Posted on January 11, 2011 by alanajoli
Available at Amazon.com
In a comics universe like the one in Top Cow’s Witchblade continuum, characters occasionally crop up who end up needing their own series. Those cross-series first appearances of the Magdalena, the church’s servant for wiping out evil using strength of arms and the ultimate guilt trip: the ability to make a person see all of the evil he’s ever done, are collected in Magdalena: Origins.
Near the beginning of the Darkness series, Jackie Estacado is dealing with plenty of issues (including, apparently, not being able to perform in bed), and he doesn’t really have time to deal with another hero-of-the-week trying to take him down. But, of course, that’s his lot in life now that he’s the incarnation of the Darkness. A Magdalena is dispatched by the church to challenge him and, ideally, destroy him. Sister Mariella, the current heir of the bloodline of Mary Magdalene and Jesus Christ, has every intention of using the Spear of Destiny to take out Jackie’s heart.
Unfortunately, though, it’s Jackie’s series. And thus, the hero of the week doesn’t stand a chance. But that appearance of Sister Mariella, ill fated as it is for her, sparked something in the Top Cow universe, and soon the line of Magdalenas had their own comic. In the first three issues that spun off the Magdalena story, we see a story of a different Magdalena, hunting an apparent outbreak of vampires. But like Sister Mariella, Sister Rosalia has an ill fate in store. This time, it is not the vampires who kill her, but people who are supposed to be her allies. It seems that the Magdalena is forever being betrayed by the church: she is murdered outright for not toeing the line, or she is sent against odds too great for her to defeat. It’s a theme that’s continued into the new story arc of Magdalena (for which I’ve reviewed issue 1 and issue 3 [note to Matt: you’ll have it tomorrow]). The line of Mary Magdelene just can’t trust the church of men to do right by God.
Cardinal Innocente is one of the main perpetrators of these sins. In Sister Mariella’s story, he knowingly sets her up against a too-difficult foe, and traps one of his students in a net of lies so that the student — not the cardinal — will take the fall. In Sister Rosalia’s story, he hides documentation that would tell the true history of the Magdalena, but would destroy the church. Interestingly, the mythology of the Magdalena changes in the two stories (and changes again in the new arc). Sometimes the Magdalena is just the heir of the beloved apostle Mary Magdalene, who has a child by a man other than Jesus Christ, and only passes down the gift of becoming the Magdalena to her first-born daughter. The line is, thus, unbroken. In the true history hidden by Innocente in Sister Rosalia’s story, Jesus was never the Christ, but his body was spirited away by his wife, Mary, who was one of the heirs of the line of David as well — making them a royal couple by lineage. It is the church that changes Mary Magdalene into a woman of ill repute, rather than a royal bride and beloved wife, just as it is the church that proclaims Jesus to be the son of God rather than just a man of the line of David. In the new arc, the Magdalena’s line is wider — it’s not a direct descent, in part because Sister Mariella was too young to have had children before her untimely death.
It’s too bad that the new Magdalena (Patience) didn’t have back story between her first appearance in the current Magdalena #1 and the stories covered here in Magdalena Origins. It’s clear that Patience has a past with the church — and that’s why she’s distanced from it. But that story — and the tale of how she came into the Magdalena powers after Mariella’s death — doesn’t come into play in Magdalena Origins. Instead, we get a great peek at the way the concept of the Magdalena was introduced into the Top Cow universe, compiled together so readers don’t have to go hunting for back issues of Darkness to figure it out. We also see the duplicitous history of the church’s misuse of the Magdalena’s power, and the treachery so closely associated with the role. The storytelling is appropriately dark and tragic for the subject matter, and though the life span of the Magdalena has the appearance of being shorter than a Slayer before Buffy came around in Joss Whedon’s Buffyverse, at least the deaths we see have meaning for the Magdalenas who perish. Sadly, they seem to die for little real cause, other than their own belief that they are following God’s will.
The art does some really great, interesting things, and there are some excellent spreads. Reading it in PDF is challenging, because some of the spreads are rotated so that the splash page is supposed to be viewed lengthwise instead of vertically. The publishers clearly didn’t have the e-book platform in mind when it was initially run as a comic! But despite that difficulty, and some gratuitous booty shots that seem incongruous with the pious nature of the character, the art suits the story. The flashback scenes from the 1940s are particularly good. Overall, the collection is nice for seeing the evolution of the character and the concept, but since the mythology changes, and there’s no clue in to Patience’s back story, it’s not a necessary read for fans of the current arc.
Review by Alana Abbott