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Timothy Hunter, from the cover of the Bindings trade paperback.
|First appearance||The Books of Magic #1 (January 1990)|
|Created by||Neil Gaiman|
|Alter ego||Timothy Hunter|
|Supporting character of||Justice League Dark|
|Notable aliases||The Merlin, Tamar son of Tamlin, The Opener|
Tim Hunter was created by writer Neil Gaiman when DC Comics asked him to come up with a four issue prestige-format series "about our magic characters". Drawing on a childhood spent working his way through the children's section in his local library and a childhood love of magic and fantasy stories such as T. H. White's The Once and Future King, Gaiman created a character reminiscent of Wart except that instead of being destined to be King, Tim Hunter's destiny was to become the world's greatest magician. Gaiman's story was structured to use different artists for each issue, and it was the artist for the first issue, John Bolton, who designed Tim's appearance, basing him on his own son. When The Books of Magic was initially released over 1990–91, it proved very popular and led Vertigo Executive Editor Karen Berger to make it a regular ongoing series under editor Stuart Moore.
Initially, the editors had a difficult time finding someone to write the series, with Tim Hunter proving a tricky character to get right: although he already appeared in a mini-series, the character's main function had been to bear witness to the past, present and future of magic in the DC universe and so did not offer a writer much detail to work with. Karen Berger eventually settled on writer John Ney Rieber to continue Tim's story, who expanded Tim's character using his own memories of being fourteen, later saying, "I don't believe that my soul is likely to be shuffled off to Purgatory after I die. What would be the point? I've been fourteen already." Rieber utilized his own teenage confusion and delight in writing Tim, while introducing his first girlfriend Molly as a counterpoint: Molly was the opposite of Tim in nearly every way, someone "who'd already figured out the best thing you could possibly do with your life was live it."
While Rieber's personal connection to Tim gave the character a sense of realism, it also was a source of frustration for the writer: he later said, "I've found it difficult to like Tim now and then. Of course he gets on my nerves. He's a lot like someone I spent years learning not to be." This dislike led to a perceived decline in the quality of the book as Rieber wrote his final batch of issues, with the character of Tim often sidelined in the stories in favor of his girlfriend, Molly. This preference also affected Tim's character in other ways, as Rieber requested that Molly not be used in the book after his departure to allow him to develop his own projects using her — causing the in-story break up of the two young lovers that led to them not seeing each other for many years.
Rieber was replaced on the series by his main artist, Peter Gross, who decided that the character had been dominated by strong female characters and also had shown himself to be resistant to change and evolution, pulling away from other characters and situations that would require him to adapt. He resolved to concentrate on Tim's "boy time" and introducing the concept of the boy magician using his magic subconsciously to protect himself, separating painful emotions off into alternate worlds and alternate Tims: the 25 issue run told the story of Tim regaining all of those disparate pieces of himself, leaving him whole and more rounded for the end of the series.
It had always been the intention to have a clean break in the series after Gross' first 25 issues to allow the character time to grow up, with Gross having some ideas about where he would take the character next. When the time came, however, DC opted to relaunch the series as Hunter: The Age of Magic with writer Dylan Horrocks. Horrocks introduced the series with a five-issue miniseries, The Names of Magic, that ended with the character learning his true heritage and names and enrolling in a school of magic: this allowed Horrocks to show a more mature version of Tim in the ongoing series, set after Tim's graduation from the school, and deal with real-life issues that hadn't been previously covered in The Books of Magic like bills and hangovers.
Horrocks was initially attracted to the concept of the original series, seeing a great connection with the character of Tim and the ability to tell fantasy stories using realistic, real-life characters. In particular, he relished the opportunity to write about Tim's love life (eventually reintroducing the character of Molly to the book) and also to approach issues of morality: he used the stories to resolve for Tim the question that was asked about him at the start of Neil Gaiman's mini-series — would he be good or evil? It also took Tim into the opening stages of the magical conflict mentioned in Gaiman's series that he was to play such a pivotal role in. However, the series was cancelled after 25 issues, and Vertigo decided to relaunch again, this time bringing back a Tim Hunter in Si Spencer's Books of Magick: Life During Wartime.
