Bill Hunter was created by Neil Gaiman and Scott Hampton in The Books of Magic issue 2 in 1990.
Major Story Arcs
Bill Hunter, whose early life is unknown, marries a woman named Mary in January, 1981. Actually, she may not be a human woman, and she may not be named Mary; Mary’s origin is mysterious, but it is likely that she was from Faerie, and it is possible she was a Brownie named Bridey. In any case, she wore a glamour stone that magically altered her appearance to what Bill Hunter believed to be her real appearance.
Regardless, they come to have a son named Tim Hunter. Much is also unclear about Tim’s actual parentage. His biological father is almost certainly Tamlin, a human who lived in Faerie for many years and could turn into a hawk. His biological mother may be “Mary,” or it may be Titania, Queen of Faerie—who was herself human in origin and covered up her racial origin once she became queen. Either way, Auberon, King of Faerie, definitively pronounced that Tim is fully human.
Exactly how Bill came to become Tim’s father Tim is unclear. He says that Mary was pregnant while they were dating, before they were married, and he recognizes that Tim does not look like him, and thus guessed that he was not the father, but “that never mattered, though. Never once. Not to me.”
As a child, Bill and Mary would take Tim and his friend Jimmy Morehead on trips to the shore. They had a fun, happy life.
However, on February 17, 1988, Bill and Mary are driving in a car, and Bill crashes it, killing her and injuring his arm so badly it was amputated. Bill becomes so despondent over his role in his wife’s death that he becomes a barely functioning alcoholic who sits in front of the TV all day and largely ignores Tim.
Every year on the anniversary of Mary’s death, he sits in the wrecked car that still lays in the front yard, staring at her photo and drinking himself into a stupor.
Bill doesn’t seem to have a job or family outside of Tim. One possible exception is Auntie Blodwyn. It’s unclear whether she’s Bill or Mary’s sister, but presumably Bill’s. He hated his father, who sometimes beat him.
One day in 1994, at the age of 13, Tim encounters the “Trenchcoat Brigade”: four magic-users (John Constantine, the Phantom Stranger, Mr. E, and Dr. Occult) who tell him that he is destined to become the greatest magician of the age. They introduce Tim to the magic of the world. At one point, Tim calls home to check on his dad, but due to the magic they’re using, his dad thinks he’s in Brighton, England instead of San Francisco, since they can’t let him know that he’s used magic to travel halfway around the world. Later Bill doesn’t even remember the call at all. The Trenchcoat Brigade then brings him back to his dreary homelife where he has to decide whether he’ll accept this new path in life.
Bill has his problems, and is not the most invested father in the world, but when the school calls to complain that Tim has been a problem recently, Bill pushes back and puts the blame on them; he has Tim’s back. However, they have a hard time connecting in conversation.
At one point, Marya, a girl who has been living in Free Country as a child for decades, calls up Bill using the phone book. She wants to find Tim. Bill is grumpy and doesn't help.
Tim meets Tamlin and learns that he’s his father. He decides to accept the world of magic, all of which is unknown to TV-watching, beer-drinking Bill.
Tim discovers his dad’s marriage certificate and realizes he was born before they were married. He and his dad argue, and Bill admits he is probably not Tim’s biological father.
As Tim starts to go on magical adventures, Bill notices his absences, and wonders sometimes if he has run away, but Bill also tries to empathize with Tim’s youth; Bill is also aware of the lackluster job he is doing as a father.
Tamlin dies, and Titania tells Tim that she’s his mother and she curses him for Tamlin’s death.
Bill once again sits in the car on the anniversary of Mary’s death. The magical mother and daughter Khara and Nikki come up and take the photo of Mary out of his hands by reaching through the glass in the car window. This is his first introduction to magic. Khara lifts him up with one arm and brings him into the house to sleep it off. They later use the photo to temporarily trap Sir Timothy Hunter, a Tim from the future.
A sorcerer named Martyn moves in next door to Bill in order to manipulate and take control of Tim and his magic. He pretends to be a normal neighbor, but when he introduces himself to Bill, he pretends he had the same tortured backstory of a dead wife, in order to make Bill cry; Martyn steals his tears so he can cast a spell on him later: he burns Bill in a conflagration of magical fire.
