Friday, March 27, 2009

Review: Madame Xanadu #9

Madame Xanadu #9


Writer: Matt Wagner
Pencils: Amy Reeder Hadley
Inks: Richard Friend
Vertigo
Released: March 25, 2009




History is inevitable. Time crawls forward taking us with it. We are its passengers. It is never the other way around. This is the underlying message of this book as it reaches the penultimate issue of its long initial arc, and it's one that leaves in its wake a deep yet beautiful sadness.

This issue finds our heroine in New York City during the run-up to World War II. As we come upon our protagonist she sits in her apartment, listening to news reports of troops pushing their way through Europe, pushing their way towards a war that, despite the efforts of appeasement, is inevitable. As if in conjunction, a great fog has come over the "magic continuum" and forebodings of a visitor from her past are making themselves known. This stranger will return to her life. Again, it is inevitable.

One of the true strengths of this book is the wonderful characterization of Madame Xanadu. She is a superhero in a book that feels nothing like a superhero book. Facing the inevitability of history she, nonetheless, presses ahead with the best of intentions to aid those in need around her. In the last issue alone she waged a one-woman campaign against the infamous Jack the Ripper, stopped a mob riot, and took the time to rescue a young girl from falling into the clutches of mob violence, all while riding around on a bicycle spreading a magical soothing salve to attempt to calm a city on edge. Her tireless determination is worthy of Superman, and in fact, I feel that this is the female superhero I wish Wonder Woman was right now in her own book. It's a joy to read.

This issue also brings us allusions to those great superheroes of the Golden Age that are just around the corner at this point in history, and in doing so makes them feel as real as any of the other historical figures who've made appearances so far in this run. As Giovani Zatara waxes poetic about this coming age, one can't help but feel the inevitability of a rocket ship landing on Earth from a doomed planet, or the inevitability of a back-alley mugging leaving an orphan under a lonely streetlamp. It's wonderful and also mirrors very nicely how this book itself sits on the edge of the DCU.

Another amazing aspect of this issue is how Madame's sexuality in her love affair with fellow magician Giovani Zatara is handled with such maturity, humor, and nonchalance. The scene of them in bed together in the afterglow of lovemaking is honest to who each character is and is completely without any lasciviousness. Alas, their love is not meant to be more than this, as we, like our heroine know that the future holds a different road open for the handsome Giovani. He will, and must, move on to find true love and father a future hero. Again, this too is inevitable.

Writer Matt Wagner and artist Amy Reeder Hadley are constructing an epic tale of magic and history. From one issue to the next time passes as if by the turn of a page and in this we see how the slow crawl of time is actually a whirling dervish of history scooping us all up in it's haphazard grasp, depositing us into our lives and sending us into our futures oftentimes screaming against our will. No amount of magic, no amount of foresight, nor even the strongest of spells can keep the rush of life from crashing against each of us. It would be truly sad if it were not also so truly beautiful.

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