This series distanced itself from the previous iterations of the character and marketed itself towards a more adult audience, with the variation on the title's spelling intended as a signifier of that distance. Although the story featured Tim Hunter coping with a magical war, it was set on a world populated by alternate versions of Zatanna and John Constantine, though ultimately it implied that the John Constantine and Tim Hunter of that series had originated in the "standard" Vertigo universe.
Following the 2011 companywide DC reboot, Tim Hunter appeared in the non-Vertigo Justice League Dark title. His appearance in the mainstream DCU seems to only take into account the events of the original Books of Magic miniseries.
Fictional character biography
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Tim was born as a conduit for the raw magic that shared the name of the most famous magician to serve it: "The Merlin". In order to increase his power and his legend, the Merlin arranged for Tim to have multiple, contradictory stories about his birth that nonetheless were each equally true. He was at one and the same time the illegitimate son of Tamlin the Falconer and Titania the Queen of Faerie, the son of Tamlin and a beautiful human girl called Mary and any number of other possible origins. At some point, these multiple origins converged and Tim ended up being raised in the Mundane World by William and Mary Hunter - although he later discovered that his mother Mary wore a glamour stone, hiding her true nature and appearance, possibly as the brownie Bridie who smuggled him to Earth at Queen Titania's request or possibly another as yet undiscovered origin for the young magician.
As an infant, Tim still had access to his powers as an Opener, for example bringing imaginary friends like Awn the Blink or the Wobbly to life - and claiming and reshaping Tanger and Crimple, who had already served numerous Openers in numerous forms throughout history. He also unconsciously created thousands of alternate worlds with thousands of alternate Tims. Each of these Tims was a portion of the original, the part that felt particular feelings or suffered particular pain that the original could not cope with, and in separating them, Tim lost the ability to feel those feelings again, leaving him disconnected from his world and his feelings for most of his childhood and teenage years. One particular early trauma was the death of his mother in a car accident: his father was the driver of the vehicle, losing an arm in the accident and retreating into his grief so far that he spent most of Tim's life sitting in his armchair, drinking and watching old films.
As he started to grow up, Tim started to attract the attention of mystic groups such as the Cult of the Cold Flame, who wanted to seduce him into becoming a force for evil. Indeed, at this point, Tim's destiny was at a crossroads: he could become the greatest magician of his age for good or for evil, or indeed never learn of the world of magic at all. In order to resolve this ambiguity—and hopefully prevent his turning to evil—a group of mystics jokingly called The Trenchcoat Brigade set out to offer Tim the chance to learn all about magic. Tim agrees to be taught, and then make his decision about whether to let magic into his life or not.
The Phantom Stranger is his guide to the past of the DC Universe, where he meets with many important figures of the past, including an Atlantean sorcerer who warns him away from magic, a young Merlin and Jason Blood prior to him being bonded to Etrigan, Zatara (father of modern-day hero Zatanna) and Sargon the Sorcerer before being returned to the present. Tim is then passed over to John Constantine, who shows him the present world of magic, traveling to America to meet Madame Xanadu, the Spectre and his (then) host Jim Corrigan, Baron Winters and an adult Jason Blood. When the Trenchcoat Brigade discover that Tim is in imminent danger from the Cult of the Cold Flame, Constantine leaves the boy in the care of Zatanna while they face the cult in Calcutta. On Hallowe'en, Zatanna takes Tim to a club called Bewitched, a place populated by a number of villainous black magic users in the Vertigo/DC Universe. In an ill thought-out move, Zatanna seemingly breaks a cardinal rule of magic—not to reveal one's true name to possible enemies—when she introduces Tim to the club owner, Tannarak. Soon, the revelers start to attack Tim and Zatanna, and are stopped only by the reappearance of John Constantine. Despite blithely putting Tim in danger, Zatanna makes quite an impression on the young boy and comes to play an important role in his later life.
With the cult seemingly destroyed, Doctor Occult takes Tim to the planes of existence that border the Mundane World, such as The Dreaming and Faerie. While there, Queen Titania lays a number of subtle snares to try to trap Tim with her - snares which he manages to impress her by almost accidentally avoiding. Mister E then shows Tim several possible futures - including the coming magical war that Tim will play such an important role in - and attempts to kill him at the end of time. Tim is saved by the intervention of Death of the Endless, who sends him home before she turns the lights out on the universe. His journey complete, Tim is offered the choice of whether to accept magic in his life or not: he declines, immediately regretting his choice. However, he has been duped: his choice was made when he agreed to learn about magic, and his future destiny is now assured.
