Madame Xanadu (Vol. 2): Exodus Noir by Matt Wagner
Exodus Noir, the second volume of Matt Wagner’s Madame Xanadu series, is an impressive follow-up to the first collection, even though there is a new artist on board. However, there’s no loss in artistic quality. If I prefer the first volume to the second, it’s primarily because I love an origin story. So, my preference is less a fault of the second volume than it is the inherent focus of the first.
This second volume is similar to the first in that it shifts from the present to the past. However, Exodus Noir focuses on only two time periods, and in doing so, it slowly reveals to readers the connections between then and now. The present of Exodus Noir is New York 1940, and flashbacks take us to Spain 1493 at the time of the inquisition.
In New York, Madame Xanadu is sought out in her parlor by a woman whose father died under mysterious circumstances. Deciding that the death was a supernatural murder, Madame Xanadu rushes to save the next potential victim. She soon learns that there is even a third man and that all three men have a significant connection to one another. Her job is to find out what that connection is, as well as to discover and to stop the supernatural forces stalking them.
Back in Spain, Madame Xanadu, forever young, lives peacefully even though the people around her live in fear. She lives with a beautiful redhead with whom she shares her potion of eternal youth and beauty. Their love is passionate and physical, and though Madame Xanadu’s lover is clearly a lesbian, we are led to see that Madame Xanadu is bisexual, willing to love physically either a male or female as long as the romantic love itself is pure. Though I’m sympathetic to this presentation, it seems a bit forced in this particular context, though it seems significant to Wagner’s theme.
Overall, the scenes in 1493 aren’t as solid as the bulk of the story that takes place in New York 1940. One of the reasons the New York scenes are so good is that Madame Xanadu encounters Dian Belmont and her friend Wesley Dodds, the Golden Aged Sandman. Matt Wagner wrote for Vertigo an excellent run on Dodds and Belmont in The Sandman Mystery Theatre, so it is a true delight to see Sandman and Madame Xanadu interact, both highly suspicious of the other’s motives. I also think the art is of the highest quality, and to be honest, I get real joy out of seeing Madame Xanadu give a reading with her Tarot cards and use her other magical knowledge and tools. Exodus Noir, like the first volume, conveys a strong, smoky atmosphere of magic and mystery. What’s not to love?