by Matt Wagner (writer), Marley Zarcone (art & colors), and Jared K. Fletcher (letters)
The Story: A girl in 60s Harlem, Rosy Mays, suffers visions where people around her appear horribly maimed.
What’s Good: This issue marks the start of “Extra-Sensory,” a thematically related series of one-shots, each drawn by a different female artist. When I first realized this, I was filled with trepidation; I’m naturally uncomfortable each time someone other than Amy Reeder takes on Madame Xanadu.
Thankfully, though, Marley Zarcone steps up to the plate this month with an issue that entirely relieved me of my concerns. While having a style of her own, Zarcone is a great fit for Xanadu that. While very different from Reeder’s work, she maintains a similar spirit. Her work remains warm through its cartoonist’s sensibilities and slightly rounded feel, but she also channels a bit of an artsy, 90s Vertigo feel. Zarcone also handles her own colors and does great work in this regard; her fires look absolutely magnificent. Better still is how Zarcone makes main character Rosy Mays really stand out from her surroundings. It mirrors her feelings of isolation while also subtly portraying the state of racial politics in 60s NYC. It also bears being said that even though her style is by no means photo-realistic, some of the gore that Zarcone depicts is surprisingly disturbing. A cut throat in particular actually made me wince a bit, and I have a fairly strong constitution.
Wagner’s script works very well in tandem with Zarcone’s art. He works hand in hand with it in trapping and isolating his protagonist, Rosy. Forced to see horrible things that are invisible to those around her, Rosy feels stuck in a world all her own. It’s a very tight script that had me feeling the anxiety of Rosy’s situation as she is lost in a state of total incomprehension. No one can understand her difficulties or her odd behaviour while she herself cannot understand what she is seeing. Throughout the issue, Rosy seems trapped in a kind of existential solitude as we experience the horror of having a perception of reality that is not only unique, but unshared and unregistered by anyone else.
This makes Madame Xanadu’s role in the issue all the more powerful. Though her presence is small, when she finally shows up, she’s the first character to give Rosy that feeling of understanding and as a reader, I felt that sense of relief wash over me.
What’s Not So Good: The issue’s ending is a little too neat. It seems convenient and it’s a predictable chain of events. It’s also something we’ve seen a few too many times; of course the climax of a plot with a character struggling with precognition would involve saving that character’s family/friends, etc. There’s nothing overly wrong with it, but it wasn’t really the most creative or imaginative way to resolve the plot of such an otherwise outstanding issue.
This also led to Rosy’s powers never being fully explained. Where did they come from? Why do they end once she acts upon them just once? Why all the “lead-up” visions if only the final vision matters? The fact that none of this is ever addressed, let alone answered, doesn’t lend a sense of mystery. Rather, they feel like holes that have more to do with Wagner’s not having enough space. Either way, it makes the issue’s ending feel a bit unsatisfying, if not overly simple, saccharine even, which isn’t good when Wagner was clearly going for a more empowering message.
Conclusion: A by-the-numbers ending doesn’t stop this from being a great issue. Ms. Zarcone is also a real find who I hope will get more work with Vertigo.