The key tenant in the superhero genre is the struggle of good versus evil. Many call these muscled marvels and sleek supeheroines the modern-day version of Greek Gods. But in an upcoming new series from Top Cow, they take their inspiration from a different set of gods – or should I say God.
In the upcoming series Magdelana, Top Cow is letting a long-time featured character of theirs take root. The series, a superheroic take on a rumored bloodline that traces itself back to Jesus Christ, is one part DaVinci Code and one part Wonder Woman.
In Top Cow lore, the women who have taken up the role of Magdalena for the Catholic Church were sprung out of a godly lineage, going back to Mary Magdalena, the reputed wife of Jesus Christ according to some. Mary Magdalene gave birth to a daughter, Sarah, and started the bloodline that continues to this day with the current Magdalena, Patience. The Magdalena through history have acted as warriors and protectors of the Catholic Church.
These daughters of Mary Magdalene hold the ability to peer into the human heart and give second chances for those who have performed ill deeds. In addition to these powers, the Catholic Church has entrusted her with the Spear of Destiny, the legendary spear which once pierced the side of Christ, and acts as a formidable holy weapon against evil spirits and the like.
But the current Magdalena, Patience, has rebelled against the portentous ways of her controllers of the modern-day Catholic Church, and for the first time Patience is on her own. The story of Magdalena has been chronicled for years at Top Cow with various one-shots, crossovers, miniseries and guest appearances, and now for the first time ever the Magdalena has her own ongoing series.
Top Cow’s main architect, Ron Marz, is joined by Top Cow studio artist Nelson Blake II to plot the future of the publisher’s holy heroine and the series which is scheduled to debut on April 28th.
Newsarama: Ron, we can tell you’ve been anxious to work with this character, especially after seeing how you portrayed her when she popped up in Witchblade and First Born. Is this something you’ve been aiming towards for awhile?Ron Marz: Magdalena was what I actually asked to do after I'd finished up my first job for Top Cow, which was a Darkness arc. They asked what I wanted to do, I said Magdalena, and the answer was, "Sound great. How 'bout you do Witchblade instead?" So Magdalena has been on the back burner for me for a while, which is good. It makes a lot more sense to take the time to get the right team at the right time, rather than rush out a book that's less than we want it to be.
Nrama: You’ve been quoted as saying that you think Magdalena was the best character in the Top Cow stable – that’s big words, Mr. Marz. Can you tell us why?
Marz: It's a simple concept: a descendent of Jesus and Mary Magdalene serves as the Catholic Church's monster hunter. It gives the character a logical reason to do what she does. There's something to consistently propel the story forward, because this is essentially her job. There's always another assignment waiting for her. There's also a history built into the concept, which is something that appeals to me. She has the Spear of Destiny. And the Magdalena costume design, with the black-and-red color scheme, is a classic look. What's not to love?
Nrama: So what can you tell us about the new series then, Ron?
Marz: This isn't a reboot, we're picking up with what's current for the character. But it's definitely a ground-floor read. As much as I admire the concept and design of Magdalena, the previous mini-series were a bit scattershot in terms of the stories. We're not putting the lie to anything that goes before, but we're starting fresh. The current Magdalena, Patience, has broken away from the Church because she refuses to be a pawn, a disposable cog. Obviously the Church isn't happy that she's gone rogue. That's where we pick up, with Patience as a freelance operative. But the Church uncovers a threat that's large enough -- apocalyptic enough -- that Patience is really the only person to deal with it. So she's put in the position of having to choose between turning her back on the Church, or working with it for the greater good. This first arc is six issues. We wanted to start with a story that was big enough for the kind of action we want to do, and have plenty of room for the characters beats.
Nrama: Nelson, have you had any conversations with Ron or the editors to get on the same page in terms of how you’ll be depicting Magdalena and the world the book is in?
Nelson Blake II: I talk to Obi-Ron all the time. When you have a writer with that much experience and storytelling acumen, you have to talk his ear off at every opportunity. Ron and I have extensive conversations about character roles, and how we portray good and evil in the series. The archplot of Magdalena is a story of good versus evil. That's a driving force in the story, because when she picks up that spear, she is taking up the mantle of a true hero. Individual characters and situations may have moral complexities, but this is a big story, with strong, polar archetypes. Filip Sablik has an excellent sense of this, and I don't hesitate to interrupt his morning coffee to utilize his gifts in this area. Phil Smith does all of our production and went to school for illustration, so his eye is as sharp as they come.
