Sunday, April 24, 2011

Review of Books of Magic 1

The Premise: (from the back cover) Timothy Hunter is just like any other thirteen-year-old boy in London ... except for the tiny fact that he might be the most powerful magician of his time. When four strangers offer to show Tim the realms of magic, he begins a journey beyond imagination. Wizards pursue him, danger threatens at every turn, and he discovers powerful forces that want him on their side -- or dead.  Based on the popular graphic novel series The Books of Magic, originally created by Neil Gaiman and John Bolton.

My Rating: 2.5 stars

My Thoughts:  I wanted to love this. I really did. I am a huge Tim Hunter fan from when the original BoM mini-series was released by DC/Vertigo back in 1989, and I've followed most every iteration of the character since then. I love Harry Potter, but Tim will always be closer to my heart because I met him first. Somehow, this series of paperback adaptations of the Neil Gaiman, and then John Ney Rieber, comics made it past me when they originally came out. I tripped across this one in a used bookstore. I was excited. By the end of the book, I appreciated the hard spot writer Carla Jablonski was in but even understanding the challenges she faced didn't mitigate the fact that I was disappointed with the book.

So let's talk about that hard spot Jablonski was in. She had to take a property many young adult readers will look as as a "Harry Potter knock-off," and adapt existing comic-book scripts into paperback form. In addition to the difficulty of adapting comics to prose, she had to deal, at least in this initial book, with the fact that most of the characters Tim encounters, including the so-called Trenchcoat Brigade who introduce him to magic, are DC Comics characters with complex histories of their own that are both peripheral and integral to Tim's story.  I'm sure copyright issues are to blame for the herky-jerky nature of Tim's trip through time (the Altantean sorcerer he meets is never named in this version as Arion in this version, and thus the reason for his crotchety response to Tim's presence feels a bit awkward and ill-explained, for example) and his tour of the modern era (DC couldn't really force Zatanna out of the story without changing the very nature of it, but I feel like there were more DC magical characters in the original story).

Once Tim heads into the Realms of Faerie and the Far Future, the story falls into a bit of a better rhythm. Jablonski had one advantage over Gaiman: she had access to the stories written by John Ney Rieber that flesh out Tim's family and school life, and was able to drop names and descriptions into this book to make the introduction of those characters in the second book a little less awkward. The book shines for the brief time where Titania, Queen of Faerie, and her court are on the page, and you can see that Jablonski really does like Tim Hunter and wants to tell his story well.  But once Tim is journeying into the future, the book returns to feeling like a straight adaptation; I never really got a feeling for Mr. E's motivations in the original story, and it doesn't play any better in this version -- I still feel like Mr. E is less a character than he is a plot device (unlike Tim's other three guides -- John Constantine, Dr. Occult, and even The Phantom Stranger -- who at least feel like characters with greater depth from the way Jablonski handles their dialogue and interactions with Tim).

I will probably seek the next book out in used bookstores, because it's not fair to judge Jablonski solely on her version of what would probably be the most difficult Tim Hunter story to adapt (precisely because of how much it relies on knowledge of the rest of the DC Universe and how magic operates therein). Perhaps once she's into adapting stories that are purely about Tim and his discovery of his abilities, her own talents will shine better.

No comments: