Quarterbin Follies #30: Madame Xanadu for You!November 14, 2015
Hello, Internet, and welcome back. This week, I am going to jump from a title that sounds spooky and was not (two weeks on The Spirit); and on to a book that is actually pretty spooky. If I’d had it all together, I’d have this for Hallowe’en. C’est la vie.
Well, this week’s book begins at the end. That is to say, Madame Xanadu #1 is the first of nothing, but rather, it is the last installment of the ’70’s DC Comics ‘mystery’ strip Doorway to Nightmare. The strip was originally home in a book of the same name, but the title was canned in the infamous DC Implosion, and Xanadu was sent to a new home in The Unexpected. “Doorway to Nightmare” lasted until 1980, and in 1981 DC published Madame Xanadu #1 as their second ever direct market/comic shop exclusive. But that was the end of the “Door Into Nightmare.” Xanadu herself would return in a great many places, but I digress.
Madame Xanadu tales of the time fit a given pattern, and “A Dance for Two Demons” is no exception, here written by Steve Englehart and pencilled by Marshall Rogers. In the Madame’s dark and creepy parlor, on a dark and creepy night, a lost soul has found his way there, looking for some kind of redemption or rescue. It is a down and out druggie named Joe. Hearing a rumor that Xanadu is a witchy-woman, Joe has come looking for a magic potion to help him kick the habit. Madame X tells him there is nothing she can do, that the magic he needs is the power of harnessing his free will through discipline. She sends the lost fellow down the way to a rehab center, instructing him to tell the folks Xanadu sent him.
A few hours later, Madame Xanadu is again visited, this time by a red-headed hayseed– a young gal named Laura with a story to tell. I turns out that back home in the mid-West while visiting her aged aunt, the older woman confided that in her youth she had dabbled in witchcraft–even gotten a hold of an ancient spell-book! Laura had been horrified, but also intrigued, and she admits to sneaking away the leather bound tome to check out in secret. Not long after, Auntie’s house caught fire, and the old gal died. This freaked out Laura, who booked to NYC to meet up with her late aunt’s old friend, the seeming ageless Madame Xanadu. Laura claims she doesn’t really believe in magic, but permits Madame X to do a tarot reading.
Madame Xanadu determines that Laura is on a dangerous path, and will meddle with dark powers she is no match for. This Laura mocks, because, remember, she doesn’t really believe in magic; but when Xanadu asks for the spell-book, Laura spooks and gets up to leave.
On her way out, Laura runs into a returning Joseph. He has bailed from rehab after a few hours because it was just too hard. He is certain magic is the answer, and is more than dissatisfied with Madame Xanadu’s rebuffing. It is just then that Joe and Laura take notice of each other. A deep and enduring notice of each other.
What emerges in the story really are two views of magic. Xanadu represents a passive view, using magic to gain knowledge and for defense only. Laura, who becomes enthralled by the spell-book and the power it offers, uses magic in an active way, willing to use even love and sex to control others and gather puissance to herself. Only when it is almost too late does she realize she has been used by forces greater and darker than she had comprehended.
The book closes out with a sci-fi back-up by J.M. DeMatteis and Brian Boland called “Falling Down to Heaven…” It is a sad and somber tale of war, survival, injustice, loss and forgiveness as an alien and his ailing wife find themselves facing the prospect of dealing with an injured human who has fallen from the sky.
All told, this was a fun, if spooky, read. Perfectly in tune with the DC‘s 1970’s mystery fair. It seems odd to me that this was the first and last issue. I imagine that it’s status as the second direct market DC book (including a full-color center-fold poster of Madame Xanadu by character creator Michael Kaluta) probably means it was published as an experiment that didn’t go so well. But I suppose that is he way things go. For my sake, I’m glad I ran across it and could bring it here, to the “Quarterbin.”