DC Comics
Madame Xanadu #1
By Andy Frisk
February 8, 2009 - 07:57

DC Comics
Writer(s): Matt Wagner
Penciller(s): Amy Reeder Hadley
Inker(s): Amy Reeder Hadley
Colourist(s): Guy Major
Letterer(s): Jared K. Fletcher
Cover Artist(s): Amy Reeder Hadley
$2.99 US, 32pp, Color

I must admit before Vertigo’s new series in which she stars; I knew next to nothing about Madam Xanadu. As it turns out, the fact that I knew nothing detracted not one bit from enjoying the series thus far. In this incarnation, Xanadu is the picture perfect image of an attractive, young sprite who is hundreds of years old. Hadley’s rendering of her, and of her supporting cast, which changes as we observe Xanadu in different eras, is one of the books strongest points. Hadley captures the different eras, from pre-historic England, Genghis Khan’s court, Reign of Terror France, to Victorian England with an uncannily stunning rendering that demonstrates the range of her historical knowledge of architecture, dress and natural environment as well as her ability to recreate it all with her pencils.

As we pick up Xanadu’s adventures in issue #7, I thought that the series would finally deliver an issue where the wheels started to come off, at lest thematically. Xanadu finds herself back in London for the first time in a millennium, during the dark and grimy days of the Industrial Revolution, Charles Dickens, gaslight (see where we’re going here?)…and Jack the Ripper. After all the hundreds of stories, like Alan Moore’s From Hell, to anthologies like Ripperology Magazine, what else and better yet, how is it possible, to tell any story related to Jack the Ripper or about Jack the Ripper that is fresh with any kind of interesting twists or theories? None. Or so I thought. Matt Wagner spins the first part of a tale that continues the ambiguously romantic relationship between Xanadu and the Phantom Stranger (her one and only recurring cast member, regardless of historical era) along with, Xanadu’s own maturation and development (it appears it takes hundreds of years for her type of folk to reach an emotional and rational maturity. Over boys no less! Or at lest that one boy who keeps popping in and out of her life-see: Phantom Stranger). Wagner also throws in all the familiar Ripper mythos, from the horrific nature of the disembowelments of his victims, to the rampant fear, gossip and the social commentary on the evils of the exploited Victorian under class that so often seem to be embedded in any tale taking place during this time period. What we also get though, is an old and worn out tale with new life breathed into it containing its own twists, heroes, varyingly apathetic and energetic Ripper pursuers and, most shockingly, a character who’s actions, while not aiding the Ripper per se has an interesting role to play in the Ripper’s story.

I will be looking forward to the unfolding of this new saga in Madame Xanadu’s series. Mostly because of the fact that the start of a story line that I originally felt could spell the end of the creative energy of the series is now shaping up to be, perhaps, the very storyline that gets the title moved up in my reading stack each month.

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