Archive for Madame Xanadu

The Parallax View

Green Lantern #50

The Black Lantern zombies are attacking Coast City, and the various power ring slingers — and their new human recruits, including Green Lantern Ganthet, Red Lantern Mera, Orange Lantern Lex Luthor, Sinestro Corps member Scarecrow, Blue Lantern Flash, Indigo Tribe member Atom, and Star Sapphire Wonder Woman — are busy busting superpowered zombies. But they’re all in trouble when the Black Lantern version of the Spectre shows up — he’s too powerful for any of them to take down. So Hal makes a pretty desperate gamble — from his time serving as the Spectre’s human host, he remembers that the Spectre was afraid of Parallax, the fear-based cosmic parasite that empowers the Sinestro Corps and formerly operated from inside Hal. So he brings Parallax back and lets it take him over. Why do I figure that’s going to be a bad, bad move?

Verdict: Thumbs up. I’m not real fond of the idea of bringing Parallax back for yet another round, but the rest of the comic is just too much fun. The return of Aquababy, Larfleez and Luthor brawling over who gets the orange rings, Scarecrow’s absolute glee over his ring, Hal’s brief service in the Black Lantern Corps (and that means the only rings he hasn’t worn yet are Indigo and Violet… and the inevitable White Lantern), and Doug Mahnke’s fantastic, gory, glorious artwork. Sure, some of the crossover books aren’t so good, but the comics carrying the main story? They’re still rocking.

Detective Comics #861

Batman and Batwoman are both on the trail of a serial killer who abducts college students, then cuts off parts of their bodies — hands in one case, the lower jaw of another. Batwoman encounters the killer, nicknamed Cutter by the police, and is able to save his victim, though he gets away. After the fight, Kate Kane visits her cousin, Bette Kane, college student and former Teen Titan, to see that she’s not in danger. Bette tells her not to worry, but we know how that’s going to turn out, right?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Good art, nice thriller, interesting mystery, and it’s always nice to see Flamebird, even if she’s running around as a college student instead of a superhero.

Madame Xanadu #19

A flashback issue, all the way back to the days before Camelot. We get to know Nimue as the adventurous deer-chasing girl she used to be and Morgana as a deceitful, conniving princess. We watch mankind grow from cavemen to more civilized people, even as Morgana schemes to put them all under her thumb.

Verdict: Thumbs down. Just didn’t feel a big thrill with this one.

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Origin Donor


Detective Comics #860

The conclusion of Batwoman’s origin story opens with Kate Kane pulling undercover surveillance work from inside a sleazy bar. When the place gets busted by the Gotham City Police Department, she runs into her old flame Renee Montoya, who thinks she’s hit bottom and turned into a bar skank. However, Kate’s been collecting intelligence on gunrunners — she busts them up, but her father busts her later — he’s discovered that she’s been stealing military gear from the base. He tells her to drop the crimefighting nonsense, but she insists that, without the military, this is her way to serve the greater good. Her father agrees to let her, but insists she take on extensive combat training and study while he rebuilds her makeshift base and gets her an actual superhero costume. After that, we jump back to the present day, where Batwoman gets her confirmation that the twisted maniac Alice was actually Kate’s twin sister Elizabeth, who she’d believed died years ago.

Verdict: Thumbs up. More freakin’ outstanding storytelling and art from Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III. It’s great that this comic is so amazingly fun and mind-blowingly excellent.


Madame Xanadu #18

Nimue’s sister Morgaine le Fey has returned to the mortal world after taking over the transformed body of 1950s housewife Betty Reynolds. She spent hundreds of years refining her magic and living amongst goblins, and she’s grade-A certified bananas. The two sisters quarrel, magic attacks get thrown, and Nimue ends up buried under her own house. Meanwhile, detective John Jones is tracking a related case using his unearthly powers of telepathy.

Verdict: Thumbs up. I liked this one a lot less than previous issues, though. Morgaine’s story just doesn’t come across as particularly compelling, and beyond that, there’s mostly a lot of magic zapping. Gotta say I love seeing the Martian Manhunter in here, even if he’s still running around in a trenchcoat and fedora.

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Sighs Matters


Empowered Special

So several years back, Adam Warren got some art commissions to create some superhero bondage fetish artwork. He ended up taking the character he’d created for the commission and turning her into a — ahem — more fully fleshed-out character. The result was “Empowered,” a sexy superhero comedy about a dishy blonde with severe self-esteem issues and a supersuit that gets torn way, way too easily. She’s a member of a superteam called the Superhomeys, but almost none of them like her at all. Her real friends are her boyfriend Thugboy, a former minion-for-hire, her best friend Ninjette, a beer-swilling ninja, and the Caged Demonwolf, a pompous cosmic monstrosity imprisoned inside some power-draining alien bondage gear and living on the coffee table in Emp’s home. There have been five volumes of this story so far, and you should go pick ’em up, ’cause they’re awesome.