Left back in his old life, Tim became disillusioned with a magic that seemed to have deserted him - until he is kidnapped and tested by the falconer Tamlin, taken to a dying corner of Faerie and left to find his own way home. Once there, he was invited to join the realm of Free Country, where children went and never grew old, but eventually declined the offer. Instead, he returns home to a brief reunion with Tamlin, where he only discovers that the man may be his father after the falconer is dragged to Faerie to face Titania. In trying to follow him, Tim ends up trapped in a corner of the realm walled off by the Manticore and injured as he defeats the creature: his blood contains such power that it restores Faerie, but Tamlin is forced to sacrifice his own life in order to save Tim from the effects of the Manticore's venom. However, as Tim lies dying, he meets Death again, who manages to make him see that whoever his parents are, he is still the same boy.
Tim tries to get on with his normal life, slowly realizing that his neighbor Molly has feelings for him when she grows jealous of a new girl in the school, Leah - in truth a succubus that Tim helps to set free from her master. She helps him through some difficult times as his father is badly burned by the last survivor of the Cult of the Cold Flame, and as he discovers that Titania may be his mother, although this is called into doubt again by her husband Auberon declaring that Tim has no Faerie blood in him; their love grows so strong that when Molly ends up kidnapped and taken to Hell, their reunion when Tim rescues her fills the realm with red roses.
However, their relationship suffers a fatal blow when Tim discovers that Molly has learned that a future version of Tim sells his soul to a demon called Barbatos and entertains himself by abusing multiple versions of her. Desperate not to hurt Molly, Tim allows the amoral Circe to tattoo him with two magical "maps" designed to protect his girlfriend - and then decides to run away from home to protect his loved ones from the dangers of his magic. Tim manages to remove the scorpion tattoo - which stings him whenever he gets angry - but the moth tattoo - which keeps him emotionally distant and unable to form relationships - stays with him for some time.
Deciding that he needs a mentor to teach him magic, Tim remembers Zatanna and sets out on a road trip across America to find her. Along the way, he meets Leah again and shares a night kissing under the stars with her before magic intervenes and Leah is transformed from a succubus into a mermaid and trapped in another realm to save Tim from dying. Perhaps because of the influence of the moth tattoo, or because of the loss of so many of his other selves to alternate worlds, Tim doesn't even search for her when he wakes, simply continuing his journey to Zatanna. Because of his innate bond with the realm, Tim wanders into Faerie and is reunited with Molly before they leave together and eventually find Zatanna. The magician tries to teach Tim to pay attention to what's going on around him, rather than waste his life chasing magic, but she ultimately fails: when Molly - already disappointed with Tim for not caring how her own adventures in Faerie have affected her - discovers that he didn't trust her enough to tell her about his night with Leah, she breaks up with him and returns home to her family.
The split sends Tim into a downward spiral, but does ultimately result in the removal of the moth tattoo; more connected with the world again, Tim realizes that he doesn't need his magic and releases it. Unfortunately, this only causes more problems when the angels and the demons - both being manipulated by Shivering Jemmy of the Shallow Brigade - go to war over who will possess the freed power. The battles disrupt Tim's father's second marriage to a woman called Holly, until Tim manages to give Jemmy what she was truly looking for and ends the fighting.
Tim's new family - including a stepbrother called Cyril - try to settle back to normality, while Tim enjoys his new freedom from magic. Then he finds the box that Leah used to live in: picking it up, he finds himself sucked inside it and trapped inside a small square of ground in a vast forest. He spends a lifetime there, talking to a tree that grew from a seed that fell inside his patch of ground. When a fire starts to destroy the forest, Tim's anger puts him back in touch with his magic as he tries desperately to save his one tree ... and then finds himself returned outside the box, not a second older than the moment he was first trapped inside it.
