Monday, September 24, 2012

A review of "The Books of Magic" by Neil Gaiman

"The Books of Magic" is basically about a bespectacled British kid from a dysfunctional family situation finding out he's a powerful wizard from benevolent adult wizards. Sound familiar? But this boy wizard's name is Tim Hunter and he technically lives in the DC universe (well, a more mature version of it called "Vertigo" where various magical things happen more often, and people can drop unbleeped f-bombs:  a little like the HBO of the DC universe). He meets a couple DC magicians, and Morpheus and Death from Gaiman's Sandman  series, but other than that this is more of a picaresque trip through various magical realms that Neil Gaiman must have drudged from Bulfinch's Mythology, Midsummer Night's Dream, and old issues of The Phantom Stranger than an actual comic book story in the DC universe.

Like a lot of Gaiman's comic book work, he makes the story soothingly plotless, and is more of an opportunity for him to throw in about two mythological allusions per 3 panels rather than tell a story with actual rising action, climax, and falling action. Tim Hunter's questioning attitude keeps it real throughout, though, and Gaiman doesn't let the non-plot get away from him too much to lose good character moments and sneak in a good joke. It also works great as a story of Tim's maturity, through its chronicling of his acceptance of his magical destiny. Some standout sections include when Tim meets Merlin which portrays the famous wizard as a hormonal teenager, Doctor Occult bringing Tim through the various magical realms, and his interaction with perennially foulmouthed curmudgeon John Constantine, who seems to always be slinking in and out  of Gaiman and other Vertigo writers' work, and here, he adds a bit of salty flavor to the ponderous orations on magic that the other characters make.

The part where Tim travels to the future with DC soothsayer Mister E would be less irritating and more interesting, if Mister E wasn't a self righteous jerkface who spends his whole segment browbeating Tim about morality and his destiny. Other than that, the art was good, but some of it was painted weirdly, which was off putting, and a standout was former Sandman artist Charles Vess. Overall, an ephemeral, but ultimately charming coming of age tale.

Grade: B

Monday, September 3, 2012

A review of David Levithan and John Green's "Will Grayson, Will Grayson"

Here we are again. I'm yet again reviewing a John Green book, but this time, he's writing it with fellow YA author David Levithan. It tells the stories of two separate people named Will Grayson (who live in Naperville and Evanston, Illinois, respectively), whose paths eventually cross due to a chance encounter, and whose lives are eventually changed for the better because of it. This book seems disparate in tone at times, because the chapters alternate between the two Will Graysons' perspectives, but both perspectives complement each other.

David Levithan's chapters (about the Naperville Will Grayson) tell a delicate, melancholy story about coming of age, and a gay youth's quest for meaning and love, but is also bitterly funny. This Will Grayson knows he has made mistakes, is in touch with himself, but not with others, which adds a sharp edge to his sometimes laugh out loud internal monologue. His personality has the right balance of jaded sarcasm and emotional vulnerability to make me actually care about him.

John Green's sections (about the Evanston Will Grayson), like usual, are a sharp,fizzy screwball comedy of manners about a straight teen's identity crisis that zips along at a nice pace. My main issue with his sections is the same issue I always have had with Green's work: the main character is annoying. This Will Grayson is a non-committal, indecisive, mealymouthed milquetoast whose various neuroses irritate me like usual. But also as usual, Green writes the dialogue and narration outstandingly well, and his typical bitingly witty, John-Hughes-meets-Woody-Allen blend of comedy seems to be surprisingly looser and less glum in this work.

A standout in both plots is the character of Tiny Cooper, a gay youth that has such an outsize personality, that I'm surprised he doesn't have his own spinoff book yet. The way the two threads come together is marvelously realistic, but also fairytale-y enough to be fun, and the ending is entertainingly optimistic. Overall,  a great collaboration worth checking out.

Grade: A-