Spirit World #1
Xanthe is a master of the dark arts who’s here to give Constantine a run for his money…literally. When Constantine shows up saying Xanthe scammed him into buying something, he finds them and Batgirl Cass Cain fighting an abnormal influx of jiangshi (Chinese hopping vampires) and joins in to help. But when a portal opens up that drags Batgirl into the Spirit World, it’s up to Xanthe and Constantine to travel to the land of the spirits to rescue her! Who knows what other spirits we’ll find in the Spirit World - like that skateboarding boy wearing hanfu with some headphones and a gaping hole in his chest?!
This first issue is a thrilling blend of action, horror, and magic, delving into the unique and terrifying Spirit World and the exciting new hero Xanthe, who calls that foreboding place home. Spirit World #1 picks up where Lazarus Planet: Dark Fate #1 left off: Cassandra Cain has been taken to the Spirit World, and new hero Xanthe Zhou must find a way to rescue her before it’s too late. As a spirit envoy, Xanthe usually has no trouble traveling between the world of the living and the Spirit World. Still, the gate to the Spirit World was destroyed when Cass was taken, so they team up with John Constantine to look for a solution. Meanwhile, Cass fends for herself in a realm of bloodthirsty spirits who seek to devour her and is helped by two Spirit World residents who claim to be friends of Xanthe.
Xanthe is a brand-new character: this is only their second appearance after they were introduced in a short story in Lazarus Planet: Dark Fate #1 which served to set up the Spirit World miniseries. However, they already seem like fully realized characters with a rich history waiting to be explored. Xanthe’s interactions with Constantine help reveal their personality to us. Xanthe is confident, irreverent, and determined. They are bold but not unshakeable, as the twist at the end of the issue reveals. They’re also incredibly kind, and their compassion for others is highlighted in the beautiful and touching sequence that opens this issue, in which Xanthe rescues a small girl from the flooded streets of Gotham City Chinatown.
It’s no easy task to introduce a new hero into the main DC comics universe or to do so in a miniseries starring that character; many readers come to DC to read about their familiar favorites, not characters they barely know. Yet this creative team pulls it off amazingly well. Credit must be given to artist Haining, whose design for Xanthe is distinct, stylish, and eye-catching. Additionally, how Haining draws Xanthe awkwardly wincing after accidentally frightening a child, or putting up their feet in a carefree manner, helps humanize a character whose formidable magic abilities might otherwise make them seem ominous. Writer Alyssa Wong’s dialogue helps show Xanthe’s personality and sense of humor. Often with queer representation, there is a fear that a queer character will have little identity outside of being queer, but that is not the case here. Though Xanthe’s nonbinary identity is present and visible in the story, it’s far from their defining feature.
The comic also makes smart use of Cass, showing her struggling to survive in the Spirit World. Cass is so skilled in martial arts that it can present a challenge for writers who want to put her in physical danger; there are few situations that Cass couldn’t fight her way out of. But the Spirit World is not meant for mortals, and for all Cass’s martial prowess, she is still mortal. A real sense of danger is present as she seeks to evade the spirits’ sharp-toothed, predatory maws.
Another benefit of Cass being in the Spirit World is that her introduction to this realm is also our introduction. The Spirit World likely wouldn’t seem as menacing through Xanthe’s eyes, since it’s where they grew up. But this is Cass’s first time here, so we see how it’s a terrifying place for a mortal. Haining gives it a colorful and chaotic look, and though spirits and monsters populate it, there’s something beautiful about it too. Wong and Haining emphasize how beauty and horror can coexist in one particularly chilling sequence, in which a pair of elegantly dressed spirits sense Cass’s presence and suddenly transform into vicious, grinning monsters.
Though Xanthe is undeniably the star of this miniseries, Cass also gets plenty of moments to shine. Cass escapes the monsters with the help of two individuals who claim to be Xanthe’s friends. They explain some of the rules of the Spirit World to Cass, and it seems likely that they will tell Cass more about Xanthe and their backstory in later issues; if so, it would be an effective way of relating that information to the readers. These friends also give Cass a cute new outfit while she’s in the Spirit World, which probably doesn’t make up for being trapped in a realm of hungry spirits who want to eat you, but it is still pretty nice.
Spirit World #1 is a solid first issue for what is shaping up to be a dynamic and engaging miniseries. The creative team appears to have fantastic chemistry, and already it feels almost a shame that this is a limited series instead of an ongoing title. Xanthe is a truly unique and endearing character, and this issue will make readers want to see more of them.
Spirit World #1 is an exciting blend of action, horror, and magic that will leave readers eager to see more of Xanthe and the Spirit World they inhabit.
Spirit World #1: Strange Magic
- Writing - 9/109/10
- Storyline - 9/109/10
- Art - 9/109/10
- Color - 8/108/10
- Cover Art - 10/1010/10