On Endings: Air, Madame Xanadu, & Unknown Soldier

Air Vol. 4: A History of the Future

This series was a favorite of mine, and I was sorry to see it end after 24 issues. But a run that long has become common in recent years, and I believe Wilson has said she had enough warning to end the title properly. The focus here is on acrophobic stewardess Blythe’s pilot’s test. The title arc finds Blythe and her fellow hyperpracts Fletcher and Mrs. B (they are revealed as gifted just before the flight) seeking a lost piece of luggage owned by a couple named Verne. Of course the Verne is Jules, and the trunk contains a manuscript describing the history of 21st century flight…written in the 19th. After a short diversion where Blythe meets Antoine De St. Exupery (pilot and author of The Little Prince)–who says he has met her before, and she was the inspiration for his book–the group discards Verne’s manuscript, taking their future into their own hands. At this point there are signs of compression, because instead of a second test, Blythe is presented with her third and final test. It is a nonstop flight around the world, the same feat Amelia Earhart was attempting when her plane was lost. Of course things do not go as planned, as the group is intercepted by Lancaster and the Etesians, who Blythe tangled with earlier in the series. Blythe demonstrates her superior understanding of hyperpraxis by defeating Lancaster in single combat. She gets her wings, marries Zayn, and they start their marriage with a honeymoon in the Sahara in 1935 (fulfilling a promise she made to St. Exupery). Hard to believe it was the ending Wilson had planned, but it works, ending the first chapter of Blythe’s journey. I suspect that there was to be a second test at the very least. And the Verne manuscript had too much plot potential to throw away immediately.

Madame Xanadu Vol. 4: Extra-Sensory

This was easily my favorite recent Vertigo series. It inhabited the magical DCU space that had been largely given over to Vertigo titles like The Sandman, Hellblazer, and The Books of Magic. The storyline had been moving forward in time and had arrived in the 1960s for the stories in this volume. Five of the six issues collected formed the title arc, a series of standalone stories, each centered around one of the five senses, and each illustrated by a different female artist. This strikes me as an odd way to end a series, but the stories are strong and varied. Madame Xanadu herself makes only a brief appearance in them. Her role is pivotal, but she is effectively a guest star: another very odd way to end a series. The fifth story introduces Charlotte Blackwood, who Xanadu takes as her apprentice in the final issue. As Charlotte learns to control her mystical gifts, Madame ties up a loose end by visiting Betty Reynolds, a woman whose life changed for the worse as a result of their meeting earlier in the series. Then the Phantom Stranger reappears–he played a significant role earlier in the series, but had been absent for awhile–and discusses the imminent dawning of a new age of heroes. Xanadu pledges to be an advisor to anyone in need. And so her reentry into the DCU is set up. I have thought all along that this series could have been explicitly set in the DCU; there was little if any content that required the Vertigo “mature readers” warning. But the final transition felt abrupt, leading me to think that Wagner was forced to end the series earlier than intended. At least it was not ended due to poor sales. I hope that Madame Xanadu continues to be this well portrayed in her DCU appearances. I had little interest in the character when Wagner and Reeder began this series, but quickly became a fan.

Unknown Soldier Vol. 4: Beautiful World

The final collection of Joshua Dysart and Alberto Ponticelli’s African political thriller series opens with a remarkable single-issue story. “A Gun in Africa,” a history of the Kalashnikov assault rifle, was illustrated by guest artist Rick Veitch. It explains how the weapon came to be invented, and why it had such significance to African insurgents. The final panels foreshadow the series finale, without giving anything away. This issue is a prime example of the sort of story telling that can only be done in the context of an ongoing series. There’s not enough room in a limited series, and insufficient interest in standalone one-shots. The title arc quickly concludes the Unknown Soldier’s story. He is back in the hands of the shadowy government agency that programmed him. All of the missing pieces of his origin as a super soldier are supplied: the entire persona of Dr. Moses Lwanga, pacifist and philanthropist, is shown to be both a fabrication and a Trojan Horse. Moses tells his handlers that he is prepared to embrace his new role as undercover agent and assassin, and brings renegade agent Jack Howl in to assist. But in reality he plans to complete his war on insurgent leader Joseph Kony by infiltrating his camp and killing him. His wife Sera makes a final attempt to recall him to his old life with her, and Howl realizes that he loves his own life too much to participate in a suicide run. So Lwanga enters the camp alone, and meets his destiny. Despite a wonderful, hallucinogenic false happy ending, the Soldier’s end feels like the right one. The pacing also feels exactly right. However Dysart had hoped to end the series when it began, he brought it to a completely satisfying conclusion. The 25 issues stand as a satisfying thriller, as well as a primer on contemporary African politics (especially with Dysart’s notes at the end of each of the collections). Rarely is that balance struck so well.

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About marksullivan5

Librarian, Jazz musician, comic book fan
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