Into the back issue box #42

by  in Comic News Comment
Into the back issue box #42

A hot chick wearing armor fighting religious dudes? Sounds like a Top Cow book!

Ground rules? Of course there are ground rules!

The Magdalena vol. 2 #2 by Brian Holguin (writer), Eric Basaldua (penciler), Batt (inker – “with Rick Basaldua, Sal Regla, Joe Weems, Billy Tan, and Tom Bar-or” – seriously, that’s what the credits say!), Beth Sotelo (colorist – with Matt Milla), and Robin Spehar and Dennis Heisler (letterers). Published by Image/Top Cow, September 2003.

This comic is pretty bad, but it’s not quite as cringe-worthy a comic as Cyberforce #1 or Demonslayer #2 or Objective Five #3 or the true paragon of craptitude in this series, Untamed #1. If only it had a little more turgid narration!

Let’s crack this sucker open and bask in its glory. The handy recap on the inside cover reads, “For 2000 years, the famed Knights of Malta have trained one special woman in each generation to be the Magdalena – the official warrior/protector of the Catholic Church. For 2000 years, the Magdalenas have battled in secret, protecting humanity from supernatural menaces of all types.”

Okay, I have to stop. There’s so much wrong with that introduction that I must interject. The Knights of Malta, by the way, are real (here’s their web site!), even though they were probably more famous when they were called the Hospitallers. So that’s fine. They have been in existence (yes, technically they’re still around) for slightly more than 1000 years, so the intro is only off by a millennium. 2000 years is stretching it a bit, given that the Catholic Church didn’t actually exist until, at the very earliest, AD 200 (and that’s pushing it). And given the Church’s attitude toward women for most of those centuries, the idea that a religious order closely affiliated with the Papacy would train a woman to be the “official warrior/protector” of said Church is laughable. I know that the only reason it’s a woman is so our heroine can run around in skimpy outfits, but if you’re going to try to inject “realism” into this kind of comic, at least try to make it “realistic.”

But let’s get back to the recap! We learn that Patience, “a young beauty,” has run away from a convent where she was raised. In New York, she meets a “wild woman” named Rowan. A Shepherd of the Knights of Malta named Kristof (don’t you love the portentous names?) comes to “retrieve” Patience because the Knights believe she is the next Magdalena. Rowan is kidnapped, a “pagan menace marshals its forces,” and Kristof takes Patience to Malta, where she comes across the Magdalena’s traditional weapon, the Spear of Destiny, which has been shattered. So you’re up to speed! Are you ready to move on?

On the first page we see a woman and a man, each holding a spear, divided on the page by another spear. The woman is obviously a Magdalena, although it’s not clear if it’s Patience or not (as this is a Top Cow book, all the women look alike except for the fact that some of them have long hair and some have short, and this woman and Patience have long hair, so it’s impossible to tell). She represents the story of Longinus and the Spear of Destiny. As everyone has read DC comics in the past 20 years, I’m going to assume you know about the Spear of Destiny. It can only be wielded by a “maiden of the rarest pedigree,” by the way. That’s a handy way for the creators of this book to keep their heroine “pure” while allowing her to dress like a slut. The spear the man holds is the Spear of Lugh, who was king of the “golden race,” “slayer of one-eyed Balor” (Lugh slew Balor with a slingshot, apparently, but when you’re talking about myths, you get a bit of leeway). It would never miss its mark once thrown, and it had to be cooled in a cauldron when not in use. It was a “thing of strength and vitality, of power used wisely, it is the light that drives away the darkness.” When the “old gods retreated,” the spear was left behind, and one day it would reopen the “golden door” and bring the world to a “shining new dawn.” Phew! Interestingly enough, this story is never again mentioned in the issue. I imagine it comes up in subsequent issues, but it’s strange to start the issue this way when it has no relevance to this particular issue. Oh well. I do like that even when drawing Jesus on the cross, Basaldua can’t escape the Top Cow directive to make everyone sexy:

Sorry if that seems blasphemous to you, but I didn’t draw it!