Enough backstory? In this one-shot comic, Emp’s up against a villain with the spectacularly clumsy name of Irresistimmovable who wears an extremely powerful battlesuit. He’s already taken out the rest of the Superhomeys and is chasing Emp through a secret superhero cemetery. Meanwhile, Thugboy, Ninjette, and the Caged Demonwolf catalogue Emp’s vast variety of sighs as she goes through the daily trials of her life. Can Emp use a message from beyond the grave to defeat her undefeatable enemy?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Wildly, awesomely kinetic eye candy. Beautifully illustrated, fantastically well-written. Part in-depth character study, part superhero action, part comic deconstruction, and large parts of screaming hilarity, thanks almost entirely to the Caged Demonwolf (“The nigh-omniscient netherlord’s staggering sapience overwhelmingly outstrips your own merely mortal musings! Now, hearken hence, half-witten hominids!”). Probably not for kids — there’s sex and skin galore (but no actual nudity), and two of the characters mentioned are named S***house Rat and Mindf**k (both censored almost exactly like that in the comic, which is kinda cool). But the rest of y’all should feel free to go track this one down.


Madame Xanadu #17

Betty Reynolds, former 1950s perfect housewife, is going through a slow, inexplicable, terrifying transformation, and Madame Xanadu is trying to find out what’s the matter. She spies on some clean-cut ’50s suburbanites who moonlight as Satanists and crosses paths with an eerie detective named John Jones. Betty’s transformation ramps up significantly, from bug-puking to fire-breathing to claws, fangs, and culminating in something far worse.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Matt Wagner and Amy Reeder Hadley are doing really wonderful things with this comic. At turns gross, unsettling, awe-inspiring, and breathtaking — I love the way this story is developing.


Comic Book Comics #4

The history of comic books as told through comics — Fred van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey, the creators of “Action Philosophers,” take us through the high and low points of “Crime Does Not Pay” (and the real-life crime perpetrated by one of its creators), the creation of the Fantastic Four, the “Marvel Method” of comic creation, the rise of Stan Lee, Steve Ditko and Objectivism, the Texas Mafia (betcha didn’t know independent comics got their start in Austin, didja?), R. Crumb and the creation of “Zap Comix,” European comics, Herge’s run-ins with the Nazis, and the creation of comics for adults in the forms of “Metal Hurlant,” “Heavy Metal,” and “Epic Illustrated.”

Verdict: Thumbs up. Lots of stuff you didn’t know about, lots of great cartooning, and lots of excellent writing. I’m enjoying the individual issues of this series, but I gotta admit, I’m looking forward to the eventual collected edition. It’s outstanding comic history.

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A Whole Buncha Dead Dudes


Blackest Night #4

A bunch of dead supervillains, including Copperhead, Dr. Light, Maxwell Lord, Alex Luthor, Jr., Killer Frost, and Madame Rouge, have been broken out of the Justice League headquarters and are busy attacking the Flash, the Atom, and Mera. Atom gets the three of them to safety by riding some telephone signals, but the zombie invasion is continuing. The Scarecrow escapes Black Lantern Azrael because he can’t feel fear anymore, and Lex Luthor is sealing himself into the depths of his corporate HQ to avoid all the hundreds of people he’s killed over the years. The Flash gives Mera and Atom a pep talk, then we join the Justice Society in New York as they try to fight off a bunch of undead Golden Age heroes. Unfortunately, Jean Loring shows up and manages to get the one death that pushes the Black Lanterns up to the dreaded 100% power levels — and that enables a cosmic zombie supervillain called Nekron to enter our universe.

Verdict: Ehh, thumbs down. Right on schedule, I’m starting to get bored with DC’s crew of zombies. The story isn’t that bad, but it’s badly disjointed, with lots of plotlines being created and abandoned, with lots of seemingly high-profile zombies showing up and then being ignored. The cover has Copperhead larger than life, looking like someone who has something to do with the story, and he doesn’t even have a single line of dialogue. Something tells me this series has just hit the “Bored Now” level that most of these mega-crossovers eventually pancake into.


