Madame Xanadu #1

Written by Matt Wagner
Art by Amy Reeder Hadley
32 pages, color
Published by Vertigo/DC Comics

My past exposure to the character Madame Xanadu was in John Ostrander and Tim Mandrake’s run on The Spectre, where the character served as an advisor to the main character. She was an interesting character, one who could divine the future but generally speaking stayed out of the goings on the world herself. When DC announced Matt Wagner and Amy Reeder Hadley were the creative team for a new Madame Xanadu comic, I was cautiously optimistic. After all, I’ve enjoyed Wagner’s writing in the past, and Hadley’s art certainly looked nice in the promos. But really, you never know what you’re getting until the book shows up. And sometimes, the end result can surprise you.

In the time of King Arthur, the sorceress Nimue. Lover to Merlin, she guards the forests, even as her sister Morgana prepares for the fall of King Arthur. When a stranger who claims to know Nimue appears, though, he warns of a great catastrophe on the horizon. And at the center of that disaster, it seems, is Merlin.

I will be the first to admit I had no idea that Madame Xanadu was originally the sorceress Nimue from Arthurian legend, so Wagner isn’t telling a story that everyone knows. But with that in mind, did he really need to start her series here, and in this manner? I almost hate to say it, but my reaction to reading Madame Xanadu #1 was boredom. Nimue isn’t an interesting character; she’s very two-dimensional, that traditional young sorceress archetype that’s been played out to death for as long as I can remember. Even knowing that she’s going to eventually become Madame Xanadu, I find myself unable to care about her as she’s written. She casts runes, she wanders around, she gets scared by the Phantom Stranger, she talks to Morgana le Fay. But none of it has a real hook to grab the reader. It’s all so old hat that it feels like a story written on autopilot, and that’s not a good thing. Presumably Wagner’s ten issues on the book are going to tell Madame Xanadu’s origin and life over the years, but something needs to happen a little faster here or I’m unconvinced that the majority of readers will make it all the way to its conclusion.

On the other hand, I do quite like Hadley’s art. It’s a soft, gentle style that meshes well with Guy Major’s colors; the greens and blues that combine with Hadley’s drawings of Nimue’s forest result in a beautiful, lush setting that looks inviting. She’s also good with reaction shots, Nimue’s face proving expressive in the various situations she’s put in. I just hope that Hadley is given a little more material to work with in the next issue, because it feels almost like she’s been given the same scenes to draw over and over again, and I want to see just what Hadley is really capable of.

As the first issue of an ongoing series, Madame Xanadu #1 just doesn’t work for me. There’s no interesting hook to make me want to read more, no spark about the character that captures my imagination. Perhaps this story would have better been suited as a flashback, starting somewhere a little more exciting before backtracking to show the reader how she got to that point. Maybe things will pick up in the next issue, but the big question will be who will still be interested enough to find out. It’s a shame; I really wanted to like this book, but I can’t help but feel more than lukewarm at best.

1 comment to Madame Xanadu #1

  • J. Doe

    Wait wait wait … this is an ONGOING? I thought it was an origin mini. I also thought the first issue was terrible, for all the reasons you mentioned, and also, for not signaling to the reader, technically, that Nimue is Xanadu. There’s no real connection between the title of the comic and anything in it. Sure, most readers can figure it out, but it’s just … so … dumb.

    I’ve always liked the Madame Xanadu character, though never what’s been done with her. I had high hopes for Wagner, and loved the preview art (note that the preview art, at least what I saw, was all of some future issue set in modern NYC). For art’s sake alone, I’ll give it another issue or two, but this flat and sloppy start does not bode well.

    Less important: Does this mean she’s defected to the Vertigo world? After all, she appears in DC superhero books, as does a very different Kirby-fied Morgan Le Fay (now delivering stilted dialogue and nothing else, weekly in Trinity). I don’t want to get too hung up on such multiverse wanking, but frankly, I need a better product to make me overlook the continuity crap in favor of enjoying the work.