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

The Story: Madame Xanadu faces off against Morganna in a final bid to save Betty

What’s Good: It’s sort of neat to see Madame Xanadu behave, in many respects, like an honest to goodness superhero.  Her final confrontation with Morganna and the magical battle that ensues is the kind of epic clash between good guy and bad guy that I wouldn’t necessarily expect from this book.  That said, it works, largely because Nimue is so naturally likable and Wagner continues to do an awesome job in writing Morganna.  I could not imagine a more humorously cackling villain.  I mean, how can you not laugh when a villain says “goblin balls!” as a curse?  With wonderfully written narration that always carries that simultaneous air of determination and vulnerability, it’s impossible not to root for Nimue, while with her continued mad arrogance, it’s equally impossible not to root against Morganna.

Then there’s John Jones/J’onn J’onzz who continues to be a joy to read under Wagner’s pen.  The character is continually written with that sly little wink as Wagner makes so much use of our knowing something that the characters do not.  He also makes us desperate to see J’onn in his true form, but he never quite lets us have it.  Instead, Wagner gives us little hints here and there of the Martian beneath the human form, always, delightfully, just on the periphery of Nimue’s awareness.  A blur of green might rush to her rescue and at one point, we even see a distinctly Martian looking hand reaching out to grab her.  Wagner teases us as much as he does Nimue herself.

As is often the case, however, so much of this issue’s success rests on Amy Reeder’s shoulders, whose art, at no sacrifice of detail, is the visual equivalent of comfort food.  Honestly, every time I read a Reeder illustrated book, I feel genuinely happy.

Her characters’ facial expressions are incredible and heavily contribute to their being so likable.  Nimue’s determined expressions are always well done and almost automatically make her a sympathetic character.  Morganna’s expressions, meanwhile, look manic, insane, and humorous.  Her expressions are incredibly varied, making for a fully realized character with always just a hint of something simultaneously comedic and monstrous.  Then there’s the one expression of fear we get from John, which stands so starkly against his continually blank expressions that it generates sympathy automatically.

Reeder’s talents also make for epic lightshow, equal parts explosive and fanciful, when Nimue battles Morganna at issue’s end.

What’s Not So Good: It was a bit strange that the Martian Manhunter played no part in Nimue’s final battle with her sister, even stranger still that he was entirely absent from it.  It’s actually somewhat disappointing, though I understand Wagner’s logic in wanting to keep it in the family. It’s also a little weird how Wagner has him act as a human shield for Nimue twice in one issue.

Also, what the heck happened to Mordred’s helmet?  There’s a surprising lack of closure here as the item is neither dealt with nor even seen.

With both of these narrative tools not present, Nimue’s final fight with her sister ends up feeling just a touch too simple and straight-forward, especially given the difference in power level as well as the length of this story arc.  Only a piece of Betty’s hair adds nuance but things feel a bit too easy, though Reeder’s art makes it does augment it somewhat.

Conclusion: Fantastic characters and great art make for another excellent issue of Madame Xanadu.

Grade: B+

-Alex Evans