Waiting for him is Leah, who trapped him in the box in the hope of teaching him an important lesson about his magic. But the lesson hasn't been learned in the way that she hoped, because of Tim's focus on the small scale: it wasn't the destruction of the forest that prompted him to reconnect with his magic, but the threat to the single tree. Exasperatingly, Leah cannot even decide if Tim is wholly wrong in thinking that way. Instead, she leaves Tim with the important reminder that he might try to throw away his magic, but he will never wholly succeed: it is a part of him, and always will be.
Perhaps a little wiser, Tim begins school at Bardsley Boarding School - Cyril's school - where he forms a strong bond with their newest teacher, Thomas Currie. Currie teaches Tim about more than most teachers, however: he is the creation of one of the alternate Tim's created in Tim's childhood, and teaches about the thousands of alternate worlds and how they were created - and how they are being slowly destroyed by Tim's Other, an alternate version of the boy who wants to kill him and take his place as the true Tim Hunter. Currie hopes that he will have years to teach Tim the magic he will need to defeat his Other, but the Other arrives shortly after him and ruins any chance of a reconciliation with Molly before causing the deaths of Tim's stepmother, his father and finally his new teacher as Thomas Currie manipulates Tim into creating another alternate Tim so that together they can fight and die to convince the Other that he is the true Tim.
With his magic now truly gone - siphoned off and hidden away by Currie until Tim has the mastery to reclaim it - Tim sets off to follow the instructions left by his teacher in where to go to learn magic. However, he is blackmailed into taking Cyril with him: when Cyril gets his foot stuck in a train track, Tim makes no attempt to save him - and when he saves himself, Cyril makes off with all of Tim's instructions. With nowhere to go, Tim wanders aimlessly through the gateways between the worlds that the Other had forced open with his usurped power before ending up at the Inn Between the Worlds, using his mother's glamour stone to disguise himself as a girl called Mary.
Living as Mary and working at the Inn, Tim becomes best friends with a girl called Joh - a relationship complicated when she sees him as Tim and falls in love with him, forcing Tim to admit the truth. The two are forced to flee, however, when the Wild Hunt - a god-killing band of hunters trapped for 2000 years by a compact of rulers from Heaven, Faerie, Hell and other realms - are manipulated by a disguised Auberon into hunting Tim and destroying the Inn. Scared and alone, Joh and Tim find some comfort from each other, with Tim losing his virginity to his friend - thinking that he had always assumed his first time would be with someone else.
Tim manages to avoid his fate at the hands of the Hunt only by challenging and defeating their leader and taking up his position, having to learn to kill a living creature so that he can lead them. He then returns to Earth to reclaim his magic and defeat the Other to reverse the damage done in opening all the gates between the worlds, giving up his leadership of the Hunt by allowing another member to challenge and defeat him in non-mortal combat.
In order to defeat the Other, Tim needs the help of the demon Barbatos - help which he can only obtain by selling a memory and sealing his fate as discovered by Molly. Tim faces up to his responsibilities, and sacrifices his future: Barbatos takes the memory of Tim's creation of his Other, making it impossible for the Other to exist separately from Tim and the many separate pieces of Tim are reunited for the first time in his life. Tim's soul is immediately forfeit to Barbatos, and he becomes his slave, spending his life living in a cardboard box torturing alternate versions of Molly while Barbatos uses his power for his own ends. Tim, now known as Sir Timothy Hunter, is eventually killed when Barbatos forces him to travel back in time to ensure that the young Tim grows up to be the demon's slave: the older Tim is killed by an outburst of the younger Tim's anger, and the demon is defeated and trapped in the Dreaming.
Forty years later, Barbatos is released and allowed to return to Hell. Once free, the demon discovers the true nature of Tim's apparent defeat: the boy had hidden his soul inside the memory Barbatos took and once inside the demon it slept, slowly taking complete control of Barbatos' body until Tim owned it completely, remodeling it with his magic to resemble his own body at the age of fourteen. As he took complete control, Tim looked out on the Other's ruined home, finally grown-up and ready to face whatever challenges the future held with "no more whining".
