Page 45 Review by Stephen
"I've had some problems in the past.
"My life has been a minefield of missteps, mistakes and - I'll be the first to admit - even some mental instability.
"But I am more than the sum of those mistakes and I am better than that.
"And I resolve to put things right."
A surprisingly spandex-free, site-specific series, its international, geographical locations are stunningly well served by each of the artists with deliciously disparate styles.
It's an occult detective series during the course of which Wanda Maximoff follows a trail of broken or corrupted magic from New York to the Greek island of Santorini, thence to an Ireland whose fallow fields are as beleaguered by arable plague as they were during the mid-19th Century during the Potato Famine. As I said, the series is site-specific, its writer James Robinson focussing on each country's legend, lore and often all too awful history.
The first of the three volumes reprinted in this all-in-one collection finishes in the bucolic back roads of Spain where a vineyard, built on the site of an ancient nunnery whose inhabitants had taken a solemn vow of silence. Accused by their own religion of witchcraft during the Spanish Inquisition, their unfaltering devotion to God led not one of them to break their most sacred vow, even in their defence. They were burned or buried underground, chained to walls of their very own crypt. But now it's been broken into by labourers employed to extend the vineyard's cellar space and they all became possessed of a fearful madness. The very church which caused this human catastrophe was summoned to perform an exorcism, but an exorcism requires words and anyone who speaks inside the walls suffers the same fate.
Cue masterclass in silent storytelling by one Javier Pulido and some elegant forms and impressive spot-blacks worthy of Gilbert Hernandez.
It's not quite HELLBLAZER but please believe that - as written by Robinson - Wanda is not without her wits, tricking her way to against-all-odds success at least once. Robinson knows that nebulous spell-casting to win the day makes for zero dramatic tension. There has to be a certain degree of logic: there have to laws as well as lores to contend with and be obeyed, bent or broken.
And here is the thing: within Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo's equally accessible, DOCTOR STRANGE it has been established that - just like Newton's Laws of Physics - for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. For every spell cast there is a price to be paid.
For every spell that Wanda's now casting a price is being paid. For the moment it's only glanced in a distorted mirror like a peak into Dorian Gray's hidden attic, but her soul is aging rapidly. Plus, as long-term readers already know, sanity was never her strong point, either.
Coloured by Jordie Bellaire, Vanesa Del Rey's opening chapter in greys, greens and reds is as haunting as you could wish for. Even on the daytime streets of Manhattan it remains ethereal, Maximoff striding between two worlds, the mundane grey of one and the sorcerous scarlet of the other cleverly combined on the page in her garb. New York at night is a dream, lit up not by neon, but by the colour-coded impressions of its denizen's souls.
Fast-forward to Greece and Marco Rudy's painting presents you with both midnight hues punctuating once more by blood-red and with majestic daytime vistas of the island's white-washed walls of its hillside town gleaming and beaming in the full summer sun against the Mediterranean blue of its cool ocean waters. Marco's maze-like, circular and segmented panels are no random choice for we are in the modern lair of the Minotaur as Wanda strives to puzzle out its nocturnal activities then navigate her way to their core.
Steve Dillon's depiction is much more contemporary and chic, especially within the Irish airport, Maximoff striding down its functional thoroughfares in a long-coat/rain-coat affair buttoned at the belly. But it's abruptly broken when Chris Visions steps in with something a little more... ancestral.
Hahaha SPOILERS! We no longer do spoilers around here, nor have we for years.
We did once, which makes my NEW AVENGERS BY BENDIS COMPLETE COLLECTION VOL 1 review one of the worst I have ever written. Please do not read it if you're interested in picking up that book. But if you want the ultimate, all-encompassing background on Wanda Maximoff - if you're not satisfied with this as your entry point - that review will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about the troubled woman and her oh so chequered past with a passion I poured in perhaps too liberally! After that, please pick up HOUSE OF M for what happened to Wanda between NEW AVENGERS VOL 1 and this tale.
Of the second volume collected here I wrote:
Whither will she Wanda?
In the first instalment Wanda Maximoff journeyed from New York to Ireland and Greece etc partly to atone for her pasts misdemeanours* by helping those in magic-mired distress and partly in search of answers as to why Witchcraft is broken. Its artists were carefully chosen for those exotic locations and each brought something brilliant to the proceedings. Marco Rudy, for example, whose Greece-bound episode featured the Minotaur, deployed panel constructions like those of a maze. Neat!
Many are on top form again. Tula Lotay's Central Park of a Thursday, with its spectral, skeletal trees, is a beautiful thing to behold, emphasising the wide-open wonder of its wintery blue sky by being seen from waist-level. One panel prior to that she concludes Wanda's latest, intense therapy session with the avuncular Doctor Grand with a subtle deployment of slightly sickly and sweaty tangerine as his stare burrows deep into yours / Wanda's. This uncomfortable claustrophobia signalled a certain something which made me smile and makes the relief of that chilly outdoors all the more palpable.
Marguerite Sauvage also colours her own pages and, if you remember, I said that one of the key strengths of this series - one which set it apart - was that it was geo-specific. Her very first page (and those that follow) leaps out at you with its complete comprehension of that essential quality.
"Paris is a city of many ghosts... and all I need is one of them."
Paris - as the cliché goes - is also a city of romance. And I subscribe to that cliché. I've spent even more time lolling about its tree-lined avenues with a smile on my face and striding down its inviting vistas than I have meandering around Venice's serpentine canals with their sequestered secrets waiting to be discovered around the next corner. I find both exceptionally romantic.
It is a romance which James Robinson gives us, and Sauvage delivers on every front too. Her forms are feminine, sensual and vulnerable - including the beau's - as are her frames with their rounded corners and final-page flourish. But on the first page she sets the scene to perfection with its soft, white-lined, pink and purple clouds billowing up above the rooftops of a Paris shrouded in a thin, horizontal cocoon of mist broken chiefly by the Eiffel Tower on the horizon.
So whither will she wander?
I'm ever so sorry, but I'm afraid this has strayed off course.
Perhaps to appease long-term Marvel Comics readers, Robinson has seen fit (or been editorially instructed) to attempt to marry this new, strident direction which could appeal to any new readers to Wanda's constipated, contradictory past history which Brian Michael Bendis - against all odds - managed to make perfect sense of briefly, brilliantly, but only once.*
On top of which Marvel Central intrudes with a whole chapter's reference CIVIL WAR II which <yawns>
* See NEW AVENGERS BY BENDIS COMPLETE COLLECTION VOL 1. For the first thrid you really didn't have to and that was part of its joy. For the second two-thirds, I'm afraid you do.