Capsule Reviews, Week of July 25th

Unrelated topics I’m wondering about today while I write my capsules:

  • How the hell did I go from not reading the Avengers for 20 years to “hm, I have six Avengers books on this pull sheet, and might need to add a seventh?” How in God’s name does that even happen?
  • I need to actually read the first issue of Neonomicon; it’s in the inbox of comics under my coffee table. I’m pretty sure it’s going to be Alan Moore’s version of Charles Stross’s Laundry series, and that concept kind of frightens me.
  • Yes, I have an inbox tray full of comics under my coffee table. I bought it at the Container Store when I noticed that my living room was draped in bright-yellow comic-shop bags, like some sort of giant sequential-art spider had been throwing webs around the place.
  • I got around to Hawkeye and Mockingbird #1 on my iPad. Jim McCann writes them well, and it was nice to see a little Casanova in-joke in there for us Cass diehards. I’m not sure my budget can afford another Avengers book, but I certainly enjoyed the free sample.
  • No shit, Vertigo cancelled Madame Xanadu? Mmmmmmmmrrrrrrrppppppph. Where am I supposed to get my Anglo-Saxon fix now, dammit.

Uncanny X-Men #526 (Fraction, Portacio, Tadeo, Reber)

Uncanny X-Men 526 cover

Back in the X-saddle again. Cover by Terry Dodson.

“The Five Lights, Part One”

The X-Men have finally gotten out of Second Coming and can focus on their own direction for a bit. I think that should’ve happened months ago, but Marvel’s overarching plan for the X-books can be a little inscrutable at times.

Now that the big arc is out of the way, though, this book serves up a lot of old-school X-action. The ensemble-cast onslaught of the last year is nowhere to be found. Hope, Rogue, Cypher, and Dr. Nemesis make up one branch of the team, and Bobby, Warren, Scott, and Emma fill in all the cracks. Their goals are simple– investigate Hope’s family, and render assistance to newly emergent mutant Laurie. Back at the ranch, Emma has dinner with Tony Stark, and the X-Club finally make some time to attend to Kitty’s predicament. Nothing too hand-wringy, nothing too political; Scott doesn’t even have time to make an angsty speech about being the leader of all mutantkind.

Laurie deserves special mention here, as the first “light” on Cerebro’s display since M-Day. Fraction’s taken great pains to make her an appealing character– she’s geeky, she’s a little fixated on her studies, she’s having a standard finals-week breakdown. Sure, her origin is painful and upsetting, but a few minutes spent chatting with Hope and the others and she’s right as rain. I could use more mutants who aren’t totally consumed by their nasty beginnings.

The only downer here for me is that we’re losing Magneto for a while. Allan Heinberg and Olivier Coipel’s backup story, “Rebuilding,” shuffles him away from his campaign for Mutant Class President and into the Avengers’ “Children’s Crusade” miniseries. Heinberg delivers a great setup, but I love any Scott/ Erik tension I can get. I’ll miss the old man while he’s away.

Thor #612 (Gillen, Braithwaite, Rauch, Troy, Sabino)

Thor 612 cover

Tonight, he dines in... yeah, you know.

“The Fine Print, Part Two”

Mephisto has never been better than when Kieron Gillen’s writing him. He struts through every panel appearing to be fully in command of the situation between Asgard and Hell, then admits his weaknesses to the camera when no one else is looking. He’s got a soft spot for the man-eating Disir and an eye to tempting Thor, balanced only by a mortal terror of triggering all-out war between his hordes and the armies of the Aesir. Gillen makes Mephisto seethe with a brutal, sexual need for conquest, the hot-blooded converse of Loki’s cool-headed, disdainful ambiguity.

Doug Braithwaite offers up suitably epic pencils, and the rest of the art team responds in kind; this is an issue of Thor that looks and feels like a high-end RPG supplement about Mephisto and his realm. This is the book that will convince your Thor-dubious pals of his badass status. (Unless they’re fans of everything light-heartedly heroic, that is. In that case, you want Langridge and Samnee’s Thor: The Mighty Avenger, a book that is so fluffy I could die.)

Review: Madame Xanadu #19

Madame Xanadu 19 cover by Hadley and Friend.

Caution: Huffing Aqua Net may cause uncontrollable spells of nymphs and pixies.

“Broken House of Cards, Chapter Four: Squabbles and Spells”

Writer: Matt Wagner
Penciler: Joëlle Jones
Inker: David Hahn
Colorist: Lee Loughbridge
Letterer: Jared K. Fletcher
Cover: Amy Reeder Hadley and Richard Friend

Slim pickings this week on my end; I handed Fantastic Four off to Chad when we got home, which left me with New Avengers and this book. I don’t feel like I have enough backplot to tackle New Avengers, so that leaves me with Madame X. (I also have the omnibus Losers TPB, but I’ve got to get to bed sometime tonight.)

Over the last few years, Matt Wagner’s fallen into the role of secret chronicler of the DC Universe. He filled in Bruce Wayne’s early adventuring career with Batman and the Monster Men and Batman and the Mad Monk, both of which occur in the space of time before the introduction of the Joker and the further solidification of Batman’s rogues’ gallery. Wesley Dodds and Dian Belmont had their pre-JSA adventures enumerated in Sandman Mystery Theatre. If there’s a space of a year, or a few years, where Wagner can think of a good spate of adventures for someone, chances are he’ll run with it.

