Madame Xanadu #1: Disenchanted
by Matt Wagner, Amy Reeder Hadley (Vertigo, 2009)

DC Comics, and its edgier arm Vertigo, has more than its share of mystical and supernatural characters. I tend to enjoy the earthier variety, such as the magicians Zatanna and John Constantine, while avoiding the grand celestial beings like the Spectre and Phantom Stranger.

Madame Xanadu (nee Nimue, Merlin's femme fatale of Arthurian legend) is one that had escaped my notice. It took a new series by writer Matt Wagner to catch my attention.

The first volume in the series, Disenchanted, begins during the final days of Camelot and timeskips forward, through the reigns of Kublai Khan and Marie Antionette, the depredations of Jack the Ripper in Whitechapel, a life-or-death card game with Death of the Endless and a stop in 1930s New York, before catching up with Madame Xanadu in a more modern guise.

The Camelot sequence is actually the dullest part of the book. The days of Arthur have been overused and abused in comics, I think, and this brief snippet adds nothing of value to the canon. The later sequences hold more interest, although Xanadu's ongoing mental joust with the Phantom Stranger, who turns up whenever things get interesting, becomes tiresome.

Still, Disenchanted appears to serve mostly as a foundation for Wagner's ongoing series. Having established the character and her background -- as well as her involvement in the creation of the Spectre -- Wagner has a little more freedom to play in her sandbox. It seems likely the story will improve when he he stops reinventing her past and starts plotting her present.

Amy Reeder Hadley supplies the art, and it's here the book really shines. Highly detailed and expressive, she really brings these characters to life. Simply gorgeous.

Madame Xanadu is no Zatanna or Constantine. But Wagner and Hadley have awakened enough of my interest here to see where she goes from here.

review by
Tom Knapp

7 August 2010

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