This is graded on a curve since this comic took a risky gamble.
The Phantom Stranger keeps telling her that neither of them should interfere in soon-to-be-bloody events, while constantly interfering to make sure they get bloodier. For somebody whose life story spans centuries, she matures remarkably little. If for no other reason, fans of fantasy comics should pick up Madame Xanadu just to enjoy Reeder's art.
Then she tries in vain to help her friend Marie Antoinette.
Wagner's story gives Hadley a lot to work with, taking us from the pagan wilderness outside Camelot to Kublai Khan's China to Marie Antoinette's France. A long-lived Fantasy character living out the greatest hits of human culture is a little played out, but Nimue is a more sympathetic and complex character than normal, making her pitstops throughout history more pallatable.
Wagner seems like he's getting to know the character with each issue, which is a bad thing. Instead of showing, Wagner tells us far too much.
I co-scripted, with Catherine Barrett Andrews, three Madam Xanadu stories for the original Doorway to Nightmare title back in 1978 and 1979. Madam Xanadu is a beautiful Gypsy tarot reader who comes to the aid of young lovers threatened by a variety of monsters, mostly of the B-movie ilk. The required story structure for Doorway to Nightmare brought to mind another character associated with Michael W. Nothing was known about Madam Xanadus past. Madam Xanadu belonged to the category of characters that shouldnt have origin stories. (No doubt Nolan also wanted to avoid the sins of the film Batman, which proffered ridiculous notion that the Joker had murdered Bruce Waynes parentsfundamentally botching two origin stories in one fell swoop.) Though created without origin, Madam Xanadu arrived with a long list of required elements and series conventions given that seemed to invest her with a corporate genealogy, a child begotten by a committee. Only Madam Xanadu and I know about the latter jar, and maybe my co-author if she remembers, for it is from a story sold to D.C. but never published. So I was surprised and delighted to see Madam Xanadu featured in a premium quality trade paperback from D.C.s Vertigo line under the sure authorial hand of Matt Wagner, with interior art by no less a talent than Michael W. The first time we see Madam Xanadus lovely face, it is framed by lustrous black hair with bangs that curl upward like horns over her forehead. A Madam Xanadu story with interior Kaluta art was a kind of dream fantasy for me. It was a familiar theme for the character, but this time it was Madam Xanadu herself who was a youthful-- though not young-- lover threatened by a monster, in this instance, the Spanish Inquisition. In New York City, 1940, a woman seeks out the services of Madam Xanadu because none of the detectives she hired had been willing to effectively deal with the supernatural aspects of her problem-- as if occult cases constituted a disreputable end of the Private Investigator business, lower than divorce work. There is a startling scene in which Madam Xanadu steals into a private room where pornography and sex toys are on open display, but sacred items associated with Jewish observance are concealed in a hidden compartment. The story involves a series of encounters between Madam Xanadu and the Phantom Stranger. The final sequence finds Madam Xanadu in yet another doomed love affair, this time with Zatara the Magician, a Mandrake knock-off who casts spells by talking backwards (yet another minor D.C. trademarked character). Their romance is doomed because the Tarot reveals that Zatara will find true love, though not with Madam Xanadu, and their respective best destinies do not include one another. Madam Xanadu is destined to open a fortune tellers shop in New York City. If Madam Xanadu had read my cards back in the days we knew each other, she would have seen a familiar story, the coming test of whether fledgling artistic ambition can outlive the learning curve it takes to achieve its object, whether enthusiasm can survive the battles that arise from placing dreams into commerce. The icon of Madam Xanadu brought me face to face with my younger self, and brought back in a rush all the hopes and dreams, all the wild aspirations I poured into three issues of Doorway to Nightmare. After I read Disenchanted, the exchange that followed between my past and present selves was not unlike the exchanges Madam Xanadu had with the Phantom Stranger over the course of centuries.
Madame Xanadu is a character with a long history in the DC Universe who has been given a fresh start with this new series from the Vertigo imprint (home of Sandman and Fables). This first volume takes you on a wild journey throughout history, from her origin in Camelot when she was Nimue, sister of Morgan le Fay, to the palace of Kublai Khan from whence she took her name--Xanadu, to the French Revolution, the streets of Whitechapel during the terror of Jack the Ripper, and finally New York City on the eve of World War II as she bears witness to the rise of a new form of powerful beings--the superhero.
Madame Xanadu may be incredibly powerful, but in this story she is belittled not empowered. The Phantom Stranger causes her to feel shame and guilt for actions that were not truly hers, all while further manipulating her actions. You can't have an empowering story about a woman, when a good portion of the book is disempowering to all women. So here is the story of an amazingly powerful woman.