Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Madame Xanadu: Disenchanted

Here's how this works. I read a book or two and tell you about them and try not to get too long-winded, and maybe you'd like to think about reading them as well. This time, a review of Madame Xanadu: Disenchanted (DC/Vertigo, 2009).

Every few years, I think the lawyers at DC Comics have a minor freakout regarding trademark protection, and realize they're about to lose some characters unless they use them. If the characters are more known for sorcery than spandex, they'll let some writer pitch an idea and publish the result under their Vertigo imprint. So for the last twentyish years, the magic users of the DC Universe have all been isolated in one little ghetto where they won't bother the mainstream continuity much.

Don't get me wrong, Matt Wagner does this sort of thing better than just about anybody, and if you've got a little background in the universe that Neil Gaiman built in The Sandman and The Books of Magic, then nothing here will be lost on you. "Disenchanted" collects the first ten issues of Madame Xanadu, five two-part stories, at the incredibly nice price of $13. In it, we learn about the centuries-old conflict between the titular character, a Tarot-reading sorceress who was called Nimue in Arthurian times, and the Phantom Stranger, a moody weirdo who might, or might not, be the Wandering Jew that spat at Christ and has been acting as an agent of unknown forces ever since. (And who doesn't make half as much sense as when Jim Aparo draws him in a turtleneck punching somebody, but that's neither here nor there.)

Xanadu and the Stranger meet up in the English forest, in Kublai Khan, in the Reign of Terror, in Whitechapel and finally in New York in the thirties, each time getting Xanadu increasingly aggravated with the Stranger's obstinate refusal to explain his place in this thousand-year narrative. Gaiman's Death shows up, as does Kirby's Demon and Zatara the sorcerer and the Spectre, much as you might expect.

In fact, absolutely nothing happens here that's very surprising at all. The stories are as good as you might expect from Wagner, and the artwork by Amy Reeder Hadley is quite good, but it is a stubbornly inconsequential book, ending with the stage finally set for Madame Xanadu to become the Greenwich village fortune teller that she was when she was first introduced in comics thirty years ago, and, presumably, start some new adventures in the eleventh issue of her new Vertigo title. All this backstory is pleasant enough, but had I known that was all I'd be getting in volume one, I would have waited for volume two to start reading. It's a shame that Wagner and Hadley didn't actually start with Madame Xanadu's adventures in the present day, and save these little histories for interludes between the modern adventures. Recommended for Sandman fans.

No comments: