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

The Story: Madame Xanadu and Detective John Jones scrap with some mobsters over an ancient artifact.

What’s Good: This is Amy Reeder Hadley’s book as much as it is Wagner’s, perhaps moreso.  I’m reminded of this fact each time she returns to the comic.  Everything Hadley draws just has such a life and wonder to it.  Her art is the sort that makes a comic feel so lovable that you want to try your absolute damndest to like the book she’s working on.  The characters look great, the facial expressions are always a joy, and no detail is sacrificed despite the Japanese influence, which only ever remains an influence.  I loved the art on this book.  It’s not Hadley’s best issue, but even a standard issue by her is a blast.  She also manages a double-page spread that is very cool as far as layout goes, with the narrative flow following Xanadu’s tarot card reading.

Thankfully, Wagner’s script doesn’t fall far behind Hadley’s art.  DCU fans will be thrilled to know that there’s a lot more John Jones in this comic and we’re only now getting some hints as to his true identity. It’s hard to get over the fact that the Martian Manhunter is in Madame Xanadu, but it works really, really well and is pretty hard not to go all fanboy over.  The awkward and cold, yet clearly amicable tone of his dialogue is there, and we also catch glimpses of his super-strength and invulnerability in action.  Seeing Xanadu puzzle over how his powers are not magically based is a wonderful little moment; I’ve always enjoyed when readers know something that the characters do not.  The dynamic Jones shares with Xanadu is also oddly funny and intimate, much as is the case in many quality comics in which the Martian Manhunter is a part.  The combined awkwardness and their shared weirdness is subtle, but enjoyable.

Surprisingly, the mobsters, who could’ve been the typical faceless thugs, are written with great comic zest.  It’s clear that Wagner was having an absolute ball writing the dialogue for these guys.  Between the over the top Italiano mafia slang and accent, to the back and forth exchange of “ball-busting” insults/jokes between bosses, this stuff was all gold.  All of the insults were funny, as was the very sight of such stone-cold killers behaving in such a childish manner.

What’s Not So Good: I do wish that the colors were a touch brighter, though I remember complaining a few months ago about just the opposite.  Still, some of the indoor scenes could’ve used a bit more light.

There’s also a surprising lack of Morganna.  That said, I suppose after the last two months of flashbacks, that’s more than excusable.

If I’m being honest though, the only thing holding this comic back from an A-level grade is the fact that nothing truly monumental occurs in this issue.  While everything was well-done and I can find few faults, there weren’t any huge moves or significant points of plot progression this month.  In other words, it’s not so much a case of my weighting the good versus the bad, but more one of how much good there is.  All told, this issue is another day at the office for Hadley and Wagner, albeit a very good day.

Conclusion: Man, am I glad to be done with the flashbacks.

Grade: B+

-Alex Evans