by Maurice Harter

Many New Agers feel that a fundamental component of the new age is the re- enchantment of the world, a reawakening to the mystery of life and a return to the belief in magic. So it's not surprising that magic has again become a popular theme in pop culture media like movies (The Craft; The Relic), television (Millennium; Sabrina the Teenage Witch; the Merlin mini-series) and comics. Here are reviews of some recent titles that want to enchant you.

Witchcraft: La Terreur (DC/Vertigo; 3 issues, color, 32 pages/$2.50 each).

It is the end of the 18th century, and the coming of the millennium foreshadows great changes soon to sweep across the planet. In France the power of the aristocracy is waning. Revolution is in the air and a frightened King Louis XVI tries unsuccessfully to flee the country. Many of his allies, confidantes and royal hangers-on have been arrested without just cause or opportunity for trial. Yet young Isadore Hibbert is blind to all of this. She knows only that she is madly, deeply in love. And alas, her lover Jean-Pierre Roland is one of the imprisoned. Desperate to free him, she travels to Paris and seeks out Madame Catherine La Voison, whispered to be a powerful sorceress. But the price for her favors is too high. Undaunted, Isadore is led to an elderly, dying warlock who agrees to teach her the ways of witchcraft. In the final chapter, amidst the carnage and bloodbath historians would label The Terror, Isadore is given the opportunity to free her lover. But that initiation awakens her to an unpleasant truth and in that moment she recognizes and accepts the mantle of her destiny.

This mini-series reads like an epic historical novel embued with just the right touch of fantasy. Writer James Robinson paints a grim portrait of the political turmoil of the time and how it affected the common citizen. Artists Michael Zulli and Vince Locke use a fine line illustration style reminiscent of historical engravings of the era. Highly recommended, as is the first Witchcraft mini-series, also penned by Robinson and now available as a graphic novel ($14.95).

Suspira: The Great Working (Chaos Comics; 4 issues, color, 32 pages/$2.95 ea.)

In the Chaos Comics universe, darkness reigns. The place is populated with grim, violent characters like Evil Ernie and Lady Death. But in Socorro, New Mexico, a reflection of the Light has materialized. She is Felicia Chavez and she is a witch. Once she was a young girl who dreamed of giving her life to God until her innocence was taken from her by her stepfather. A pregnant teen runaway, she was taken in by a couple who ran the seemingly benign Order of the Weepy Woman, a haven for unwed mothers and orphans. There she studied to become an herbalist, little suspecting the unholy duo who control the place are brujas, black magicians who feed off the innocence of their charges.

Then one day she stumbles upon an occult ceremony and realizes the grim truth. Her attempt to combat her evil guardians unwittingly summons a demon who tries to possess her. But her angelic Light is too strong and the demon is trapped inside her, Light and Dark bound together like yin and yang, balancing, engaged in a cosmic dance of power. Through the demon's eyes she watches disturbing events in Hell, an uprising of evil forces creating a psycho plague infecting the collective conscience. She realizes she has a significant role to play in the dark drama unfolding. But first she has a score to settle with her ex-guardians. She doesn't know they're making final preparations for an all-powerful spell that will fling open the gateway to the Netherworld and release a flood of demonic energy that will corrupt all the forces of Creation.

The majority of Chaos' comics are simplistic, violent dark fantasy fables designed to appeal to fanboy collectors. But this mini-series is worth a look-see for two reasons: the engaging story, and lavish airbrushed painted art which is gorgeous. Artist Mike Okamoto visualizes demons that are truly creepy. Suspira is like a modernized and feminized update of Dr. Strange, Marvel's 60's occult comic classic. Author Philip Nutman claims that more Suspira stories are on the way. By the time you read this, The Great Working may be available as a trade paperback.

The Books of Magic #44-49: "Slave of Heavens" (DC/Vertigo; monthly, color, 32 pages/$2.50 ea.).