Nrama: We’ve seen several incarnations of Magdalena, and this new series shows the last – Patience --- continuing on. What can you tell us about her?
Marz: Her life prior to becoming the Magdalena was cloistered, so Patience is still getting used to the wider world. The Church wanted her to be an obedient servant, but she bristled at the control the Church tried to exert over her. She's on her own now, but finding she's not terribly well equipped to deal with the world. She used to facing down supernatural threats, but the flip side of that is she can also be incredibly naive. That's the difference between Patience and someone like Sara Pezzini in Witchblade, who is more cynical and world-weary. There's still innocence to Patience.
Nrama: Patience is the fourth Magdalena we’ve seen in a lineage that goes back to the birth of Christ. Will you be exploring that at all in the series?
Marz: I'm a big history buff, so I'd like to reach back and do some stories about previous Magdalenas, but that's something for down the road. For now, I want to concentrate on Patience and spend the time making her into someone the audience cares about.Nrama: This character draws heavily on the faith and trappings of the Catholic Church. If I may be so blunt, guys, are either of you Catholic?
Marz: No, I'm not. I'm not terribly religious, but when I went to church as a kid, it was Protestant. That's kind of like Catholicism without all the bells and whistles and design sense. Maybe that's why I find all the pomp and circumstance of the Catholic Church so fascinating. Whenever I've attended a Catholic service, I've been struck by performance aspect of it, how elaborate it all is. But even beyond that, the history of the Vatican is particularly fascinating. The intrigues, the power struggles. In some ways I think you can find both the best and worst of mankind in the Vatican's history.
Blake: I think "Christian faith" aspect of the story is more symbolic than anything else. The TC world has its own mythology, and Magdalena is not a gospel, derivative of a gospel, nor is it a vehicle made to edulcorate Catholic mythology. Sure, we have crosses all over the place, but the very origin of the character splits from Church doctrine. I haven't checked recently, but I don't think Catholics have signed off on Jesus having coitus with Mary Magdalene, and conceiving a child with her. From a story standpoint, Patience's values and priorities don't always fall in line with the Church. This history and actions of the Church are not those of her great (great, great etc..) grandfather's, and this causes a dissonance with her and the Vatican. Patience doesn't fully understand her legacy yet, but I think that's one of the most interesting parts of the story. She has to ask herself if great grandpa would agree with the Inquisition, with witch burnings, with the Crusades, with the conquistadors. In this story, just like in real life, the Church is an organization of man, by man, and wearing a cross doesn't automatically get you a good guy pass. There are truly good men in our Vatican, as well as flawed ones, so the Church is a setting in the story, but not a guiding religious principle. For myself, I'm an agnostic. I don't think you need to be a Christian to work on or enjoy Magdalena any more than you need to be a pagan to read or write a story with Hercules.
Nrama: With that in mind, was the ceremonious and biblical nature of Magdalena one of the things that drew you to the character – and ultimately writing this series?
Marz: It's definitely a factor, because that's something you're not going to get in most other books. Most of the books on the stands -- superhero books -- never deal with religion, or even just faith. Unless you're talking about Norse gods, I guess. But when it's done, and done well, like Daredevil's faith in Miller's Daredevil: Born Again, it really stands out.
Blake: One of my favorite things about Catholicism is the excellent imagery. Some of the most terrifying, awesome, beautiful and inspiring images and designs have come from Catholicism. It'll be a welcome challenge to bottle some of that up to enhance the book whenever I can.
Nrama: The religious overtones of Magdalena definitely add a new dimension to an adventure story. Where do you see that taking you with this series?
Marz: Well, hopefully nobody thinks this is going to be a theology text. The book is still about a kick-ass chick in a cool costume fighting monsters. But we'll definitely touch on matters of faith, and the role of organized religion in the world.
Nrama: In recent years you’ve become the key writer for the Top Cow universe of titles. Will Magadalena tie into the larger scope of the Top Cow universe with the Darkness and Witchblade?