Moving on, we’re in Malta, in some kind of bunker. Kristof stands in the background, worried about Patience, who’s undergoing some kind of ritual. He’s speaking to someone named Mathias, who counsels, well, patience when dealing with Patience. In the foreground are worker drones wearing outlandish cybernetic outfits that always look ridiculous in comic books. Don’t believe me? Have a gander:

But we’ve no time for mocking the worker drones! Our heroine makes an appearance! You know, when you’re the warrior/protector of the Catholic Church and you fight supernatural menaces, I would imagine you’d want better armor than this:

If you’re mesmerized by the silliness of that outfit, well, you’re not alone. Patience herself comments on it later. Why doesn’t she change into a more sensible suit of armor? Are you kidding? With those killer abs? You people are crazy! Anyway, she’s narrating. This is where the book could have been gloriously awful, but it only approaches it. Think of Untamed #1 as the asymptote of glorious awfulness, while this is only the curve that is asymptotic to it (I love the word “asymptote,” by the way). Patience muses that she wishes she had never left the convent. Then her only friend who wasn’t a nun was kidnapped. Kristof promised to help get Rowan back if she would come to Malta, so she did. She picks up the spearhead (that’s the Spear of Destiny lying shattered in front of her in the picture above) and pricks her finger (through her glove, I should add, because that spear is sharp!). “Suddenly,” she narrates, “it all becomes clear.” Outside, the monitors go blank, and Mathias says they should wait to go in, because what’s happening might be for Patience alone. So let’s see what she’s experiencing!

“It is as if the scales have been lifted from my eyes,” our heroine narrates, as she appears to be transported someplace mystical. She can see how “it all fits together,” like “notes on a scale” which “chime and ring out in unbelievable harmony.” According to Patience, it’s the most glorious sound she’s ever heard and makes her want to cry. As she’s experiencing this rapture, the Spear is flying around her, reconstituting itself. That’s not what she’s talking about, is it? That would be weird if she’s simply describing a bunch of wood turning back into a shaft. Anyway, the doors to the chamber open, and Patience steps out and tells Kristof and Mathias, “Yeah. Um … I think I fixed it.”

Note the knife holster on the boot. That’s practical! Note also the thong. Yes, there will be buttcheeks in this comic. Because protectors of the Catholic Church are all about buttcheeks!

Patience says she’s never felt better, and Mathias tells her she’s feeling the same way the other Magdalenas have felt. But when he tries to take the Spear, Patience tells him it belongs to her now. Kristof tells her that “power held jealously leads only to corruption,” but Patience tells him she’s not turning something so powerful over to someone she doesn’t know. She demands that Mathias tell her, and he acquiesces. They take a stroll through the garden and Mathias tells her that things exist in the world that “defy explanation” and are “truly evil.” Like Twinkies! The Knights of Malta were formed “to combat the greatest dangers to the welfare of mankind.” Well, actually, they were formed to provide care for pilgrims at the hospital in Jerusalem and later to provide an armed escorts for those same pilgrims who were visiting Jerusalem, but whatever. Let Mathias have his little fantasy. He goes on to tell her that “a great power” is “on the move,” “which threatens to unmake the very world.” Well, that sucks. He tells her that the Spear has the gift of foresight, and if she gives it to him, they can have all the answers. She says she’ll do, and just like that, she’s able to see the future! What does she see?

Well, that’s clear. Mathias expresses his surprise and tells her that the Bright Hand is a “radical neo-pagan group.” Man, I hate those guys! And they’re not into “new age foolishness about communing with nature of finding your ‘inner child.’ ” Apparently, they’re “dedicated to restoring old gods to the world.” Patience wants to know what “old gods” means, but before she can react, Mathias takes the Spear and kisses her on the cheek. Then he orders the guards to arrest them because they are in league with the enemy. So he’s the Judas in the garden she prophesied the page before! Man, usually prophecies aren’t so quickly realized or so specific. That’s some good prophesying!

Those are some weird fingers on Mathias. I’m just sayin’.

