The summer heat snuck in shortly before I sat down to get going on this review. I fired up the laptop and realized I didn't have the comic itself for reference as I typed. Confident that my children have much more energy than I, I asked my youngest daughter (she just turned 8) to bring the comic to me from the next room. She did, and as she handed it to me, she said, "Looks creepy."
"It is sweetie. It is."
The creepy cover of this issue, the first of a series of sensory themed chapters in this new storyline, depicts some zombified folk riding a subway train as a young lady shields her eyes from the horrific visuals. Those visuals make up this story, as Rosy Mays, a department store clerk finds herself "gifted" with the ability to foresee the demises of those in proximity to her. Playing up the setting of Harlem in 1963 and the young African-American clerk, Wagner quickly draws some stereotypical circles back through with this story. That's not to say Wagner himself is being stereotypical, but in a time when race and place were such divisive issues, adding in a young lady with "sight beyond sight" doesn't help.
This is less an issue of "Madame Xanadu," and more a horror-tinged comic that happens to have Madame Xanadu appear in it. Yes, she is the hub around which resolution is reached, but the story could have easily functioned as well with Phantom Stranger, John Constantine, or Zatanna in the mix.
Zarcone's art is deceptively simplistic, like Cliff Chiang's. At first blush, the images look simple and clear, but in truth, there are layers and fine details aplenty. The department store Rosy works in isn't just a building or an open room, but it comes through as a department store, with products in the background and fixtures. The structure of the pages is straightforward and not overly crowded, which allows Zarcone to punch up the drama when necessary.
Zarcone's colors are muted and worn, perfectly suited for a story that is nearly forty years in the telling. This story is immediately welcoming, bringing you right alongside Rosy as she discovers her curse and tries to find reason for it. The muted colors make the blood of Rosy's visions more vivid and appalling.
This issue is sure to be the most visually impactful of the "Extra-Sensory" storyline. "Madame Xanadu," like "Jonah Hex," is one of those titles that almost never disappoint me. It is free from the trappings of continuity and consistently offers great art. When I buy it, it's never the first thing I read from the pile, but it never fails to be an entertaining read. Wagner's got a good thing going here, and this storyline seems like the perfect spot for new readers to slowly learn all about Madame Xanadu. Enter freely and unafraid.