Pity poor Tim Hunter. In addition to the usual anxieties of adolescence identity crises, family friction, hormonal overload he has to contend with knowing that he has the potential to become the greatest Mage the world has ever known. Many forces of Darkness and Light are trying to influence his choices and shape his destiny. In his short lifetime he has seen how Power can corrupt even the most well-meaning individual and he wants none of it. ("Give someone a little power and they don't want to live in the world anymore. They want to eat it, or rule it, or change it into something it's not....Magicians are the worst.") In a moment of upset he releases his power into the world, hoping it will re-enchant the universe. But some of that power is absorbed by a motley selection of innocents, including Cyril, an insecure fat boy and his now living entourage of action figure toys. Chaos erupts, and soon Tim realizes the impact of his impulsive action. Should he attempt to reclaim his power? In the background, unseen by human eyes, war is raging in the heavens with legions of angels slaughtering one another.

I really enjoy The Books of Magic series, but I have a hard time letting go of my expectations of where stories should go. I can't help feeling that a golden opportunity to do a serious exploration of the rising and advancing of a magician is being wasted. Writer John Ney Reiber has a fine phantasmagorical imagination, but too many extraneous elements disembodied robots, sinister doppel-gangers, the land of Faerie destroy any sense of magical realism (hmm, is that an oxymoron?). They flaunt the fact that this is just a comic book. Still, considering how much the comics artform is overshadowed by superheroes, I guess I should celebrate the exceptions for what they are, not what I'd like them to be. A new writer Peter Gross takes over with issue #51, and maybe he'll take the book in another direction. Perhaps if I cast a Spell of Influence...

Voodoo (Image Comics; 4 issues, color, 32 pages/$2.50).

Meet Priscilla, a stunning, long-legged brunette who's just returned to her home town of New Orleans. There she gets a job as an exotic dancer nicknamed Voodoo. But the club she works at, The Midnight Lounge, has been plagued by a series of murders. Before long Voodoo finds herself embroiled in a dark occult mystery, involved with the pesky detective investigating the case and watched over by a trio of elderly black practitioners of white magic who help her see that Voodoo is not just her name but her birthright. Writer Alan Moore cut his teeth on the celebrated Swamp Thing series, and here proves again that an adventure comic can still be intelligent, even educational.

Coventry - Bill Willingham (Fantagraphics; sporadic publication, b&w, 32 pages/$3.95).

Welcome to Coventry, an alternative world similar to Earth where magic is the norm. The place is populated by an eclectic selection of characters human and other. Claudia Nevermore is a bright private investigator of supernatural phenomena. She's been hired to find out why the small town of Hunley is experiencing a plague of frogs. Leslie Maxwell is a former policeman now Private Hero who's looking into a string of strange murders as is John Golen, on the prowl for a werewolf killer. Samachedrael is an angel of death who worked in Heaven's RAG division (Random Acts of God), until he unexpectedly went rogue. And Beezil is a nasty little imp from Hell who recently escaped a 300-year captivity, is ravenously hungry (he especially likes the taste of human females), and has grandiose plans for taking over the city. This is a well-written and meticulously drawn series with original ideas and a wry sense of humor. But it definitely needs to be published more than once a year or so.

Magician's Village: The Prelude - Kaja Blackley and Alison Williams (Mad Monkey Press; graphic novel, b&w, 176 pages, $10.95).

Young Timothy Rackham holds secrets in his mind that could alter the balance of magic forever. The New York City native is being watched over by numerous entities who inhabit a strange place known as Magician's Village. Sebastian is a hot dog vendor in Central Park who is Timothy's closest friend, and much more. Maxwell Mouse is a shady character who's been told to protect the boy from Daedelus, a manipulative villain who schemes to destroy the whole Rackham family. When the big D sends a pair of bloodthirsty goblins to capture Timothy, he escapes and discovers the dimensional doorway to the Village. There he becomes a pawn in a building war between forces for Good and Evil. This is another delightful series that suffers from sporadic publication.

Coven 13 #1 - Rikki Rockett and Matt Busch (No Mercy Comics, color, 32 pages/$2.50).

They are a holy trinity of beautiful motorbike-riding witches. They're on the trail of a gang of dog thieves who steal people's pets and sell them to science labs and cults. They're hoping it will lead them to their prey, a mysterious demonic voodoo priest with plans to unleash dark forces that can enslave humanity. Unfortunately, our three bewitching beauties get arrested for trespassing by a cop with an out-of-control libido. Artist Matt Busch uses real models as reference for his attractive painted art which incorporates striking computer-generated effects. This is a very promising series which hopefully will come out on a regular schedule. (Perhaps if I cast a Spell of Punctual Publication. . . .)

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