I have a strange relationship with the supernatural side of the DC universe.
When I first ventured confidently into the world of comics half a decade ago, I probably would have told you that my favorite DC characters were Batman, Green Arrow, The Joker, Deathstroke, the Bat Family… the street-level characters. For me, there was something much more interesting about the idea of superheroes with semi-realistic and theoretically attainable powers. Overpowered characters like Superman or The Hulk never held much resonance with me; they could win any battle by smashing things, or solve mysteries just by looking through walls. Batman had to think, strategize, plot, discover and analyze. Bruce Wayne was human, and when I was a kid, the unwritten promise was that I could be Batman one day too if only I tried hard enough.
Based on this line of thinking, it’s no surprise that I didn’t care much about DC’s magic-based characters. I figured: what was the point in reading a comic if all the characters had to do was point a gloved hand at something and say “kalamazoo” to save the world? And what were the rules anyway? I assumed writers could just make up whatever they wanted and explain it away as “magic”. My views on the supernatural were the same as Batman’s views on magic: they were silly concepts and surely explainable through science if you just looked at them for long enough.
Well, I was an idiot. My prejudice against DC’s magic world was arbitrary and unfounded. As I read through Crisis On Infinite Earths and Infinite Crisis, I found that some of the characters I latched on to quickly were magic-based. Doctor Fate, Zatanna, Phantom Stranger, The Spectre, The Creeper, Ragman, Detective Chimp and Black Alice were all characters that I took an instant liking to. I distinctly remember enjoying Day Of Vengeance, a mini-series featuring the Shadowpact that took place in the run up to Infinite Crisis. Yesterday, my Dr. Fate shirt arrived in the mail.
Yeah, I think I like DC’s supernatural side.
MADAME XANADU #15
Writer: Matt Wagner Artist: Michael Wm. Kaluta Colors: Dave Stewart Letters: Jared K. Fletcher
I haven’t been following Madame Xanadu. When I first saw it on the shelves, I saw that it was a Vertigo title and therefore assumed that it had nothing to do with DC’s mainstream universe continuity. What I didn’t realize is that it apparently features a lot of DC cameos and connections. When I heard Sean and Jim talking about Phantom Stranger’s appearances in the series, my interest was definitely piqued. It was only a matter of time before I would pick up an issue to check it out… and that time is now!
The issue in my David Baron-provided comic box is Madame Xanadu #15. Its the final issue in a five-issue story arc called “Exodus Noir”. It’s probably the worst place for me to try and jump on, but I’ll see if I can muddle through things and find out if it inspires me to go back and start Madame Xanadu with issue #1.
We start out in 1940, as a man named Richard Miller runs away from something he calls the “face of evil”. Richard is described as a “Metropolitan”, which either means he’s from a big city or he’s literally from Metropolis. I’m gonna go with the latter on that one, as it tickles my DC continuity lobe more.
Miller boards a train, where he’s spooked by a bearded fellow who materializes in front of him. Hey I’d be freaked out if dudes started popping up out of thin air too! Miller notes that the beardy guy is “El Maldición” (I later found out this means “The Curse”), and runs off the train… only to be intercepted by a weird yellow-eyed demon dog.
Cut to 1493! A woman has lost her friend, Marisol. Some random farmer calls the woman a “whore of Satan”, so I’m gonna take a wild guess here and figure this woman is Madame Xanadu. Ms. Xanadu sits down to play some tarot card solitaire, and discovers that her girlfriend has met with some sort of calamity.
Cut back to 1940! Mr. Miller runs from the demon dog, praying for his life as he escapes to a park, and–
Cut to 1493! Madame Xanadu watches as an unruly mob ties Marisol to a stake, then breaks her neck. A bit of an odd choice; I thought they were going to burn her like a witch, but apparently not. A priest spots Xanadu in the crowd and calls for the guards, but she throws the equivalent of magic dust in his eyes and makes her escape.
500 years later! It’s 1940 again and Richard Miller is confronted with “the bitter fruits of La Inquisiciãn”. I have no idea what that means! *Googles*… ohhh, the Spanish Inquisition. Okay. So, beardy man and his demon dog finally catch up to Richard Miller. Beard-o accuses Richard of being (gasp!) a coward. This obviously pisses off Madame Xanadu to no end, as she dropkicks her way into 1940 and accuses Beardy of being a fake, to which he responds by turning into a pile of beetles.
It turns out the dog is the real baddy here, as he is actually an infernal djinn (read: badass genie): an Ifrit!
No, not that Ifrit; this Ifrit.
Madame Xanadu tries to fight the giant wall of fire by spouting gibberish and cracking a whip, which makes about as much sense as battling the Anti-Monitor by reciting Vogon poetry and thrusting at him with a pointed stick. However, never fear: The Sandman is here!
Awesome! This is exactly the kind of tie to the mainstream DC universe that I was looking for to hook me in. While The Sandman distracts Ifrit with a blast from his Sleep-O-Ray, Madame Xanadu takes down the fiery foe with the brain shards of a kraken (read: badass octopus). I’m not sure exactly how giant phantom octopus tentacles are meant to defeat a fire demon, but that’s why I’m not Madame Xanadu.
Xanadu thinks of Richard Miller as the “last survivor of the curse”, which opens up a whole host of unanswered questions for me. What is the curse? Who are the others that have already succumbed to it? Why was the story jumping from 1493 to 1940? Why does Madame Xanadu have a kraken in a jar? How can a swarm of beetles wear a suit? Etc, etc…
Obviously it’s hard to grasp a full story when you jump in on a random issue like I have here, but despite the confusion, I’d still like to go back to Madame Xanadu #1 and begin the story properly. The DC cameos are cool, but aren’t really essential for me to check out the rest of this series. I’m sure there are good stories here in and of themselves.
I think I’m done with my prejudice against magic-based characters and the supernatural world of the DCU. I might even make my next review another magic-based issue. And you know the best part? We don’t even have to listen to Jim sing “A Kind Of Magic“.