprising levels of charism and good-naturedness for a member of the undead.

Book One contains a dozen issues. There are three distinct parts to the story. The first part (Ch. 1 – 4) not only introduces the story (in part through flashbacks as the three sit in a diner telling stories,) but it also shows the three being tracked down by “The Saint of Killers” — an old west gunmen that some angels hire to take out Custer because even the angels can be stopped by Custer’s “word,” i.e. Genesis.

In the middle part (Ch. 5 -7,) the trio heads to New York City in an effort to rendezvous with someone Cassidy knows who might be able to put them back on God’s trail. This puts them in the middle of a manhunt for a serial killer who’s been terrifying the city.

In the final part (Ch. 8 -12,) Custer and Tulip go back to Texas to fix Tulip’s debt problem, but they end up getting caught by two mysterious rednecks who turn out to be henchmen of Custer’s despicable grandma – who plays the role of lead villain throughout the remainder of the book. Chapters nine and ten are largely flashbacks that give the reader insight into Jesse’s background, why he’s so screwed up, and also answers a number of burning background questions.

I thought the ending point was a good place to end the volume. In serialized works I often end up focusing on the question of whether the collected issues present a full story arc. In this case, they did. It is true that a part of the resolution hinges on a bit of deus ex machina that is clearly meant to be part of the hook to keep people reading. However, they pile on the action so it’s easy to miss the importance of this inexplicable sleight of hand. Overall, I thought the story was skillfully delivered.

As many people will have seen the tv series, one point of interest might be whether it’s worth it for said individual to read the comics. As I said, the details of the story are quite different, and so even though the core characters are the same [in some cases only superficially so] and the central ideas (e.g. pursuit by St. of Killers and Genesis) are shared, it’s not the case that you’ll be rehashing the same story. As far as the quality of the two media, I thought they were on par. I’m not going to spout the bookish motto – i.e. “the book is always better.” In fact, I would say there is one way in which the TV show is much better, and that is the character of Tulip. In the comic book she is an unexciting character who largely serves as love interest and damsel in distress. In the show, she easily holds her own weight against the strong characters of Jesse Custer and Cassidy. But that said, I think it’s worth reading the comics and I don’t think a reader will be disappointed.

By way of warning, I should mention that, while it’s hard to pin a genre on this work [Neo-Western / Horror / Anti-hero story?] it is graphic in gore, language, and [though only sparsely] sexual activity.

This is a fun read. It’s a tense story, but has humor and characters to which a reader will be drawn. I’d recommend it for readers of horror and comic books.

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