Comics / Spotlight / Progressive Panels

Madame Xanadu and Chrissie Zullo


By Andy Frisk
September 21, 2010 - 20:23

Another Vertigo title that I enjoyed is coming to an end. Madame Xanadu has been cancelled. This title now joins the list of other fantastic Vertigo titles on the chopping block. Greek Street and Unknown Soldier are finishing up soon as well. It’s a shame. These three titles are amongst the best written and drawn titles being published right now by Vertigo. At least before the end came we got treated to newcomer Chrissie Zullo’s first excursion into sequential art. Zullo, whose first Vertigo work was the cover art for Cinderella: From Fabletown with Love, branches out and completes her first full issue of a comic book. Madame Xanadu #26’s story and theme is a perfect fit for Zullo’s style, and she makes the most of the opportunity.

 

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Madame Xanadu, as a title, is going through one of its little side excursion string of issues that are anecdotes to the full story of the Vertigo reworking of Madame Xanadu the character. Amy Reeder handled the artistic chores for most of this title and recreated the look, feel, and likability of a character that had little or nothing to do with the mainstream DCU anymore. In writer Matt Wagner and Amy Reeder’s hands, Madame Xanadu became a dynamic, interesting, and engaging character. Alas, as stated, her Vertigo incarnation is soon to be gone. She’ll most likely soon start appearing in a decent, but no where near as edgy, horror/magic/superhero title like Zatanna. At least we got to enjoy her Vertigo excursion for as long as we did.

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“Extra-Sensory” is the tale of magic, mystery, and our Madame’s involvement in five cases that each revolve around one of the five senses of sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste. In “Extra-Sensory Chapter 3 Lingering Scent,” we witness the tale of young Sammy. Sammy appears to be suffering from severe memory loss while simultaneously emitting a horrifically putrid odor. The boy isn’t particularly dirty, isn’t physically deformed or handicapped, nor is he completely incoherent. He is homeless though, and is living out of an abandoned basement in the heart of the city. He wanders through the city by day and sleeps away his nights in the company of fantastic dreams of himself as a spaceship captain and hero known as Sammy Starrider. In his dreams, Sammy manages to save Space Princesses from certain death while managing to avoid The Space Witch, who resembles another certain “witch” we all recognize, who in the waking world is pursuing Sammy in order to help him. The rare times that Sammy is caught out after dark, he is relentlessly pursued by stray dogs that seem to be the only living creatures attracted by his odor…an odor that drives everyone else away. There is more to Sammy than at first apparent though (and what this is becomes a bit obviously apparent a little ways into the story), and it seems the only cure for his odor is a remembering of why it exists…

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The story itself is classic Wagner and his take on Madame Xanadu is going to be sorely missed, even if the story in this issue isn’t exactly the strongest he’s penned for the series thus far. It’s good enough though that hopefully there’ll be another Vertigo opportunity for Wagner. Wagner has a number of projects outside of DC’s Vertigo imprint, but his style is especially suited to Vertigo’s edgy yet accessible titles. He helmed the brilliant Sandman Mystery Theatre for several years, and SMT is a title that I still miss. I’m sure I’ll miss Madame Xanadu just as much.

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A Zullo Cinderella cover.

The real treat this issue is getting to see what Zullo can do with the opportunity to create the art for a full issue instead of just for a cover. As stated, she takes full advantage of the opportunity by creating what is perhaps the most unique looking issue of the series thus far (and most likely ever will be at this point). In my previous reviews of Madame Xanadu, I all but sang the glories of Amy Reeder and her artwork. She will forever be, along with Amanda Conner, one of my favorite sequential artists. The short look we get at Zullo’s work in Madame Xanadu #26 though gives us a brief but powerful window into a unique style that has the potential to stand shoulder to shoulder in uniqueness and accomplishment with both Reeder and Connor. Unfortunately, we don’t get too long a look at what she is fully capable of, but it’s a great first look. Fortunately, Zullo will be doing some more work for Vertigo, including a story in the sure to be classic Fables #100.

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A Zullo Cinderella cover.

Zullo’s style is somewhat minimalist and cartoonish. This isn’t meant derogatorily. I usually am unimpressed by sequential art panels with minimal background detail and characters that all look the same age that are only differentiated in age by their size. Without giving away Sammy’s plight or fate, this type of artistic look is exactly what the story calls for. This is a tale of told in a third person narrative, but Zullo’s artwork creates the atmosphere of a child’s wonder and horror through its look. Everything is fresh looking, even the rotting cardboard boxes and walls of Sammy’s basement home. This look is essential to conveying the sadness and wonder of Sammy’s outlook. He is a child and everything is still new to him. The world around him reflects this childlike outlook through its simple and youthful look. Often times, true spiritual beauty, purity, and innocence are visible only in and through the eyes of a child. Zullo, through her artistic style, conveys Sammy’s youthful innocence and his view of the world that is, unfortunately, now gone.

The decision to employ Zullo to create the art for Madame Xanadu #26 is particularly smart as it reminds the reader that they are reading a unique horror story. Zullo’s style conveys youth, beauty, and innocence, but the story is one full of the horrors that real children in Sammy’s position face on a very real and everyday basis. The art is akin to something that one might see in a children’s book, but the story is definitely not a children’s story. The fact that Zullo is going to be sharing her vision of the denizens of Fables with us soon is particularly interesting. Fables is the type of story that recreates the characters of the fables we’re told as children as modern, complex, and at times violent and frightening beings. Zullo’s art should capture the innocence of these characters and their horror at once very effectively. I for one can’t wait so see what she does with this next, well deserved, opportunity to create more sequential art. It’s a shame that Neil Gaiman doesn’t revisit his Sandman characters often. Zullo would paint a great Death.

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Overall, Vertigo’s Madame Xanadu has been a great ride. The artists who worked on this series from Reeder to Zullo have been fantastic and Matt Wagner has been great as usual. I’m not sure what Reeder is doing next for DC Comics beyond the covers for Supergirl, but at least we’ll still get to see some of her work for a publisher that is, in my opinion, the best comic book publisher of all time. Fortunately, we’ll get to see more of Zullo’s art as well from this same publisher.


Last Updated: September 6, 2021 - 08:15

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