Tim sees the flames and gets Bill out of the house, so that he’s no longer on fire. Bill is brought to the hospital. Martyn ends up getting killed by Sir Timothy, and Tim learns that there’s a spell he can use to heal Bill. However, he needs to kill a cat to do so, and he can’t do it. He does try to magically heal Bill’s spirit, however. Tim starts to make peace with the fact that Bill has raised him as his son, even if Bill isn’t technically his father.
Bill is brought back to consciousness by Nikki, the half-human, half-angel daughter of Khara and Araquel.
Bill’s doctor is Mr. Vasuki, who is actually a demon. He secretly heals his burns with magic.
On the way home, Bill meets Holly Ransome and her son Cyril, who makes fun of Bill’s bandages. Embarrassed, Holly shares a taxi back with him.
Tim gets rid of the burnt chair he always sits in while he watches TV, and pours out all the beer. Then he gets one of his magical creations, the Wobbly, to get rid of the crashed car. Bill is forced to start life anew without his old crutches. He embraces this, and is also happy that Tim has invited Gwendolyn to live with them as a sort of caretaker. He can tell that her firmness is a good influence on him.
Bill undertakes an effort to improve himself. He starts jogging. He is concerned about how Tim still disappears on magical adventures, although it’s not clear exactly how much he’s aware of Tim’s sorcerer life.
Holly Ransome has had a hard time with romance in her life. She decides that maybe the strange bandaged man she gave a taxi ride to may be the “something different” that it takes to turn her love life around, and cautiously shows back up at Bill’s house. She finds Gwendolyn there, and thinks she’s Bill’s wife, but Gwendolyn puts her at ease and does what she can to get Holly and Bill together, thinking it will be good for Bill to move on. They connect immediately, both in need of a new start.
Bill is taken aback, however, when he is showing Holly his garden, and Tim shows up, wearing scrappy leather clothes and an enormous chest tattoo (a magic ward given to him by Circe).
While Holly thinks Tim has some problems, she still helps Bill put together a birthday celebration for him. Their two families grow together, although there is tension between Holly’s vastly self-absorbed son Cyril and Tim. Still, Bill is happy and moving in a positive direction.
However, after the birthday party, where Cyril is almost a victim of the evil Margrave, Tim shows the family his magic powers for the first time, turning some couch pillows into marshmallows. This freaks Bill and the others out, and later Tim says that he was afraid Bill would eventually hit him.
Tim ends up running away to America, but a Changeling from Faerie takes his place, so Bill thinks Tim was only gone for a week. The Changeling is so nice that Bill and Holly get along with him better than the real Tim; Cyril, however, still hates him. The Changeling notices that Bill is so happy that he no longer remembers the anniversary of Mary’s death.
Bill has continued to jog, and is now in decent shape. He now accepts magic from Changeling-Tim and sees magic as part of their lives. As one example, Bill now has two arms, and there is no comment made about the return of his amputated limb. It has just grown back by magic. They have moved into Holly’s house, which is very fancy. It is a big step up for Bill.
Bill and Holly decide to get married. They have a fancy church wedding, but it is interrupted by the return of the real Tim along with various other supernatural beings. The Changeling is revealed for who he is, and ends up getting killed.
The wedding continues successfully. Billy and Holly ride off in a limo, and join everyone else at the reception, which includes them all dancing the bunny hop with the angel Araquel. Bill and Tim bond for the first time in a long time, with Bill saying he prefers the sharp edges of Tim’s personality to the super-friendly Changeling. However, unknown to them, there is a war brewing between the angels and demons of heaven and hell over who gets to control Earth.
Dr. Vasuki, who healed Bill’s face from the fire, and whose magic was also responsible for his new arm, is one of these demons. He now summons Bill to servitude to their ideals, as payment for his arm. Bill’s mind is controlled, and he turns into a scaly monster. He leaves Holly sleeping in their wedding bed; she wakes up to see that he’s missing.
Monster-Bill causes destruction as he walks through the city, and kills some angels. He sees a group of nuns and prepares to eat them, but a powerful being known as the Queen of Wounds and essentially a stand-in for God, but who looks like a nun, stops him; he stabs her with a tentacle and turns human again. He’s disgusted at himself, but unfortunately he is immediately turned into a chocolate statue by Cyril, who has been given magic powers by some angels and another version of that same being, who is a stand-in for the devil. Cyril is now essentially a death-worshipper and has also turned Holly into a chocolate statue.
Tim manages to defeat the teams of angels, devils, and Queens of Wounds, and Bill and Holly are returned to normal. They don’t remember a lot specifically, but have painful subconscious memories of their ordeal.
Holly and Cyril go off to get psychiatric help in America. In general, Holly starts exhibiting a tendency to care about what other people think of her and the family around now. Her more generous love and caring for Bill becomes a bit less obvious.
Holly wants both Cyril and Tim to go to a fancy prep school. Bill is browbeaten into agreeing. Holly pays for it.
They continue to try to sell their old house, but with no luck. Thomas Currie, an other-world creation of Tim’s, sets up a base there to teach Tim magic. Bill does think that a good formal schooling will help Tim adapt to the situations in life that magic will put him in.
Tim has a terrible time at school, but is glad to meet and learn from Currie. Cyril attempts to blackmail many people there based on the dead body he found and keeps in caverns under the school, and eventually tells everyone Currie slept with him, getting Currie fired and Cyril made into an outcast of his own. Tim stops going to school, but Bill doesn’t know.
Tim ends up finding his mom Mary’s glamour stone, which gave her the appearance they knew her by. One day he puts it on, not knowing what it is, and his dad sees him, and thinks it’s Mary for a second. He thinks it’s his imagination.
Overall, Bill and Tim’s relationship is about the best it has been, other than Tim lying about school.
However, one day Bill, Cyril, and Holly are driving when they see the Other (an evil version of Tim) by the side of the road. Surprised to see what they think is Tim outside of school, they’re distracted and Bill crashes the car, killing Holly and severely wounding himself and Cyril.
They go to the funeral. Holly is buried next to Mary. Bill takes it hard that he has now killed both of his wives in car crashes.
It also turns out that Holly hadn’t been paying the kids’ tuition. It’s not clear why, but presumably she had just been living beyond her means in order to live up to others’ expectations. Bill takes over as guardian for Cyril, who has no other family. Bill starts spacing out. When Tim tells him a lie about being at school, when Bill knows they’ve been kicked out, Bill just goes further into a passive sink of depression. They further get an eviction notice for Holly’s house.
However, Bill tries to pull himself together. He knows he failed Tim as a dad, but he decides he won’t fail Cyril. He won’t start drinking again.
That night, however, the arm that Vasuki magically grew for him falls off. Bill loses it and gets massively drunk. According to Thomas Currie, it’s because he lost his capacity to believe in the arm due to his lack of faith in everything else he thought was true.
Tim finds him and gets him to the hospital, but of course they don’t believe him about the arm. They think Bill has gone crazy, so they commit him. Tim realizes that he should have been there more for Bill after Holly died.
That night, Thomas goes to see Bill and casts a spell, sacrificing Bill for the sake of the greater magic he and Tim are trying to create—to create a new Tim that the Other will think is the real Tim. The Other kills this fake Tim, allowing the real one to escape. The sacrifice of Bill takes the form of him falling out of the hospital window, seemingly killing himself. Thomas tells Tim that it was suicide.
Strangely, much later, after Tim has defeated the Other and another antagonist, Barbatos the demon, Bill is seen standing homeless on a street corner, begging for change and looking terrible and alone. Circe and the head of Reverend Slaggingham, two beings that crossed paths with Tim long ago, drive by in a cloud of dust. Then the punk waitress, her baby, Marya (a girl that was friends with Tim and his girlfriend Molly), and Marya’s ex-friend and now dog, Daniel, walk by and give him some change. They don’t know him and continue on. Bill looks up for a moment, then once again looks down as the wind blows. It is the saddest end of any of the major characters in this brief series of scenes at the end of the first volume.
The Other, a creation of Tim Hunter, kills hundreds or thousands of alternate versions of Bill and Mary Hunter. Each one was different from the real ones, in big or little ways.
The Other also collects other versions of people and brings them along with him to new universes. One of these is a sad, clown-faced version of Bill. He has only the one arm and carries an umbrella. He eventually stops the demon Barbatos from interfering with Tim and the Other, knowing that it will lead to his and the other other-world beings’ deaths, which they are glad to have happen, for it is painful for them to be away from their worlds and forced to work for the Other.