The guards (that’s them on the cover of the comic, by the way) attempt to arrest Patience and Kristof, but luckily they both have long sticks to fight with. Actually, it appears Patience still has the Spear. Wait a minute, what? Here’s where it looks like when Mathias “takes” it:

I guess that’s not Mathias’ arm in the second panel, but what’s going on in the panel then? Later, it does not look like Patience has the Spear, but then, when she fights, she has it back. But why would Mathias reveal that he’s evil unless he already had the Spear? Shouldn’t he have tried to get it by subterfuge before showing his hand? That doesn’t seem smart. But I guess he didn’t get the Spear, leaving it with Patience so she can fight with it. Maybe he’s playing fair?

The fight means we get more narration! The “world slows down” for Patience, and “fear swells in her throat,” but she chokes it back. Good for her! As she fights, she narrates something odd. “I trained since I was a child to be strong,” she narrates. Okay. “To be disciplined,” she thinks. Okay. She grew up in a convent, so discipline is probably important. “To know how to defend myself.” Wait a minute. Why, exactly, would the nuns teach her to defend herself? They didn’t know she was the Magdalena, did they? Wouldn’t they teach her to devote her life to God? I guess it was a ninja convent! Patience, however, was never trained to fight like she’s fighting now, as “the knowledge rises up from some hidden wellspring” inside her, and she senses “memories of battles [she] never fought.” She loves the fight, and it allows her to forget everything, including the “ludicrous costume” she’s wearing. I always love comics that are aware of the idiocy of how the characters (usually women) dress but do nothing to change it. That’s feminism, man!

Mathias is standing apart from the group, and Patience finally decides that she’s had enough of fighting (seriously: She says, “Enough of this!” as she cracks one last guard over the head) and chucks the Spear into a tree just by his head. As he reaches for it, she says, “Don’t touch that! You are not worthy.” As she says this, I think she kicks him. Look at this panel and tell me what happens in it:

Is that her foot? Anyway, she and Kristof stand over Mathias as the bad guy says that “this age is ending,” and he’s just welcoming it. What’s the problem, man? But can we really pay attention to his words when Patience is rockin’ the buttcheek?

I think not! Patience, perhaps angered by her wedgie, demands to know where Rowan is, and Mathias tells her that “anything worth having requires sacrifice,” which makes our heroine grumpy, so she slams the point of the Spear into … the ground next to his head. Oooh, way to scare him, Patience! She demands to know where Rowan is. I should point out that the lack of mid-section armor seems to have been a mistake:

We switch to Prague, where there’s a ritual going on. Apparently, “there is a world beyond the one we know,” and it’s “strong and wise and most of all … hungry.” Plus, it’s been “caged for too long” and “yearns for release.” So some hooded dudes have a nice bonfire going with big ol’ wicker men circling it. This other world “shall be free again … to unleash its wild glory on a world grown fat and slow.” One hooded dude calls for the sacrifice, and on the last page, we see a woman chained, wearing a sheer gown and a crown of flowers. I guess that’s Rowan? I mean, it’s kind of a weird ending. It’s not all that dramatic, because we know Rowan is going to be the sacrifice, so it’s not like it’s an “Oh My God It’s Rowan!” ending. If it’s not Rowan and is someone else entirely (which I doubt), who the heck is it and why should we care? I’m going to assume it’s Rowan (and no, I shouldn’t care this much), but it’s just a weird place to end.

So that’s issue #2 of The Magdalena (well, except for the letters page, which includes somebody asking if the character is – wait for it – based on a real person). It’s not good, in case you can’t figure that out. But does it do a good job getting the reader into the story? Well, yes. We’re not really lost at all in this comic, both because of the recap in the front and because Holguin gives us plenty of exposition. It’s a bad comic, but it reads fairly well, in terms of being easy to get through and does what it wants to do. So it succeeds in that respect. But it fails in the other way a single issue should succeed – there’s no reason to come back for more. It’s a pretty dull story with generic characters, some fairly typical T & A art, and not even a terribly interesting hook – oooh, an ancient evil is going to destroy the world! How … dull. Much like a lot of other Top Cow books – Witchblade, Aphrodite IX – this comic is just an excuse to show a ass-kicking chick with big boobs, rock-hard abs, and a thong. And isn’t that all we really want from our comics?