Friday, May 28, 2010

Review: Madame Xanadu #23

Madame Xanadu #23

Writer: Matt Wagner
Penciler: Amy Reeder
Inker: Richard Friend
Released: May 26, 2010

Unto every story falls the showdown, that moment where the paths of the protagonist and antagonist inevitably meet, the point at which good versus evil collide, often violently, when all other options have been exhausted. Madame Xanadu #23 presents us with that moment, as the story of sibling rivalry comes to conclusion with some hot sister-v.-sister action!

In this corner, in possession of immense heart, compassion, sorcery skills to rival all, and an extremely stylish wardrobe, in a lovely purple dress with full skirt and cape (and a sharp utility belt tied nattily round the waist), I give to you, the endlessly strong, survivor of the ages, the defending champion, Madame Xanadu! And in this corner, in possession of deep rage, hubris, arrogance, and mighty magical powers of her own, in white ribbon 'figure-skater' dress with gold armaments, I give to you, the challenger, the villain of the piece, the sister of our titular heroine, Mistress Morgana! Come out of your corners fighting!

Let's get ready to rumble, indeed. The main chunk of this issue is this fight scene between two women who never once touch each other. The surprising aspect of it all, is how brutal and violent this scene is, with nary a punch or kick to be had. Spells are cast, lightning thrown, Latin yelled; this is how sorcerers fight, and even the most hardened superhuman tights-wearer would be a bit shocked. This issue sees our heroine plummet 140 feet into the icy rough waters of the East River, blown through a plate glass storefront window to land with bone-jarring thud upon city asphalt, all of this on the back of being buried under the rubble of her building, and being tossed in the middle of a fire.

The issue moves along at a quick pace, it's propulsive power a testament to the strength of storytelling skills of artist Amy Reeder, who takes Matt Wagner's 'fight' scene and gives it energy and dynamism that flows seamlessly from panel to panel, page to page. It works extremely well for a script that has no filler. This is a showdown through and through, and we are sent from one set-piece to the next, from theatre fire to Brooklyn Bridge to downtown brownstone without delays. There are no wasted panels. This here be the final battle, no superfluous distractions will be allowed. It's this simplicity that could almost be seen as a fault, and that would be a mistake.

This story arc entitled "Broken House of Cards" started seven issues ago, chronicling the plight of a Manhattan housewife, Betty Reynolds, trapped in a loveless marriage and a ho-hum existence, seemingly invisible to even her own husband, except on the one night a week they set aside for less than stellar sex. If one were to compare that first issue with this one here, they would read strikingly dissimilar. Part one is full to bursting with details of Betty's daily life and the circle of friends and neighbors that populate her world. We see her become sick as the possession by Morgana begins to take, and we see her seek out our heroine for desperate help. Issue #23, by contrast, seems incredibly bereft of story. The no-nonsense effortless flow of the issue could strike some readers as hollow, though that deception would be the true beauty of this finale. After all, there have been seven previous issues that have laid out all the players, all the details, given us the ins-and-outs of the major plot points. All the exposition, character motivations, and consequences have been revealed for us. There is nothing left but the duel. So why not give it to us with violent and grand spectacle?

Madame Xanadu #23 does just that. The pages are alive with glistening city-scapes, flying bodies contorted in a ballet of magical violence, and enough glass shards and building debris to fill a Staten Island ferry. At it's core, stands our heroine, by stories end bloodied and battered, her clothes torn to near shreds about her body. But, she has survived and triumphed. Standing in the remains of her once beautiful and humble shop, where she would beckon those in trouble to enter freely without fear, Madame Xanadu tells us that everything will be alright. After all of this, only a fool would not believe her.

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