Sunday, August 25, 2013

Graphic Novel Review: Madame Xanadu: Exodus Noir

Madame Xanadu Vol. 2: Exodus Noir is a graphic novel from Vertigo, featuring a magical murder mystery of the crime noir type, and a historical love affair in 15th century Spain, with our protagonist, Madame Xanadu, central to both.

Madame Xanadu is an immortal witch, or gypsy-like person, who wanders the world helping solve supernatural problems for people, using Tarot cards to discover things. She's sort of a miscellaneous background character in DC comics, linking stories together, popping up to help solve problems, and generally being mysterious. She was created in 1978 for the Doorway to Nightmare stories, and this volume is part of the Vertigo series, "Madame Xanadu", which was published in 2008-2010.

In this story, she's something of a paranormal detective in 1940s New York, called in to solve the mysterious death of a woman's father. It turns out that he was the victim of a powerful curse, along with two other men. This curse ends up having its roots in the era of the Spanish Inquisition, giving the writers a reason to cut away to regular flashbacks of her past life with Marisol. During her crime solving, she encounters Wesley Dodds as the Sandman and his assistant, Dian Belmont, in something of a crossover.

Marisol is a lovely, spirited redhead from Spain, who Madame Xanadu falls for and lives happily with in a little cottage, under the name of Novia. We see excerpts from their happy domestic life, including Novia's magical nature (even sharing the potions that grant her immortality), and it doesn't shy away from the sexual side of their relationship either. Unfortunately, they attract the attentions of the local priests and Marisol dies at the hands of the Spanish Inquisition, crying "yo te amo, Novia" (I love you, Novia).

Lesbian sexy times!
The story itself is pretty straightforward, and the lesbian love affair ends tragically, something that Madame Xanadu is still coming to terms with centuries later. But it is written as something pure and lovely and innocent, and stands out in glorious contrast to the grim, noir-ish New York storyline and the nasty, ignorant setting of 15th century religious Spain. The two storylines mostly only go together in theme, but there's not enough of each thread to stand alone, so it ends up feeling like a complete story.

Madame Xanadu, or Novia, or Nimue, is consistently portrayed as a strong and powerful woman, independently pursing and solving the crimes and disregarding the opinions of Spanish society.

The art is not perfect, but it's pretty good, retaining the style, colouring and slightly confusing busy compositions of older comics, but with somewhat better art. The manga influence of the line artist shows, but works well to bring a bit of clarity to the characters. There are a few cases of giant heads and slightly odd anatomy, but overall, it's perfectly readable.

There are other Madame Xanadu books, but this is the only one that explicitly shows her past relationship with a woman. She turns up in the Sandman and Books of Magic series, and it is eventually revealed that she was originally Nimue. She is canonically bisexual, as she has other relationships, including with Zatanna's father, John Zatarra.

If you're collecting explicit lesbian relationships in mainstream graphic novels, or are already a fan of Madame Xanadu and/or Vertigo comics, then definitely check this book out. If not, then it's not so terribly exciting that you can't skip it.

  • Writer Matt Wagner
  • Artist Mike Kaluta (original creator of Madame Xanadu)
  • Linework by "Amy Reeder Hadley

About the series

This is the second book in the series, collecting issues 11-15. The other books follow the same pattern of modernish crime noir (1930s, 40s and 50s as the series progresses) and flashbacks to her past. There's usually a cameo from some other Vertigo character as well.

You can buy Exodus Noir as a trade paperback on Amazon

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  1. Great review! I don't really read mainstream comics, so I think I'll skip this one, though. I did want to point out that "gypsy" is a racial slur against Romani people, and you probably don't want to casually use it. (First sentence of second paragraph: "Madame Xanadu is an immortal witch, or gypsy-like person...")

    1. Actually, yes, that was a point I meant to address, but wasn't sure how to and forgot about - that's why I went with 'gypsy*like*. It's a fundamental part of her character description. She was originally described as a Gypsy, of the Taro cards and shawls, constantly on the move and mysterious fortune telling stereotype, although they're moving away from just going "oh, she's a gypsy", as part of the whole depth and backstory thing, in the more recent books (she was invented quite a while ago).

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