by Matt Wagner (writer), Amy Reeder Hadley (pencils), Richard Friend (inks), Guy Major (colors), and Jared K. Fletcher (letters)

This is probably the best issue of Madame Xanadu in months.  Of course, this is thanks in no small part to the jaw-dropper ending.  I was absolutely stunned, as it was played and set up perfectly by Wagner.  It’s the return of an element we haven’t see in a very, very long time in the series and as such, it comes out of left field.  Even better is the fact that Wager is a master when it comes to his use of red herrings.  He’s so good at it that this month’s ending simply comes out of nowhere; it’s one of those rare cases where it’s jarring in a good way.  I absolutely cannot wait for next month’s issue.

Beyond that, this month essentially does everything that Madame Xanadu does well.  It’s full of that sense of dark whimsy that has made the series such a success.  As was the case last month, while Betty’s torments are clearly horrifying and while she certainly is a sympathetic figure, it’s all rendered with a kind of black humor.  That said, this month, when her curse reaches its apex, Wagner does a great job at portraying her desperation and emotion.  While the humor is still there, this month is heavier on the horror, as Betty begins to lose not just her appearance, but her personality.  Last month, we saw her physically becoming someone else and this month, we see the mental transition, which is unsettling.  That said, Wagner still manages this with a comic touch.

And that’s it really.  Wagner is able to portray what would be some gritty, dark stuff in an accessibly light-hearted fashion.  This month’s introduction of a mysterious satanic cult, for example, is hard not to read without a smile on your face, despite none of them actually cracking jokes or making pratfalls.  It’s purely a matter of tone and atmosphere, and a mark of Wagner’s ability.

Of course, this atmosphere is also thanks in no small part to Hadley.  The satanic cult is funny because Hadley makes them funny.  There’s also a very humorous scene involving Betty’s husband and his lecherous “Tuesday night” efforts that really is quite a laugh, largely thanks to Hadley’s excellent illustrations of Betty and her husband’s respective facial expressions.  All told, it’s just a beautiful book and I’m also happy to report that colorist Guy Major is back to his usual quality fare, as opposed to the insanely bright work we got last month.

This comic really was a pitch-perfect and an enjoyable experience throughout. It has everything that got Xanadu to the Eisners. Wagner scores high with what is by far the most enjoyable issue of Madame Xanadu in a very long time. The ending will have those who’ve been on-board from the start gasping.

Grade: A-

-Alex Evans