Marvel Divas #4

Angelica “Firestar” Jones has been cured of cancer — but Patsy “Hellcat” Walker has been dragged off to spend eternity in Hell! Angelica, Felicia “Black Cat” Hardy, and Monica “Photon” Rambeau go to Doctor Voodoo for assistance, but he’s hesitant to help, so Monica uses the Monkey’s Paw to wish the three heroines into Hell. Meanwhile, Patsy learns why Daimon Hellstrom has brought her here — his ego has been bruised because he was barely mentioned in Patsy’s book! The rest of the Divas charge in, but they’re no match for the Son of Satan! Perhaps the only thing that can save them is if Patsy can negotiate a better bargain with her tempter…

Verdict: Thumbs up. Good story, fun artwork, outstanding characterization and dialogue. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Tonci Zonic did an outstanding job with this series — hopefully, they’ll be given an ongoing series for this one…


Madame Xanadu #16

Amy Reeder Hadley is back in the artists chair for this book as a new storyarc begins. The year is 1957, and most of our story focuses on Betty Reynolds, a dutiful, submissive, fashion-conscious, 1950s-style wife and mother — at least until her life starts to go completely topsy-turvy! She starts levitating, her hair changes color, she starts growing taller, her fingernails become almost indestructible, and she starts spitting up insects! A friend refers her to Madame Xanadu, and a quick Tarot reading by Nimue confirms that someone is casting spells on her. But why?

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s nice to see Hadley’s artwork again, and Matt Wagner’s story is already very intriguing. Betty Reynolds is turning out to be an entertaining and well-envisioned character — I’m looking forward to finding out what’s wrong with her…

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Dogs and Demons


Beasts of Burden #1

This is what you get if you cross Marvel’s “Pet Avengers” with Dark Horse’s “B.P.R.D.” — a bunch of dogs and cats investigating supernatural threats in a small town called Burden Hill. And it’s written by Evan Dorkin and illustrated by Jill Thompson. So yeah, color me very, very intrigued.

First of all, several of the Beasts’ previous adventures are already online — go read ’em and enjoy ’em.

Our story starts off with a bunch of the dogs and a couple of the cats are sitting around remarking on how little weird stuff has been going on recently — of course, this cues a rain of frogs. In fact, once the frogs have all hit the ground, they start eating each other! While the pets round up the rest of their group, however, the rest of the frogs hop off into the deep, dark woods. And there’s something weird and scary going on here — one of the dogs goes missing, one of the cats goes missing… and the dogs find a bloody, decapitated deer head in a clearing. The culprit? A giant, talking demonic frog. Do a bunch of dogs and a cat stand any chance against a 20-foot-tall frog that wants to eat them all?

Verdict: Thumbs up. So much horrorific, gross fun. Excellently drawn personalities on these guys, too — Puggsly makes great comic relief, and the mysteries surrounding Rex’s unusual abilities are well-done, too. I really want to see a lot more of this comic, and soon. Go pick it up, if you haven’t already.


Madame Xanadu #15

Centuries ago, Richard Miller’s ancestors were Jews hiding in a Spain run by the Inquisition. But now, he’s on the run from a mysterious murderer and his malign hound seeking revenge on everyone in his family line. Nimue intervenes and forces the villains to assume their true form — a single djinn charged to commit murders through the centuries. Is Madame Xanadu powerful enough to stop the monster? Perhaps… with some help from the Golden Age Sandman!

Verdict: Thumbs up. Great suspense, and the Sandman’s appearance here is a big thrill. And Michael Wm. Kaluta‘s artwork has been divine throughout this entire storyarc.

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Words Unwritten


The Unwritten #4

Tom Taylor is at his father’s mansion in France, looking for answers to about his disappearance and about all the strangeness plaguing his life. But the assassin Pullman is stalking the writers through the mansion, re-enacting the plots of a few dozen slasher movies — stabbing a couple with a sickle, burning another on an oven, slashing another with glass shards, torturing another while tied to a grandfather clock. And Tom gets left to take the blame for all of it.

Verdict: Thumbs up. A nice little dash of horror-flick terror to go along with the modern literature fantasy — I do love the way Pullman specifically says he’s following the familiar tropes of slasher horror. Tom Taylor sure does keep getting in over his head, don’t he?


