Gothic and comic culture deserve to be celebrated side by side because of how similar they are. Both communities are welcoming and encourage people to be creative. Supernatural Superheroes is a series that’s dedicated to telling the story of a gothic comic character. Madame Xanadu is a superhero with a strong connection to the paranormal. With her origins in Arthurian legend, the character has spent centuries protecting humanity. Read on to discover how Madame Xanadu can be linked to Manchester’s past and its future.
A sorceress of great power
Before she was Madame Xanadu, Nimue Inwudu practiced magic alongside her sisters Morgaine Le Fay and Vivienne, The Lady of the Lake. The character was identified as the same Nimue who blamed Merlin for manipulating Camelot and cast an imprisoning spell on him. Merlin retaliated by stripping her of her magic, forcing Nimue to use potions to maintain her immortality. After the fall of Camelot, she wandered through the world, acting as an advisor to great rulers.
Nimue earned the name Madame Xanadu by spending time in Kublai Khan’s court at Xanadu. During the French Revolution, Xanadu regained her immortality by defeating Death in a card game. Her gift for tarot reading became one of her defining traits and she was able to foresee the future of others. At a certain point, Xanadu opened up a fortune-telling parlour and gained a reputation for helping people who were plagued by the supernatural.
Xanadu’s alignment changed with the times, as she wasn’t above gaining power for herself. Throughout history, she shared an antagonistic relationship with two other entities called the Phantom Stranger and Spectre. The latter was responsible for blinding her, though it didn’t stop Xanadu from being able to read her cards.
In the modern day, Xanadu became a member of Justice League Dark, fighting alongside other superheroes like Constantine and Zatanna. She acted as a pillar of the magical community, providing advice and counsel.
Madame Xanadu’s connection to Arthurian legend made me think about the connection that Manchester has to the lore. This is due to the story of the evil knight Tarquin. After Sir Lancelot killed his brother, Carados, Tarquin kidnapped the Knights of the Round Table and held them captive in his Manchester castle. This was speculated by Dr Michala Hulme (professional genealogist and social historian at Manchester Metropolitan University, based at the Manchester Centre for Public History and Heritage) who researched the story for her book, Bloody British History: Manchester.
According to Hulme: “the prisoners were held at Tarquin’s castle in Manchester. Tarquin was the worse of all the evil knights. He was described as a giant, whose appetite for cruelty was only matched by his towering stature. Historians have claimed that the story of Tarquin, the cruel giant in the castle, is a depiction of the Angles who took over the occupation of the town after the Romans departed. The Angles were not seen as ‘fair’ leaders. They allegedly dished out cruel treatment to the town’s Romano-British residents.”
Tarot reading also has a presence in Manchester. The practice has a long history and can bring comfort to the people who are interested in seeing their future. There are a number of tarot readers and clairvoyants throughout the city. For example, you can have your fortune read at Afflecks in the Northern Quarter.
As a fortune teller and psychic, Madame Xanadu is a character that represents our desire to know the course of our lives. Knowledge is power and Xanadu is one of the most knowledgeable comic characters around.
(This article first appeared on Manchester’s HAUNT blog. Be sure to follow the website for future instalments of Supernatural Superheroes and to look into Manchester’s gothic history.)
2 thoughts on “Supernatural Superheroes: Madame Xanadu”
The series written by Matt Wagner was incredibly well done. Amy Reeder did beautiful, detailed artwork for it. I also enjoyed the issues drawn by Michael Kaluta, who designed the character back in the early 1970s.