Title: Madame Xanadu – Volume 1 Disenchanted
Author: Matt Wagner
Art: Amy Reeder Hadley
Genre: Graphic Novel/ Fantasy
Publishing Date: July 2009
Paperback: 240 pages
Stand Alone or series: This is a self contained collection with the first 10 issues of the new Madame Xanadu series . It can be read as a stand alone story.
Why did I read the book: Kaz Mahoney told me it was good.
How did I get the book: Borrowed from Kaz Mahoney
Summary: Legendary creator Matt Wagner (MAGE, GRENDEL, SUPERMAN/BATMAN/WONDER WOMAN: TRINITY) and rising star artist Amy Reeder Hadley, present Vertigo’s newest ongoing fantasy epic MADAM XANADU.
Centuries long and around the far reaches of the globe, her tale winds before the ageless fortuneteller, whose powers of sight can change the course of human events.
As the mysterious past of Madam Xanadu is slowly unraveled, Wagner takes us on a journey throughout her history, from a medieval kingdom beset by foul sorcery to the court of Kublai Khan. Eventually Madam Xanadu returns to Europe as mystic advisor to Marie Antoinette, and as political tensions begin to boil, the Phantom Stranger makes his return. This time he seeks to kick-start the revolution and ensures that Paris’s streets run red – a blood sacrifice that will keep certain demonic forces at bay.
Confession: I had no idea who Madame Xanadu was before reading this Graphic Novel as I am not a DC connoisseur ( I am a Marvel Girl – ha – all the way; except you know, for Batman) ; I only decided to read it for two reasons: the recommendation from Karen Mahoney and the fact that Death from The Sandman makes an appearance. I did do a bit of homework (read: Wikipedia-ed) , in order to get my bearings and learnt that she is a minor, supporting character in the DC universe who use magic Tarot Cards to predict the future and help other characters with their supernatural problems playing a role of advisor without ever directly interfering. She is immortal and has some magical powers of her own.
In this new series by Vertigo, she is given a revamp and put in a central role. This first volume covers the first 10 issues in what can be described as an Origin story; it provides more information about the character throughout the ages and you can read only this first volume, as it has a definite ending in a self-contained story.
The volume is divided into 5 stories, each set in a different era, following Madame Xanadu in critical moments of her life. Starting with her true identify as the nymph Nimue (Yep, THE sorceress Nimue), in Arthurian times, sister to Vivienne and Morgana and the person that has a major role to play in the fall of King Arthur by being the one to take Merlin out of the equation. In this retelling, she has good reasons (which portray Merlin as a *gasp* villain) for doing so but her meddling has serious consequences. In this first story, she also encounters for the first time (at least from her point of view) The Phantom Stranger, a powerful time-traveller, observer of events who will make appearances in all stories at key moments.
The other stories follow Madame Xanadu as she spends time an advisor in the court Kubla Khan (in Xanadu hence her name), during the French Revolution where she befriends the Queen and will meet –and beat – Death, in London when Jack the Ripper is doing his worst and finally in America in the early twenties and her role in the appearance of The Spectre .
It is in this last story that all becomes clear, the story comes full circle ,showing just how Matt Wagner played his hand (ha, I am full of the intended puns today) with intention and design from the start making it all connect including that A-Ha Moment I tend to love. For that, for the interesting story (or history?) , I just loved this collection.
The insight into Madame Xanadu’s past is also an examination of history, of destiny and of will as with each encounter with the Phantom Stranger raises all of these issues. His fatalistic, inflexible attitude is in direct contrast to Xanadu’s indignation and frustration with they should or should not, do. Inaction vs. Action, Observing vs. Interfering , these are very intriguing concepts that interest me as a reader, and which pulled me right into the story. I also loved their tragic relationship: starting with a lot possibility and turning into antagonism over the centuries.
With regards to the artwork – I thought it was absolutely brilliant. It definitely has a slightly Manga-inspired feel (look at her eyes!) and since I am a fan, I thought it worked quite well. The background colours, the richness of the details were stunning:
Not bad. Not bad at all!
Notable Quotes/ Parts
Ah, as a total Sandman and the Endless fangirl, I obviously LOVED the encounter between Death and Madame Xanadu.
This collection, following Xanadu through the ages reminded me a lot of another collection of stories: Fables and Reflections, volume 6th of The Sandman which also has Morpheus through the ages. Funny enough, there is a story set during the French Revolution as well.
Also, speaking of Manga and of an Immortal who reads Tarot to help supernatural beings, if you like this combination, I highly recommend The Tarot Café by Park Sang-Sun.
The Tarot Café is a series with 7 volumes (all already published ) that follow Pamela, the Tarot reader in question. I really liked reading it.
Verdict: All in all, I really liked this volume: I liked learning about the character, like this specific story, loved the character’s interactions with the Phantom Stranger and LOVED the artwork. Highly recommended.
Rating: 8 – Excellent
Reading Next: Deep Kiss of Winter by Kresley Cole