By any measure, except perhaps religion, “Magdalena” should be a pretty ideal comic book for me. I'm always looking for comics with strong female leads. Bonus points for a book with strong female lead that knows how to dish out some good violence. I like good “chosen one” stories, and stories about destiny and lineage. I'm not personally religious, but I find religion fascinating and am certainly not opposed to smart stories that delve into the many layers and vast history of religions.
So why, then, does “Magdalena” fail me so terribly?
The premise of Magdalena is not so terrible. In every generation, a descendent of Jesus Christ and Mary of Magdalene is chosen to be the Magdalena. It's not entirely clear what that empowers her to do or be, but judging by the two issues I've read, it's a "standard superhero package of sorts" with missions of a religious nature. The Magdalena is linked to the papacy and they each have a Vatican related mentor of sorts. It's all pretty standard -- which is not to say bad -- "chosen one" stuff in the vein of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” or any number of chosen one stories that has come before or after. The current Magdalena is Patience and there's another woman, Anneli, who has been "chosen" to be the Magdalena in her place, apparently because not everyone agrees with the way things are being done. In this issue Anneli is sent on a mission, and after dispatching a vampire in short order, she's sent after Patience and tasked with retrieving the Magdalena's weapon, the Spear of Destiny.
There's nothing wrong with the plot, really, except it being not particularly clever or interesting (and the vampire killing in the opening feels quite tired), but it's the writing and the art that unfortunately fail this book. The writing by Ron Marz is clunky and amateurish, from the long passages of people talking in ways that no real person, “chosen one” or otherwise, would actually talk, explaining inner feelings and thoughts with extreme detail. There’s also some laughable sexy talk and “witty” action dialogue. Patience comes off completely unbelievably, as some kind of strange "Mary Sue fantasy girl,” and sadly unlike any real woman I’ve ever met in my life.
Unfortunately, the art by Keu Cha doesn't do the book any favors either. While it starts out surprisingly strong and detailed, if not to my personal tastes, it takes a sharp downturn in quality about nine pages in and never recovers. From that point on, the art is stiff, inconsistent, and full of everything from poor anatomy to unfinished-looking backgrounds. Bizarre mistakes in basic drawing, like Patience’s freaky nail beds -- which are about three times as long as they should be -- and disappearing dinner plates make the book feel sloppy. The bulk of the art feels completely out of synch with the cover and some of the initial pages, which present a much different look and feel than what you end up with. Interestingly enough, the “our story thus far” page, which brings readers nicely up to speed, shows four panels of art from previous issues, and all four panels are quite lovely.
I’m willing to concede that this book, being the start of a new arc, and thus incredibly slow in the action department save the vampire slayage, is perhaps not an accurate representation of the how the book usually reads. But in an issue low on action, I’d hope that strong character work would compensate. Instead I found it impossible to care about either of the main characters and it felt like a lot of filler so that we could get a hot chick fight. I certainly don’t mind a hot chick fight, but I’d like there to be believable women behind that fight.