Monday, December 21, 2009

Moments of the Year: Madame Xanadu #7

She is of the order of the ancient folk, and bears a name she uses not anymore, a name known by no one outside of but a few other immortals and Death, herself. To whatever world she finds herself in, she is but a "spiritualist", a tarot card reader, a parlor amusement. She is a seer, and a true mage, and virtually immortal. Above all, she is a woman with a deep compassion for life, a surprising characteristic for someone who seemingly fears not the end of her own. The woman is Madame Xanadu, and she is the hero of this story.

Madame Xanadu #7 sees our heroine in the middle of a hysterical London, besieged by the terror of a serial killer, one who will come to be known as Jack the Ripper. As she searches the streets at night for clues to stop these killings, Madame comes upon a small beggar child, a young girl in tattered apron and top hat, one with whom she is apparently acquainted with. The exchange between them is one that demonstrates the depths of compassion at the center of this magical woman, as she uses her millennia of learned experience for the simple trick of conjuring up a simple piece of fruit for the child. The beauty of this scene comes in the powerful expressions that grace this woman and child as they hunch over the torn upturned top hat; the unbridled joy and anxious anticipation on the face of the little girl is heartbreaking when one understands the poverty with which she is besotted; the serious scrunch of concentration with which Madame contorts her face an indication of the playful spirit that bubbles inside her.

This is a touchingly rending scene, and also one that is important for more than just the purpose of characterization. For, truth be told, there are other moments throughout the first six issues of Madame Xanadu that serve to show our protagonist as the sensitive and empathetic hero, notably her attempts to save a sickened and imprisoned Marie Antionette, and her rescue of a court consort from rapists during her time with the Kublai Khan. However, those moments are propelled by other factors, other variables, perhaps even slight self-consciousness and ego. This moment, in this dirty soot-covered alley in Whitechapel, with this innocent street urchin asking for help with smeared cheeks and eyes as big as dinner plates, we see a woman who has lived thousands of years without a family of her own, show us what might have been for her in some other form, in some other life. It is pure maternal tenderness.

It is one page out of hundreds, one scene out of hundreds. It is one page ensconced in an issue covered in blood and horror. It is one moment of absolute childish splendour, a showcase for the positive power adults may hold over little children; a power to dazzle, to thrill, to bring peace and happiness, and to do so with little more than a flourish of a hand, a sincere word of kindness, and a true heart filled with playfulness and love.

Madame Xanadu #7 written by Matt Wagner, with art by Amy Reeder Hadley and Richard Friend was released on January 2, 2009 by DC Comics' Vertigo imprint. Madame Xanadu: Disenchanted, collecting the first ten issues of the monthly series, was released on July 15, 2009, also by DC/Vertigo. 

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