Who Is DC Comics’ Madame Xanadu?

Recently, Warner Bros. and HBO Max announced they were developing yet another series in their “ Justice League Dark” shows, focusing on DC’s supernatural heroes. That latest, according to Variety, centers on the mystical Madame Xanadu; the show’s title could be  Madame X. However, regardless of those names, this show is not about Madonna’s last album or the 1980 camp musical Xanadu. Angela Robinson is developing the series, along with J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot.

Madame Xanadu’s DC Comics Debut
Illustration of Madame Xanadu from DC Comics' Who's Who compendium.

DC Comics 

The character of Madame Xanadu has a long history at DC Comics, going back to 1978. And there is plenty of fertile material for a live-action portrayal of this relatively obscure character. Originally portrayed in supernatural titles as a kind of cliché Romani fortune teller, Madame Xanadu grew into a character that denizens of the DC Universe go to for sage mystical advice. Always drawn with long black hair and wearing mystical amulets and jewelry, this mysterious character owned an occult shop in Greenwich Village in New York. Designed by artist Mike Kaluta, she first appeared in 1978’s Doorway to Nightmare #1.

A DC Comics house ad showcasing Mike Kaluta artwork of Madame Xanadu.

DC Comics

Her initial stories found ordinary folks coming to her for help when faced with magical problems. After a Tarot reading and some peering into a crystal ball, she instructed her patrons on how to defend themselves. Almost always, Madame Xanadu would get involved in their conflict, which inadvertently made her a superhero. Only one who wore a shawl instead of capes. Often, her clients would return to Madame Xanadu with the mystical artifact that caused them all their problems, now a part of Xanadu’s collection.

Xanadu’s Origins Revealed (After 30 Years)
The modern incarnation of DC Comics' Madame Xandu.

DC Comics

Madame Xanadu only briefly had a series of her own. She headlined Doorway to Nightmare for a short five-issue run. After its cancellation, Xanadu would appear in her own backup strip in The Unexpected, as well as one issue of her own series. She became a supporting character in DC’s other supernatural titles in the ’80s, like The Spectre. But her origins remained shrouded in mystery. However, DC finally revealed her complicated backstory in the 2000s.

In 2008, Madame Xanadu finally received her own title again, written by Mage author Matt Wagner and illustrated by Amy Reeder. In this 29 issue series, we learned the truth of where she came from. And how old she really is. Born over one thousand years ago, Xanadu’s original name was Nimue Inwudu. She was the youngest sibling of the sorceress Morgana and Vivienne, Arthurian lore’s Lady of the Lake. All of them were homo magi, a mystical offshoot of humanity descended from ancient Atlanteans. The sorceress Zatanna is also an offshoot of the very same homo magi.

Madame Xanadu, in her occult shop in New York City.

DC Comics

Nimue imprisoned the wizard Merlin in a trap. However, once he got free, he removed all her mystical powers. She found a way to slow down her aging process through the use of various potions. Using her vast knowledge of the occult to become an adviser to many powerful rulers throughout history, she spends time in Kublai Khan’s court at Xanadu. This is where her famous alias came from. She even once beat Death itself in a card game, thus regaining her immortality.

We See a Great Future for Xanadu in the Crystal Ball

Madame Xanadu still shows up in various DC titles. She’s been a member of teams like the Sentinels of Magic, the Demon Knights, and of course, the Justice League Dark. Her portrayal in other media outside of comics is fairly scarce though. She showed up in an episode of the animated Young Justice series. And in live-action, only recently appeared on the DC Universe series Swamp Thing. She’s a character with a ton of potential though, and we can’t wait to see her flip her Tarot cards over in her own potential series.

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