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 Jones confront Morganna, only to discover her nefarious plot.

What’s Good: I feel like every one of my reviews of an Amy Reeder Hadley illustrated issue has to include a mandatory tribute for her work. Her high quality art is nothing if not consistent in its excellence.  Once again, Hadley does awesome work this month.  Morganna looks certifiably insane, Jones looks suitably inhuman when unleashing his powers, and the action is great, always carrying a kind of whimsical/slapstick feel.  Hadley’s work is always full of life and a kind of, for lack of a better word, happiness that permeates every panel.  For instance, even something like the grotesque, purple exploding cultists she draws this month carries a wink of comedy, regardless of the brutal circumstances.  As usual, Hadley also manages to slip in a pair of really fun, creative layouts.

Wagner’s script once again makes fantastic use of his supporting characters.  Morganna, for instance, has never been a more effective villain.  Wagner gives her a kind of hedonistic abandon, turning the character into a kind of mystic DC Caligula.  Her expressions of boredom and raving madness are perfectly accompanied by her merciless actions and when she makes two of her slaves fight to the death for her amusement, it’s a bit of a laugh.  Full of excess and caring not a whit for human life, she’s a perfect, classic sort of villain that fits the tone of the book wonderfully.

John Jones also continues to a genius inclusion for the book.  Wagner again makes good use of the collision between magical and conventional superpowers.  Xanadu’s continued confusion over the source of Jones’ “non-magical” abilities is quite a bit of fun and there really is a kind of “meeting of two worlds” feel, as conventional DCU and magical DCU collide.  It’s hard not grin at the secret we know about Jones which Xanadu, as sympathetic a character as ever, does not.  Better still, Jones’ stilted, robotic dialogue works really well alongside the more formal, antiquated tone of Nimue and Morganna’s voices.

Not to be outdone, the Church of the Midnight Dawn’s cultists are as much of a laugh as ever.  They remain a wonderful combination of masochistic devotion and bumbling inefficacy.  While Wagner, wisely, never fully focuses on it, they’re just so obviously incompetent.  Their mindless subservience to Morganna is also good fun, as is their over-the-top love of all things Satanic.

What’s Not So Good: There’s no disputing that Madame Xanadu has been on a hot streak lately, so there’s little to complain about here.  That said, I do wish that Morganna hadn’t discovered the Martian Manhunter’s weakness quite so soon.  I really would’ve liked to seen the two have a good, honest scrap for at least a little while, only because Wagner has done so well in juxtaposing the magical with the Martian.  It’s a bit of a bummer that J’onn doesn’t look like he’ll be able to cut loose and it feels like some potential goodness may have been lost as a result.

Also, when Morganna whips out the old “people are warlike by nature” argument and general chastisement of the modern world for its military industrial complex, the ground feels a little too well-worn.  In a lesser comic, I probably wouldn’t be griping about this, but in a comic of this quality, it feels a little too easy.

Conclusion: A very, very good comic that falls a hair short of an A-grade.

Grade: B+

-Alex Evans