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National Comics: Madame X #1 – Review

By: Rob Williams (story), Trevor Hairsine (art), Antonio Fabela (colors)

The Story: If only every law firm could have its very own precog to work their cases.

The Review: Maybe I missed a memo that would never come to me anyway, but I’d been under the impression that National Comics, for all its format strangeness, still had a firm place in the DCU.  Allusions to big-name superheroes in Jeff Lemire’s Eternity feature implied as much, but neither Rose and Thorn nor Looker made even that much use of other DC characters.  Very odd, then, that we’d have an issue featuring someone who already stars in not one, but two ongoings.

At first, I tried to square the two versions of Xanadu: the immortal occultist who appears in Demon Knights and Justice League Dark, and the legal consultant with the stage name Madame X.  I failed.  “Nima” is less put-together, and far more narrow-minded when it comes to the kind of magic she believes in.  What sealed the difference, weirdly enough, was her declaration that zombies don’t exist, even though Xanadu in Demon Knights saw her own half-brother as a staggering undead.  So we have something of an Elseworlds tale here, folks.

Once you make your peace with that, the rest of the issue actually works surprisingly well.  While I prefer my Xanadu firmly entrenched in the magical side of things, I enjoy the CSI spin to her nearly as much.  By avoiding outright mysticism, Williams makes the plot quite a bit more complicated and less easily resolved, which is saying something as he mixes Creole voodoo, drug addicts, and political intrigue, all wrapped in the slight veneer of the supernatural.

With Madame X (“Nima,” her colleagues call her) and her precognition established as the only legit magic in the issue, the voodoo and zombies and “glorious and shining palace of otherworldly wonders” comes out to nothing more than a Carrie-inspired prank, some fancy makeup, and a whole lot of wishful thinking (with some delusions of grandeur spiced in).  If you’re a believer in the other, it’s something of a disappointment, but it’s also a poignant and fitting conclusion to a fairly involved story.  Those with power and conviction reveal a wish to reduce themselves to base desires, while those who lack either quality attempt to craft a ramshackle illusion of influence by lying to themselves.

Lost in these tragic overtones is Nima’s identity and role in the plot.  In the end, she serves mostly as a cipher in her own story.  She doesn’t seem to have any personal motivations in the help she provides to her firm’s clients, except perhaps for the sake of a paycheck.  Her relationships to others, whether it be the indulgent Mr. Lynn or the reliable Salinger, remains veiled in mystery.  Only the outlines of their connections can be seen.

There is only one point where Williams hints that Nima has fulfilled a personal arc, when she thanks Salinger for “[r]eminding me of something.”  The problem is you have no idea what that something is.  If it’s faith in her own magic, and that’s the best theory you can make out from what Williams gives you, it seems odd since there’s no indication she ever really ever doubted her own power in any way, ever, not even during the downfall of her career.

Hairsine’s work has a scratchy style that recalls Michael Kaluta (who coincidentally enough also worked on Madame Xanadu when Matt Wagner wrote it for Vertigo), only sharper and easier on contemporary eyes.  At times, he switches between a more realistic and dramatic figure, but the moment emotions snap to a higher intensity, his figures grow looser and more expressive.  His layouts are nothing much, otherwise I might say Hairsine would be well-suited for Vertigo work.

Conclusion: A complete tale that works perfectly well on its own terms, and like Lemire’s Eternity, entices you enough that you actually want to see how it’ll all work out.  But such hopes seem fruitless when there’s such clear contradiction between what’s written and what’s already established.

Grade: B

- Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: - “Siegfried and Roy’s big-ass tigers!!!!”  is a line I will cherish for a long time to come.  I also really like the reference to David Blaine.

- Thankfully, I don’t have to rationalize how a law firm worth its salt can possibly rely on Tarot fortunes for evidence.  Madame X’s future-telling simply works as a shortcut for the legal eagles to identify and locate something that’s actually discoverable.  Phew.

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