Marz: Magdalena definitely takes place in the same universe as the The Darkness and Witchblade, and even Cyberforce. But I think it's important to let the book stand on its own, and establish its identity, before doing much in terms of guest stars. That said, Magdalena will play a fairly prominent role in this summer’s Artifacts series, which I'm also writing. That's going to be a large-scale Top Cow Universe crossover.
Nrama: Previous to this you did a short story about Magdalena in First Born: Aftermath which showed Patience coming to grips with her decision to leave the Catholic Church. That was a good transition point -- and great art by Ryan Sook no less. Any chance to see that story reprinted to get people in the zone for this?
Marz: That's one of my favorite stories from my career, thanks to Ryan's insanely great art on it. I want to get that story in front of as many people as possible, since it really sets the tone for the series. Hopefully we can get it online or find some other way to release it widely.Newsarama Note:Look for the complete Marz/Sook Magdalena story right here on Newsarama tomorrow, Thursday Mar 4, 2010. The story can also be found in the First Born: Broken Trinity Deluxe HC, available in stores now!
Nrama: Speaking of Ryan, he’s going to be the cover artist as this series starts. WOW! Why do you think Sook seems so perfect for this character?Marz: Well, there's not much Ryan isn't perfect for. I feel very lucky to have him involved. The way he uses light and shadow is amazing. That chiaroscuro sensibility had its origins in the Renaissance, which obviously means mainly religious paintings, so there's an artistic through line to it. There's no other artist I'd rather have doing covers for the series.
Nrama: The Magdalena has been passed down from a series of great artists, starting with Joe Benitez. Nelson, what do you think of the original character design – and what are you doing to make it your own in this new book?Blake: Overall, I like the original design a lot. The costume evolved many times before I got here, and the version I take the most from is Ryan Sook's. Not only does Sook make everything look good, but his version fits the archetype of how I see the Magdalena. The hood is always going to be there, but the full body leather armor and judicious application of ornamental elements make the outfit more iconic than previous iterations. The job with Ryan's version wasn't to change the exterior of the uniform, but to work more inside out, deconstructing rather than constructing. I thought a lot about how she puts it on and takes it off, as well as the function of the existing parts. I built the costume in layers, from cloth "underclothes" all the way up to shell armor and cloak. Hopefully the story will provide opportunities to show this in specifics.
Nrama: And for the interiors, you’re working with Nelson here. Is this your first collaboration with him? What made him the go-to guy for this book?
Marz: Nelson is a New York guy, I actually introduced him to Top Cow at the New York Comic Con a couple years ago. That turned into an invitation for him to join the studio in L.A., which he accepted. Once he got settled in, Nelson and I ended up working together on the Witchblade tie-in issue to the Broken Trinity event, so that really served as our warmup. There was a pretty extensive search to get the right artist on Magdalena, a lot of different options were considered. But as Nelson's Murderer pages for Pilot Season were coming in, it became pretty obvious that the right artist was sitting in the studio the whole time. And once Nelson got the gig, he completely threw himself into it, researching how to fight with a spear, how a cloak moves in an action sequence. Stylistically, Nelson also has a great feel for the play of shadows and light, which was an absolute necessity for this series. Top Cow has a pretty amazing tradition of introducing top-notch artists. Nelson is the next one.
Nrama: Top Cow announced last year that work was already underway on a movie adaptation of this. Is your comic series tying in with that at all?
Marz: No, same concept obviously, but they're separate entities. That said, I'm aware of the movie plot, and it's one of those ideas that makes you go, "Shit, why didn't I think of that?"
Nrama: Although she’s been around for going on twelve years now, this is her first ongoing series. As a veteran writer who’s launched characters, revived characters, and taken on big franchises – what are your goals to re-introduce the character to the comics readers?
Marz: Really, my goal is the same in any of those scenarios. I want to make the characters into people the audience cares about, and build a believable world around those characters. If the audience is not invested in the characters, and doesn't believe the world they inhabit, there's no reason to come back every month. So whether I'm creating something from whole cloth, or dealing with an established property, that's the job at hand. With Magdalena, all the pieces are in place to make that happen.
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