Tim soon became the target of various groups seeking to kill him, and in his panic, called out to the Trenchcoat Brigade for help. They advised him to enroll at the White School, where he would not only be safe, but would be taught about magic. All he needed to do was speak his true name, and the gates would open and allow him in: unfortunately, when he tried "Timothy Hunter", they stayed firmly shut. Tim set off to try to discover his true name, learning from Titania that she had named her child Tamar, son of Tamlin, before he ended up in Merlin's ice caves and learned about his unique origins. Together, they defeated Tim's enemies and the young magician spoke his collection of true names to open the gates to the White School.
Tim studied at the school for many years, meeting and becoming involved with a Lakelander girl called Kalesh after saving her from being killed by mercenaries on Gemworld. Later, like most of humanity, Tim fell under the power of the "beast that Adam never named", until it was finally defeated by John Constantine.
Powers and abilities
Destined to be one of the greatest magicians of his age, Tim's control over his magic waxes and wanes throughout his appearances, but he ultimately wields great power when needed.
Due to the nature of Tim's power as an Opener, there have been several alternate versions of Tim. These include:
- No-one: a creature met by Tim on the way to Hell that takes his form to try to trick him into becoming its plaything. Tim threatens it with being turned into a statuette of a Pekingese and it leaves him be, giving him directions to find Molly.
- The Other: a version of Tim whose parents survived, but felt neglected by his father in favor of his work. Knew nothing of magic until a chance meeting with the demon Barbatos taught him about the other worlds: he learned how to travel between them, discovering that if he killed the Tims he found there, he would claim their power. Eventually came to the true Earth and thought he had killed the last Tim, becoming despondent when this didn't bring him the satisfaction he craved. Was subsumed by the true Tim when Barbatos took the memory of his creation.
- The Annual Tims: three versions of Tim that had been split from the original in childhood and left to live in alternate worlds. The first was a version of Tim that had never discovered how to unfreeze Molly and Marya during the Summonings storyline and lived alone in a world full of frozen people. The second had been adopted by a superhero version of John Constantine called Hellblazer, and became a superhero and a member of the Mystic Youths himself. The last was a version much like the original Tim during the Reckonings storyline, enjoying a loving relationship with Molly in the Lot. All three, and many others, were eventually killed by Tim's Other.
- The Hunter: worshiped as a god by humans and faeries alike, this version of Tim creates an alternate world where there is no religion, magic or war so that he can escape the war raging between the two races. With the help of an alternate John Constantine and Zatanna - and the love of a Molly he created on his new world - this version of Tim eventually ends the war and returns to live full-time in the real world. For more information, see Books of Magick: Life During Wartime.
Comparisons to Harry Potter
Since the 1997 publication (and subsequent success) of the first book in J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, fans of The Books of Magic have noted some similarities between the two protagonists: both are normal, bespectacled teenage boys who have lost their mothers, and discover that they are destined to become powerful magicians while gaining an owl as a pet. The similarity was noted by a journalist from The Scotsman newspaper, who asked Gaiman if he thought Rowling was aware of his 1990 comic, to which Gaiman replied that he "wasn't the first writer to create a young magician with potential, nor was Rowling the first to send one to school".
The story eventually moved south of the border, with a story in the Daily Mirror reporting that Gaiman had accused Rowling of plagiarism being repeated in the Daily Mail. Gaiman has stressed, "This is not true, I never said this", and when asked, repeats his belief that Rowling had not read The Books of Magic and that the similarities most likely result from both being inspired by similar works, in particular those of T. H. White. Hunter: Age of Magic author Dylan Horrocks has pointed out that neither Hunter nor Potter was truly an original idea, with another boy wizard preceding Hunter in comics, and they should be considered more as part of a genre:
The superficial similarities are striking - but no more so than any number of other stories in the genre. As Gaiman has repeatedly said, he and Rowling were merely drinking from the same well. In fact, there was even a story in 2000AD (called the 'Journals of Luke Kirby') which came out a few years before The Books of Magic, which was extremely similar to both the BoM and Harry Potter. This is a genre - and Gaiman and Rowling are both playing with the conventions of the genre, to different ends.
In the last issue of the ongoing (second) The Books of Magic series, writer/artist Peter Gross played on the similarity to Potter, showing Tim's step brother Cyril putting on a glamor stone that made him look like Timothy. Cyril then walked through the wall between platforms 9 and 10 at a train station, implying that he was an alternate version of Harry Potter.
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