Madame Xanadu takes the chronicler concept a step further, giving Nimue free reign to aid and abet heroes across the entire span of DC history. Sure, there’s a romantic subplot with the Phantom Stranger every couple hundred years, but Nimue’s primary arc is about how she copes with being one of the last ageless survivors of the Arthurian tragedy.

Of course, the book wouldn’t work if all Nimue ever faced were borrowed adversaries and her own problems with the Stranger, and this issue digs into the Madame’s own history with her siblings. Morganna is Nimue’s archfoe, her shadow sister, and their rivalry sets the backdrop for the entire book. They’re an epic-level Goofus and Gallant; if Nimue had an orange, she’d share it with you, but Morganna would always steal the last apple. Where Nimue gravitates to the wise-woman/ shamaness role, Morganna tends to work woe in the more active tradition of Old English and Norse spae-craft, causing mayhem and capriciously striking people dead.

Plot-wise, this issue isn’t anything we didn’t see in the first arc of Madame Xanadu; it recaps Nimue and Morganna’s early adolescence in Avalon and their constant conflicts. However, it does so beautifully. Joëlle Jones (also known for her work on Dr. Horrible at Dark Horse) handles the art deftly, lending the story a Classical touch. Inker David Hahn (Murderland, Fables) never overwhelms the linework, keeping everything crisp and well-defined. The color palette from Lee Loughridge (who doesn’t seem to have a central website of his own, more’s the pity) is sylvan and restrained, a striking contrast to the bright colors of the ongoing 1950s plot from last issue. Jared Fletcher busts out the proper medieval feel for the lettering, which just makes the issue seem like an actual tattered codex from the DCU’s past. Really nice work all around by the art team, and, well, Wagner writing high fantasy is Wagner writing high fantasy– you either love it, like I do, or you find it a bit on the purple-prose side of things. For the first part of a recap two-parter, this book is pretty solid in design and concept.

Linguistic Adventures with Madame Xanadu!

Madame Xanadu summoning will-o-wisps.

"Look at her æsc, Becky. It's just so... ligated."

Madame Xanadu #19 comes out this week, which reminded me that I’ve long meant to get my linguistic freak on, haul out my grimoires, and provide some insight into my favorite fortunetelling wood nymph’s spellcasting technique.

Unlike, say, Zatanna or Bastard John, Madame X eschews modern English when she needs to throw down some sorcery. As one might expect of a mage who did most of her learning in the Arthurian era, she defaults to Old English— not the malt liquor, but the language of the Anglo-Saxons, common from the 5th to the 12th centuries.

Luckily for us, Old English is pretty exhaustively documented in resources like An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary by Joseph Bosworth and, later, T. Northcote Toller. Like some sort of Old English Tobin’s Spirit Guide, it’s often just called “Bosworth and Toller.” To compile the glossary below, I used Bosworth and Toller, supplementing it with Wiktionary‘s Old English resources and some references from Clark-Hall’s A Concise Anglo-Saxon dictionary.

If you were looking to follow along in Madame Xanadu, I’d suggest the online Bosworth and Toller; if you’d rather have a book beside you to reference while you read, use Clark-Hall, it’s only ten bucks and it covers most of the major vocabulary.

Anyway! The glossary of Madame Xanadu’s Anglo-Saxon spellcasting terms!

ábelpecian: Anyone? I’ve got nothing, not in Bosworth and Toller and not in Wiktionary, and not in Hall and Merrit.

áblindan: “To blind.”

áfeorsian: “To expel.”

ástencan: “To scatter.”

áswefecian: “To extirpate.”

atemian: “To subdue.”

áwærian ingemynd: “To avoid memory;” in this case, to escape being remembered by onlookers.

áworpennes ísenbend: “Rejection of iron bondage,” sort of an “Accio GTFO!”

cierran: “To turn,” I think. (cf. undercierran, “to subvert”)

clænsung: “A cleansing; a chastening.”

dæges: “daily.”

fisc hléapettan: “fish, leap up”

Madame Xanadu summons fish.

You'll think you're lookin' at Aquaman: Nimue summons fisc to the disc.

geanhweórfa: Actually geánhweorfan, “to turn again or return.”

geósceaftgást andswaru: “Dire spirit, answer.”

hæl abeódan: An evocation of health and well-being.

ingefeallan: “To declare or reveal.” Sometimes seen as ingefællan, which I think is a misspelling. I, personally, would not want to be the letterer on this book.

lædan néosan: “To seek out new roads.”

Madame Xanadu summons a questing orb.

For the rest of us, there's an app for that.

lígbryne geweald: “Burn with the power of flame.” (Actually spelled lígbyrne.)

lígetræsc: “Lightning,” or, in this case, will-o-the-wisps. (Actually líg-ræsc.)

niehst: “nearest”

níwia: No clue. Not in the dictionaries I’m using. Anyone?

slápian: An evocation of sleep. To make sleepy.

ymbsprecan neódfreón: “Speak earnestly and freely.” This is a super-compound phrase and you’ll have to look up the individual bits in Bosworth and Toller.

yppan: “bring forth”

(Mad props to Chris “Slarti” Pinard for providing images for this post.)