Thursday, July 16, 2009

Review -- "Madame Xanadu: Disenchanted"

I didn't pick up the first issue of the new Vertigo on-going series "Madame Xanadu" when it appeared, for a number of reasons. To start with, I've stopped buying monthly comics, the habit having become both expensive and frustrating. Then there's the fact that Madame Xanadu, as a character, didn't hold much fascination over me. Finally, Issue One was set in the sylvan forests surrounding Camelot and I'm rarely in the mood for anything druidic in comics. So I took a pass.

But if the new collection of the first 10 issues is a reliable indicator, "Madame Xanadu" has much to recommend it. Written by Matt Wagner of "Grendel" and "Sandman Mystery Theater," with art by Amy Reeder Hadley, the story follows the enchantress formerly known as Nimue as she travels across the centuries from Britain to the court of Kubla Khan to Paris before the revolution to the U.S. in the Thirties. She crosses paths with Marco Polo, Marie Antoinette, Jack the Ripper and other assorted historical figures, but her chief companion/adversary is none other than the enigmatic Phantom Stranger. Again and again, Madame Xanadu and Ol' Blank Eyes spar about free will versus determinism. She feels a need to help people avoid disaster. He's all for leaving destiny undisturbed.

What's nice about "Madame Xanadu" is that it's the kind of Vertigo book you don't see much anymore. It's adult in tone, yet thoroughly connected to the DC Universe, allowing for cameos by such fan favorites as the Demon Etrigan, the magician Zatara in his prime, and Neil Gaiman's version of Death. Wagner keeps the action lively, and Hadley's art is expressive and bouyant.

I'm not sure "Madame Xanadu" is sufficient to entice me back to the monthly comics. But I definitely look forward to the next collection.

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