Madame Xanadu #14

Our 15th-century flashback this issue focuses on Nimue’s girlfriend being taken and tortued by the Spanish Inquisition. Meanwhile, in the 20th century, Madame Xanadu is on the trail of the deadly supernatural killer, but she needs more information to track him down. So she sneaks into the home of Richard Miller, one of the potential targets, to look for more clues. She soon discovers that Miller is secretly Jewish, but her investigation is interrupted by everyone’s favorite gas-masked Golden Age vigilante, the Sandman. She gives him the slip and uses the artifacts she’s collected to look into the past, where she discovers that the murdered men’s ancestors were all Jews in 15th century Spain — where all religions but Catholicism were illegal. To save themselves and their families, they turned informer, ratting out local Muslims to Torquemada’s enforcers — until a sorcerer sets a demon after them, and they’re all forced to flee — but it appears the demon has finally caught up to them now…

Verdict: Thumbs up. This is still an awfully fun comic, thanks to Matt Wagner’s consistently awesome writing and the absolutely gorgeous artwork by Michael Wm. Kaluta. If you’re into weird but stylish fantasy and horror, you should be picking this up.

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Gazing into the Future


Madame Xanadu #13

In our current setting of 1940, Nimue’s ability to foretell the future isn’t helping her get any closer to the mysterious and murderous Al Nar and his diabolical black hound, so she turns to some of her other magical gifts — she sneaks into the city morgue and talks to a corpse. And she is able to get a new lead — the name of Richard Miller, a friend of both of the murdered men. But Miller isn’t interested in any spooky stories, leaving him open to attack by Al Nar. And in our flashbacks to 1493, Nimue’s close relationship with a local farm girl is getting a lot of hostile attention from the Inquisition. Can Madame Xanadu save herself and her friend before Torquemada decides to take them into custody?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Another beautiful, moody, and eerie story by Matt Wagner and William Kaluta, whose lush, retro art style is perfect for a comic set in the ’40s. My favorite scenes here have got to be the mystical interrogation of the corpse in the morgue, which is jammed full of neat magical bits, and the scene where Madame Xanadu meets Wesley Dodds, the Golden Age Sandman.


Deadpool: Merc with a Mouth #2

Zombie Head Deadpool and his caveman headhunter slaves have captured Regular Deadpool and his dishy A.I.M scientist buddy Dr. Betty. He tells his origin story — how he originated in the Marvel Zombies universe and got stuck here without the rest of his body. And speaking of the rest of his body, Zombie Head Deadpool has decided he’d like Regular Deadpool’s body and assigns some of his headhunter goons to lop off Wade’s noggin. But Regular Deadpool plans it out perfectly and gets them to chop off his arm instead. What the? Then he grabs his arm, Dr. Betty, and Zombie Head Deadpool and escapes from the cavemen. Then they fight off some dinosaurs and get captured by Hydra.

Verdict: Thumbs down. When you read all of that synopsis, it doesn’t sound like the kind of thing that’d be boring, does it? But it’s actually boring. And you really gotta work to make zombie heads, dishy evil scientists, a chopped-off arm, headhunter cavemen, and dinosaurs boring.

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Burnt Orange


Green Lantern #42

Last issue, Larfleeze chopped off Hal Jordan’s hand to get himself a Blue Lantern ring — this issue, it’s revealed that it was all an illusion generated by the blue ring to get Agent Orange to leave Jordan alone. Fatality, now a Star Sapphire, puts the moves on John Stewart. Jordan briefly manages to grab Larfleeze’s lantern, turning him into an Orange Lantern for a few seconds (Yeah, looks like we’re gonna see Hal Jordan wearing every color of ring by the time this is all over.), then finally manages to get rid of the blue ring. At last the Guardians get Larfleeze to stand down by offering him something he really wants — the location of the fledgling Blue Lantern Corps. And finally, we get the official birth of the Black Lanterns.

Verdict: Thumbs up, I think. A few technical quibbles — I caught some errors with the word balloons — but not too bad. Larfleeze is a great deal funnier in this issue, as he becomes a poster child for fanboy entitlement. The bit with the Black Lantern at the end was pretty good, too.


Madame Xanadu #12

Nimue continues her magical investigation into a magical murder and attempts to warn a young socialite that her father’s life may also be in danger. She receives assistance from an unexpected source — Dian Belmont, girlfriend of Wesley Dodds, the Golden Age Sandman. Unfortunately, the nefarious Al Nar and his terrifying dog have already selected their next victim, and there may be no way to save him.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Al Nar is a great villain, so far. We also get some great historical adventure during the Spanish Inquisition, and I loved Nimue’s method of using magical origami to deal with a rude librarian.

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Reading the Cards


Madame Xanadu #11

New artist Michael William Kaluta has his first issue on this title — the coolest thing about this is that Kaluta helped create Madame Xanadu way back in the ’70s.

