books

Madame Xanadu

Disenchanted (2009), Exodus Noir (2010), Broken House of Cards (2011), Extra-Sensory (2011)

 

Disenchanted (2009) Matt Wagner, Amy Reeder Handley, Richard Friend

First things first, I am not a regular comic reader. The first comic series I ever read was Sandman, and since then I’ve been reading a handful of titles, almost exclusively Dark Horse and Vertigo, simply because those are the titles that have drawn my interest. So this is the first I have come across Madame Xanadu. From other reviews I have read, this means I missed several references throughout the story to Marvel universe characters with whom I am not familiar, but that’s okay, because even missing those bits Madame Xanadu was thoroughly enjoyable.

The story starts with Nimue and the fall of Camelot. From there, we follow Nimue/Madame Xanadu forward in time from the court of Kubla Khan to Revolutionary Paris to American before the outbreak of World War II.

I have to admit that I am particularly fond of her incarnation as Nimue. As a fan of Mists of Avalon, I like seeing the women of Camelot rehabilitated (although we don’t see Morgana in a good light here). We also get to a quick visit from Death, and it’s hard not to enjoy spending time with her, not matter how short the visit.

One of the things I particularly like is the fact that the women were drawn realistically. Now Vertigo and Dark Horse are usually pretty good about female characters (at least the series I’ve been reading) but as I recently read a comic where this wasn’t sure, I wanted to point it out. Of course, a forest spirit with huge breasts would be ridiculous, but that doesn’t seem to stop some artists.

I definitely recommend Madame Xanadu and am looking forward to the next volume in the series.
Rating: 8/10

Exodus Noir (2010) Matt Wagner, Michael Wm. Kaluta

Disenchanted gave us Madame Xanadu’s past–how her powers were curtailed by Merlin. Exodus Noir gives us a different look into her past through two time lines, one in 1493 during the Spanish Inquisition, the second in the 1940s, as she looks into the horrible death of Catherine Shepard’s father.

The Spanish Inquisition thread shows us a window into her life during a time of great civil terror, as the inquisition attempted to root out Conversos who are still secretly practicing Judaism. Although she is somewhat horrified by the actions of the church, she sees it as nothing to concern her personally.

Pretty sure you can see how that can’t end well.

The 1940s thread starts with a daughter attempting to investigate her father’s death–he was found burned up in his apartment, with no outward signs of foul play. Madame Xanadu discovers great evil, and attempts to find its source before there are more deaths.

I quite liked both of these stories, even though both were quite horrifying: the Spanish Inquisition story in its look at man’s inhumanity to man, while the 1940s story deals with the horrors of the occult.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, the 1493 thread is the more disturbing of the two.

As far as the art, I really liked the 1940s thread, and the feel of the city at that time. Not that the 1493 thread wasn’t realistically drawn, it’s just that peasants aren’t that exciting, IMO.

If you have not read Disenchanted, you should still be able to read Exodus Noir without difficulty. Although we do learn more about the character of Madame Xanadu over the course of the two books, the order in which these stories are read shouldn’t matter too significantly.
Rating: 8/10

Broken House of Cards (2011) Matt Wagner, Amy Reeder, Richard Friend, Joelle Jones

I am really enjoying this series. I know there is a ton I am missing because I am not familiar with classic DC comic characters, but it doesn’t matter because they appear in the story as unknowns to Nimune, so it doesn’t matter if I know who they are, since she doesn’t.

The story opens in New York in 1957. Betty Reynolds is a housewife whose life suddenly and mysteriously falls apart as the inexplicable begins to happen to her. She turns to Madame Xanadu for help, but things quickly spiral out of control.

Meanwhile, another investigation into a local Satanic cult seems to somehow be related to Nimune’s attempts to help Betty Reynolds.

There is so much I like about this series. I live the way Nimune and many of the other females are drawn–in a realistic manner. Yes, Morgana is boobilicious, however, that is very much in contrast to Nimune. And it’s also not completely unrealistic. And the women of the 1950′s look the time period. (I especially liked the way the harridan, Sid’s wife, was drawn.)

I also loved the continued look at Nimune’s past. Although the story was focusing primarily upon Morgana, we saw a good deal of Nimune as well, and watched her slowly developing into the woman of “modern times.”

If you have not read Madame Xanadu I highly recommend it.
Rating: 9/10

Published by Vertigo

Extra-Sensory (2011) Matt Wagner, Marley Zarcone, Laurenn McCubbin, Chrissie Zullo, Celia Calle, Marian Churchland

I really like the layout for this volume. We see slices from several years in the 1960s in which Madame Xanadu took part. The first several stories only have Madame Xanadu in the periphery–she steps in to attempt to help others. Sometimes she is successful, other times she fails, but I believe that is the strength of the collection. I think the first story may be my favorite, because I especially like the main character, Rosy Mays. Although racism isn’t the center of the story, the casual racism Rosy deals with on a daily basis makes her all the stronger of a character, as she seemingly brushes it off as the way things are. Not to get on a soap box, but I think that’s important to remember.

The other story I especially liked was the third story, of a little boy whose life stinks as much as he does. Again, Madame Xanadu plays only a brief part in this story, but the part she plays is compelling nevertheless.

The last part of the book focuses in part on Charlotte, a young woman whose life is changed by a single incident, and Madame Xanadu attempts to help her recover.

My only problem with the series is that I am not familiar with her character outside this series–and much of the DC universe in which she appeared–so I occasionally feel like I’m missing something. But I am enjoying Madame Xanadu enough that I don’t care.
Rating: 8/10

Published by Vertigo