The Magdalena Returns: But Who Is Maya? [Interview]

IMAGE COMICS: Between WITCHBLADE, APHRODITE IX, and MAGDALENA, Top Cow has done a pretty good job of making sure their characters stay modern while also being true to the original concept. What is it about these ladies and their struggles that you think speaks to people?

TINI HOWARD: I remember being a young woman in the '90s and being drawn to these books because they had girls on the cover being tough. I'd also been a fan of tough action heroes like Ellen Ripley and Sarah Connor, girl heroes like Sailor Moon, and scantily clad fantasy badasses like Red Sonja and Taarna from Heavy Metal. So I think there's a little bit of that there—embracing that these characters existed before the amazing landscape of choice we have now for female characters, and playing in that legacy, in those spaces, and updating as needed—like we do with all properties.

RYAN CADY: When these characters were first created, there was this cutting edge to them—I know a lot of critics can look back and snub their noses at certain aspects of those stories, but they were fresh, and they were different. And I think a big advantage of Witchblade and Magdalena, and all of the Top Cow Universe characters to some extent, is that they're all about legacy. They can change and grow with the times, and it doesn't feel forced or insincere because the whole universe is built on these Artifacts and powers that are passed from generation to generation.

We're hoping that current readers (and longtime fans, just as importantly) will love our Magdalena as much as readers did when the character was first introduced.

IC: Building on that, what's this run on MAGDALENA about to you?

HOWARD: Legacy, I'd say. The core of a lot of the ARTIFACTS books is that each wielder was backed, spiritually, by all of the ones who had come before. But no one had ever really tackled the feelings that come with passing their Artifact on and living to see yourself replaced. And I like seeing two women as master and student. We don't see enough of it.

CADY: Building on that legacy bit, a big theme in this run is purpose. Patience is wrestling with the possibility of being replaced and what that means for her, while our new bearer, who's been a bit aimless up until this point, is looking at a literally God-given purpose that could change her life forever. To a lesser extent, there's even some commentary on the purpose of the Church itself, especially in an increasingly secular world.

But in terms of the mechanics of the story, MAGDALENA should be a horror-action series, and I'm hoping we can really dig into the horror a little more than past runs.

IC: What is it you enjoy about Patience?

HOWARD: She's imperfect, impatient. She doesn't have that bullshit self-important loftiness that a lot of characters have—her struggles always feel real and achey. And, uh, yeah, like Ryan said, she's super badass.

CADY: Patience is actually the first Top Cow character I ever got to write, back when I teamed up on a short with Talent Hunt runner-up Phil Sevy. I think what makes her a great hero is that she's full of dualities. Even though on the surface, "the Magdalena" might seem like a simple character trope. Even though she's got this grand destiny, she doesn't succumb to the orthodoxy behind it. She's a person who's literally driven by faith but still isn't afraid to question the Church, or even some of the murkier bits of religion, because she's confident in her path and in God. What Captain America is to the American Dream, the Magdalena is to the Christian Faith.

Plus, she's a badass—most of the time we talk about evil in really vague, philosophical terms, but Patience gets to hunt down tangible evil and kick its teeth in. I think we all wish we could do that from time to time.

IC: You're introducing a new Magdalena to the lineage. What is it that makes her worthy?

HOWARD: Hah! Well, yeah, she's kind of not, at first, which is sort of what the book's about. A Magdalena is part of a lineage, and for a long time the Church controlled and raised the girls of that lineage, and now they don't. So sometimes they're little grunge punk community college students, and you have to let them hold your 2000-year-old holy spear.

She's got spirit, though, yes she does. She is good at heart, and having something to fight for helps.

CADY: The thing about Maya—our new Magdalena—is that, on the surface, she doesn't seem worthy. She's young, she doesn't necessarily excel, and she's kind of stalled in life, and that's when the potential of this great destiny is thrust upon her. There's a lot of that Peter Parker, Luke Skywalker-esque youthful enthusiasm in the wake of a truly daunting legacy. Patience is training her, and there's a strong master-and-apprentice vibe—she's very eager to prove herself.

Just because you're a "chosen one" doesn't mean you're automatically great at the job. Without spoiling anything, in the first issue, Maya makes a terrible mistake, and a big part of her finding her way under Patience's guidance is fixing that error and learning how to navigate this weird, terrifying, supernatural world.

IC: How are you approaching the faith of both Magdalenas?

CADY: In a way, they're both at a crisis of faith—Patience has been grievously wounded by a powerful demon, and she's afraid she might be "Magdalena no more." She's lost a lot of faith in herself and the Church, but she's still fully invested in the cause itself and in doing this very tangible aspect of God's work. Maya, who's pretty much an unwilling Christmas and Easter Catholic, is forced to reconcile with the fact that a lot of this stuff is very real and, at the same time, learn her place in all of it.

HOWARD: Well, Patience has been raised to believe and is having a crisis, and for Maya the crisis is that she's never believed before this moment. It's like finding out it's your job to lead a country that you've never even been to to war. So for her, the "chosen one" thing is a moment of finding faith, while for Patience, it has to be a moment where she doesn't lose hers.

IC: MAGDALENA shows us a world where demons are real, and the Magdalena is one of the few able to stand against them. What appeals to you about the occult? Can you tell us a little about the role it plays in this series or some of your favorite finds from researching it?

HOWARD: One thing I told Ryan early on was that, being raised Catholic, I didn't want the Catholicism in the book to feel like The Exorcist. I wanted it to feel like stuff from Sundays spent at Church. The litanies, the creeds, the "and also with you." That's the stuff I know, that feels ritualistic and Catholic to me, from my childhood.

I think my favorite thing I've discovered so far is this rhyme we use in MAGDALENA #2—it sounds like something written for a horror movie, and it's a legitimate hopscotch rhyme I'd never heard. Made me cackle.

CADY: Jokingly, we kicked around earlier on that this was John Carpenter's MAGDALENA.

Horror is, far and away, my favorite genre, and I really hope we're able to bring a lot of that old-school creepy vibe to the title. When you dig into a lot of the apocryphal stuff, you see how a lot of "magick" and early Judeo Christian beliefs kind of tied together, so it's been really fun to just dig up Solomonic seals and all of the medieval classifications for Dukes and Princes of Hell. We're going pretty archaic, naming all of the demons and their dominions.

And so much of that is due to Christian and Mike's artwork. We could write an issue where demons didn't even show up, and they could make it look terrifying. I'm perpetually in awe with every page they turn in—we couldn't have picked a better team for this book.

IC: Christian, the Magdalena concept has been around almost twenty years now. What are you doing with the art in this new series to make it your own? Are you looking to pay homage to what came before?

CHRISTIAN DIBARI: She's an iconic character for sure. I am trying to pay homage to the series from a few years back, drawn by my good friend Nelson Blake II and written by Ron Marz. I wanted to pick up where they left off, but some years later, so I made some small changes to her armor, making it more war torn and damaged. But it's the same Patience that the fans all know and love.

IC: While Patience's look is pretty well defined, you get to design the new Magdalena from the ground up. What were you looking at for inspiration for her design? What kind of character did you want her to feel like?

DIBARI: That was a real treat for me, getting a chance to play with a new design from scratch. Working with Tini and Ryan closely on it really helped—I kept doing all these concept sketches, getting feedback, ideas, and notes about what she's like on a day-to-day level. Once we all agreed on the final look, we were all happy with it. This is some of the most fun I've had with a book!

MAGDALENA #1 is available for pre-order now, and debuts 3/22.