Nimue is contacted by a young woman whose father has recently died in a case of spontaneous human combustion. The woman believes her father was murdered, and after a quick reading of her trusty deck of Tarot cards, Madame Xanadu agrees with her. She researches the victim’s life and learns that his last months were dominated by meetings with a man named Husam Al Nar and of being mysteriously stalked by dogs. Combined with this, we get flashbacks to Nimue’s life in Spain in the late 15th century as she and the people she loves must contend with the Spanish Inquisition.

Verdict: An enthusiastic thumbs up. Good gravy, is Kaluta’s artwork beautiful! Very lush, very retro, like some of Charles Dana Gibson‘s work. I was worried that the art would fall off with Amy Reeder Hadley’s departure from the book, but I clearly had nothing to worry about. And Matt Wagner’s story, of course, is no disappointment either — this one is set up much more like a traditional drawing-room mystery, except, obviously, for the inclusion of a number of mysterious occult elements.


The Unwritten #1

Tom Taylor is the son of a best-selling fantasy author who mysteriously vanished after completing his intensely popular series on boy wizard Tommy Taylor. Tom feels conflicted about his fame — after all, it’s tough having the world think of you as the kid who the Tommy Taylor stories were based on. But what’s weird is — there doesn’t seem to be any record of Tom Taylor in his youth. When word gets out, Tommy Taylor fans are divided into two camps — those who want Tom Taylor dead for being a fraud who capitalized on their love of the Tommy Taylor books, and those who want to worship him as the book character brought to life. And when Tom gets kidnapped by someone claiming to be Count Ambrosio, the vampiric villain from the novels, can he manage a storybook ending to escape his own death?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Partly because this one was just a dollar. Just a dollar! These days, that’s just wonderful! And it’s not like you get just a buck’s worth of story — this is 20 smackers’ worth of story. Great characters, great set-up, great plot, and an outstanding mystery. Vertigo offers their first issues for cheap to entice new readers, and it definitely worked on me, ’cause I’m definitely going to pick up the rest of this series.

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Mystic Masters and Malign Monstrosities

The Strange Adventures of H.P. Lovecraft #1

I didn’t hear about this one before it came out, but I just can’t resist a comic about Providence, Rhode Island’s favorite son.

This one isn’t about horror/fantasy author H.P. Lovecraft’s stories, but on the author himself, struck with a bad case of writer’s block, suffering through editors who don’t value his stories, and with his relationship with his semi-sorta-kinda girlfriend Sylvia at a standstill. He gets mugged by a couple of sailors, visits his mother in the madhouse, learns that Sylvia is cheating on him, and then an ancient cursed book in the library goes and makes things even worse by talking to him and declaring him “The Key and Guardian of the Gate.” And he finally breaks his writer’s block when he comes up with a story about the sailors who robbed him being attacked by a tentacled horror on their boat. But Howard, his elderly aunts tell him, didn’t you read this morning’s paper — that all happened just last night…

Verdict: Thumbs up. On one hand, it’s a nice little meditation on Lovecraft’s (highly fictionalized) life, but it’s also a decent little dose of proper cosmic horror, too. So far, they ain’t showing the monsters, which is exactly the right thing to do — Lovecraftian fiction is hard enough to do without showing the tentacled horrors too early…

Madame Xanadu #10

Nimue has seemingly captured the Phantom Stranger, angering her lover Zatara in the process, since the Stranger was Zatara’s guest. Unfortunately, the capture was merely a ruse on the Stranger’s part as he magicks Madame Xanadu away to propose that she join his association of mystics to help usher in the new heroic age. She angrily rejects him, insisting that he keeps manipulating others even as he points out that she plans to let tough cop Jim Corrigan die to raise a new magical ally. In the end, the Stranger leaves her alone, but Nimue learns that Corrigan’s death has turned him into the Spectre, the Spirit of Vengeance, a terrible mystic juggernaut of death and destruction. Upset that her benign neglect of Corrigan could lead to such a tragic error, she decides to stop using her fortunetelling to benefit only herself and become a freelance seer, helping anyone who needs her talents.

Verdict: Thumbs up. A nice ending for this first storyarc — the final confrontation between Madame Xanadu and the Phantom Stranger on the astral plane is nicely realized and the debut of the Spectre is shrouded in unexpected menace. As always, Matt Wagner‘s writing is outstanding, and Amy Reeder Hadley‘s artwork is even better. I’ll miss Hadley’s art in the next storyline (which will be illustrated by Michael William Kaluta), but I understand she will be back for future stories.

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