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Madame Xanadu

This bio narrowly focuses on developments in the five part “Exodus Noir” story in Madame Xanadu #11 – 15. The year is 1940 and Madame Xanadu has settled into her Greenwich Village abode strongly associated with the character’s ambience. Socialite Catherine Shepherd is distraught over the inability of police and private investigators to solve her father’s grisly death which has been attributed as a rare example of spontaneous human combustion. After hearing many rumors and vague account, she turns to Madame Xanadu for help. Xanadu empathizes with the woman’s anguish and agrees to help, starting with a visit to the man’s deluxe apartment suite where a faint odor recalls bittersweet and horrific memories of her experiences of life in Spain just after the start of the Inquisition.

Ferdinand and Isabella, the Spanish crown who financed Columbus’ journey to the New World, have conquered the final territories of Moors and reunited the land under Christendom. With Muslims expelled, the Vatican has decreed that all Jews remaining in Spain must convert to Christianity, leave Spain and forfeit their belongings and wealth, or stay and face the Inquisition’s wrath. The Inquisition, along with the lesser known Portuguese one, was also designed to cleanse the nation of sodomites and tribads (gay men and women) on threat of death by public immolation.

When we first see Xanadu in Spain it is with a redhaired woman named Marisol as they’re witnessing an auto de fé, the part of public procession of the condemned among the townspeople, partially intended to instil fear. Xanadu reacts with horror while Marisol has little reaction to it. They part to do errands, their hands lingering a moment longer. After Marisol has an unsettling encounter with Torquemada himself, she rushes back home where the two women kiss. Unknown by the pair, two boys witness the embrace while spying on them, ensuring they come under the Inquisition’s wary eye. On several occasions Marisol also refers to Xanadu as “novia”, Spanish for girlfriend.

Art by Michael Kaluta
Art by Michael Kaluta

Xanadu acts as midwife to a neighbor woman in delivery, giving her some potion and untwisting the baby’s umbilical cord to ensure a healthy, live child. Her feat comes to the attention of a priest who’s also been called to pray over the woman, and he relates the incident in terms of witchcraft to Torquemada, naming Marisol as a witness.

Later When Marisol drops off finished work at the rectory a priest insists on taking her to Torquemada. The priest inquires about the dark haired woman “who seems familiar with the arts normally reserved for doctors”, doctors traditionally being men while midwives were becoming largely suspect of witchcraft. Marisol can only agree when he insists she be taken to receive the host and confess her sins or attract undue attention to them both and risk the nature of their relationship being discovered.

Xanadu returns with a basket of fish only to find Marisol distressed when she politely explains she can’t partake in the sacrement because she isn’t Catholic. Xanadu’s comment that “[their] love is as natural as a bird in flight, as the rains in the fields…” doesn’t calm her. She cavalierly dismisses Marisol’s concern over arousing Inquisition suspicion toward them and leaves her lover to forage rare ingredients to make tinctures, perhaps even the one which keeps her youthful. Alone, Marisol is accosted and taken into custody. A zealous Torguemada confronts Marisol, beaten and bloodied, demanding to know where her “sister in sin” is. She accuses Torquemada of secretly being Jewish, enraging the man, and in turn she is locked away in a dank prison to wait to be put to “The Question”, surely a euphemism for torture.

In the final chapter, Xanadu returns from her foraging. Seeing something is amiss and Marisol nowhere to be seen, she approaches another neighbor who tells her to stay away, calling her a “whore of Satan” and informing her that her “ruddy bed bitch” is getting “what she deserves!” A hasty consultation of her forsworn Tarot deck confirms danger and a horrific scene awaits Xanadu upon entering the town. Marisol is standing atop a pyre, held captive by black hooded executioners while a crowd of townspeople stand silently as witnesses. As she’s bound to the stake Marisol sees her lover and shouts out “Novia! Yo te amo, novia…” Xanadu is unable to save Marisol’s life; one executioner snaps her neck, calling it a gesture of pity. Xanadu recoils in shock, confessing her love which catches the attention of a priest standing nearby and calls out for guards to seize her. Thankfully Xanadu has enough wits about her to blind the priest with some enchantment so that she can escape in the confusion. Wagner ends the story of Marisol and Xanadu here by simply writing she flees Spain never to look back.

While Wagner tells a fictional story, the Inquisitions that he places the lovers in were a historical series of events in which contemporary gays and lesbians (or sodomites and tribads) were persecuted, tortured, publicaly humiliated, and murdered at the behest of the Catholic Church, whose hands were considered bloodless for having put the Spanish Crown in charge of meting punishments.

As revealed in the beginning of Matt Wagner’s initial story arc Xanadu is first known long ago as Nimue Inwudum, a name she stopped going by after being deceived by Merlin. Readers have seen Xanadu in a romantic relationship with magician John Zatara, father of Zatanna, who very much wanted to marry her. His proposal was turned down because Xanadu had seen the future love of Zatara’s life in a vision.

After her short lived series ended, Xanadu became a supporting character during part of the second volume of The Spectre. It remains to be seen if or how Wagner will acknowledge or incorporate any elements of her appearances there in his stories or the more recent events that occurred in Days of Vengeance in which an out of control Spectre blinded Xanadu struck out against magic and its users.

Xanadu’s first appearance was in Doorway To Nightmare #1, her first short lived comic. Matt Wagner reveals Xanadu having loved Marison in Madame Xanadu #11. Read Madame Xanadu’s Wikipedia entry for more information.

The “Exodus Noir” trade is available for pre-order at Amazon.

Please read Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition.

Created by David Michelinie and Val Mayerik. Art by Michael Kaluta and Dave Stewart.

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