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Madame Xanadu, DC Comics’ Powerful Sorceress

In 1977-78, a new strategy was implemented by DC Comics, it was called the “DC Explosion.” The idea was to give readers more stories for their money and, as a result, happy customers were to buy more and put an end to the unsatisfying sales that started to worry everybody. Multiple new books were then launched. One was Doorway to Nightmare, a horror anthology series with an intriguing new character named Madame Xanadu.

The Creation of Madame Xanadu

Design by artist Michael William Kaluta who based her appearance on real-life model Cathy Ann Thiele, Madame Xanadu was herself a mystery. Co-created by David Michelinie, she was introduced as a mystical fortune teller who did tarot readings to the clients who entered her shop in Greenwich Village (originally in the East Village).

The stories in Doorway to Nightmare were about those clients with Madame Xanadu playing a secondary role. This was for only 5 issues as Warner Communications declared the end of the DC Explosion just after it was launched—barely three weeks after. It was the infamous “DC Implosion” and Madame Xanadu had to move her shop in the pages of the anthology The Unexpected (for only 4 issues). That said, she eventually got a one-shot title simply titled “Madame Xanadu” in 1981.

It could have been the end of Madame Xanadu. The character’s backstory was mostly nonexistent, and she had little chance to make her mark on the readers. Nevertheless, she came back, still as a secondary character. This time, in the pages of The Spectre—both in volume 2 of the series by Doug Moench and volume 3 by John Ostrander. It finished establishing the mystic as a part of the magic community of the DC Universe.

Who Is Madame Xanadu?

The mystery of Madame Xanadu’s origins was finally explored in detail in the pages of her Vertigo series. Published between 2008 and 2008, the Madam Xanadu series by writer Matt Wagner and artist Amy Reeder Hadley took us back to Arthurian times. It is then established that the character’s real name is Nimue Inwudu, the youngest sister of Morgaine Le Fay and Vivienne, the Lady of the Lake.

Nimue was a powerful magician, with mastery of the magical arts that rivaled even that of the legendary Merlin. Nimue and Merlin were once in love, but their romance ended when Nimue learned of Merlin’s cunning tactics. She thought he had manipulated Camelot and altered history with his wizardry for personal benefit. Nimue, overcome with rage and a feeling of betrayal, enchanted her ex-boyfriend into a jail she had created for him.

Nevertheless, Nimue’s abilities were taken away from her by Merlin through deceit and a hint of black magic, leaving her dependent on potions to maintain her immortality. The sorceress, who was once a formidable presence, now discovered that her strength and energy were fading away. It was in this vulnerable moment that she was approached by the enigmatic Phantom Stranger. The two had a complicated and conflicted connection that they experienced when they were in different centuries.

Bearing the burden of history, Nimue traveled the globe and served as a counselor to many kings and prominent individuals. She took up the name “Madame Xanadu” while she was a guest in Kublai Khan’s court at Xanadu.” She encountered a potent relic in this ethereal court that, much to her amazement, caused the resurgence of some of her long-lost magical talents.

She also ran across the Phantom Stranger again in Xanadu, but things did not go as planned when they reunited. Nimue was both astounded and alarmed to find that the Stranger stepped outside of the timestream. Madame Xanadu counseled and influenced the historical luminaries throughout the entirety of her unending life. She made an effort to mentor Marie Antoinette in the tumultuous French Revolution. During this time, she defeated Death in a high-stakes card game, regaining her immortality.

Madame Xanadu had a passionate affair with the famous magician John Zatara during the 1940s. Although he wanted to wed her, Nimue’s vision showed that Zatara’s real love and the arrival of his daughter, Zatanna, were predetermined. She was aware that she would never be able to match this fated love. She did, however, exploit her relationship with Zatara to catch and cage the Phantom Stranger, keeping him from seeing and having an impact on the Spectre’s otherworldly origins. This finally stopped her from stepping in, even though she knew how dangerous an uncontrolled Spectre could be for Earth.

Her actions tormented her, and she opened a magic shop to contain the otherworldly creature she had unintentionally let loose. She felt that it was her duty to control and calm the Spectre’s fury.

Madame Xanadu’s need to make up for her previous transgressions intensified over the ages. In Greenwich Village, she started a fortune-telling business and encountered people who were experiencing paranormal issues. She could have advised them, but some unseen power kept her from going straight to the source of their problems. But if her customers prevailed against the evil spirits they encountered, she might seal those spirits up in jars in her fortune-telling parlor to keep them from hurting anybody else.

Madame Xanadu played her part in Crisis events as well as in minor skirmishes, but she mostly stayed an advisor, rarely taking on a starring role. Being a mysterious character by nature, it’s hard to establish what is still canon about her story now, after much relaunches of the DC Comics lines. But she’s still here, seeing visions of the future.

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