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Magdalena, Vol.2

TR #46-48

It's hard enough being a teenage girl in the early part of the 21st century. Now, imagine being a teenage girl destined to serve as the weapon of the Catholic Church. Yeah, that's a tad more annoying than having to deal with zits and algebra homework. Welcome to the world of Magdalena.

Magdalena, a July-debuting, four-issue miniseries from Top Cow and Image Comics, will feature the work of writer Brian Holguin and penciller Eric Basaldua Newsarama caught up with Holguin to get the lowdown on the heroine, the tightrope that comes with writing about religion and, even though she's been 'round these parts before, a little background on just who Magdalena is.

For Holguin, working on Magdalena is like coming home in a sense. "this all really came out of a conversation I had with David Wohl," Holguin said. "I actually started my comics career writing Cyberforce for Top Cow and had talked occasionally about doing something with them again. David mentioned the Magdalena character, thinking it might be a good fit for me. There was something that intrigued me about the concept and they gave me the opportunity to sort of reinvent the franchise with a new incarnation of the character. There were a couple of delays getting the ball rolling, but everything's up and running now and I'm very excited.

"I was raised Catholic so I'm familiar with the mythology and imagery and I thought there was something very cool that could be done in that context. I don't say this to piss anyone off, but I've always said that Catholicism is essentially a Pagan religion - you've got your major deities: Father, Son, Holy Ghost, Holy Mother; and your minor deities: Saints of travel, lost causes, quality footwear, etc. It's steeped in ritual and ceremony, and every other day is the feast of something or other. It's so much more dramatic and operatic than say, being a Presbyterian. There's a lot of imagery and history and legend to draw from and play around with.

For those unfamiliar with the history of the character, Holguin gave a quick rundown. "The central premises is that there is an elite bloodline that goes back to Christ himself," Holguin said. "Each generation, one female of that bloodline is given the duty of the Magdalena, a holy warrior maid who dedicates her life to defending the world from the greatest evils."

The training and behind-the-scenes aspect of Magdalena are some of the aspects of the character Holguin wants to touch upon in the mini. "How exactly is this very powerful person trained and reigned in?" Holguin said. "The previous Magdalena - the one that appeared in the Darkness - is gone, and a new one has been selected. Now it occurred to me that they would have to have several 'spares' secreted around the world, being raised to do a job they have no idea they will be called on to perform.

The mini will focus on a new Magdalena, and the people calling her into being, Holguin says. "Patience is a young girl who grew up sequestered in a remote abbey in Nova Scotia," Holguin said. "She is one of the Holy Bloodline and thus a potential future Magdalena. But she has no idea who her parents were or the profound destiny that awaits her. She's grown tired of life in seclusion and has actually run away, living on the streets of New York. Meanwhile, in Rome, it has become clear that there is a new and growing threat in the world and the new Magdalena must be 'activated,' even if she isn't ready.

"I wanted to set this girl's personal crisis, her doubts about herself and her faith, against a globe-trotting, Technicolor, Indiana Jones type backdrop. We visit Rome, Nova Scotia, Manhattan, Malta and Prague just in the first issue."

"I'm filling in the background, the support network in the Church that deals with the Magdalena. I'm using the Knights of Malta as a kind of secret army, the foot soldiers in the war against evil. And there's a character called Kristof who is what is called a ÔShepherd.' It's his job to see that the new Magdalena is up to the task at hand, which is easier said than done.

"The first issue begins with Kristof traveling to a secluded abbey in Nova Scotia to fetch the girl who is the new Magdalena only to learn that she has run away. The girl's name is Patience - a name which that nuns at Sinclair Abbey claims is proof that God has a sense of irony."

Historically, Magdalena has been called out to deal with the likes of Jackie Estacado and a few random vampires. Holguin hopes to spice things up a bit. "The Magdalena's weapon is a holy relic known as the Spear of Destiny or the Spear of Longinus. It is supposedly the spear that stabbed Christ in the side when he was crucified and it is sanctified in his blood," Holguin said. "Now, the interesting thing about the spear, is that legends of it actually predate Christianity by a considerable time. The Spear of Longinus was originally called the Spear of Lugh and wielded by the Celtic God of Light. The series deals with a cult called the Bright Hand who believes that the Church has co-opted their relic and intends to get it back and use it usher in a new age of Pagan glory."

Spear aside, for all intents and purposes, the Magdalena herself is a weapon, called upon to deal with what the Church deems "evil." Holguin hopes to have the character interact with some of the gray areas that might run afoul of her black and white instruction book. "That's definitely something I want to examine: The Church - the bureaucracy and mechanism behind it - definitely has a very black and white view of things," Holguin said. "But the Magdalena doesn't necessarily agree. She's not at all at certainties with what she believes and knows that the Church isn't as infallible as it would us to think. She's constantly at odds between following orders and following her instincts.

"One of the things I wanted to do in the series was to not make the 'villains' particularly villainous. They are not 'evil' in the typical comic book sense. They believe something different and they are pursuing their ends as aggressively as the Church pursues its ends. In fact the Bright Hand considers the actions of the Church - essentially removing God from the earth and the stones and the trees and relocating him to some lofty, distant heaven, to be evil. And from their perspective, they're right.

"So a lot of the inner conflict involves trying to rationalize a black and white agenda in a shades-of-gray world."

Holguin would like to touch upon Magdalena's personal life, but that story will have to wait. "Not so much in the miniseries, but it is definitely something I would like to examine in an ongoing series," Holguin said. "The first story really revolves around Patience and her own crisis of faith, coming into her own and finding a courage and strength she didn't know she had. And of course saving the world."

And the big question: What kind of person is Magdalena? "That's the real meat of the story, isn't it?" Holguin said. "Here we have a young woman who wants to see the world, to experience life, to assert herself in the way all young people want to. And she's called upon to shoulder this incredible responsibility. She does have her doubts, not only in herself, but in the very institution she's supposed to work for. I mean, Christ himself had his moment of doubt in Gethsemane. What's a young girl who's never even seen MTV supposed to think when she's suddenly thrown into a world of intrigue, adventure and danger?"

The lineage of the character will be touched upon somewhat during the miniseries, Holguin says. "Well, there's some debate whether the Mary Magdalene and the prostitute were the same person," Holguin said. "The previous line of Magdalena's is mentioned, but I don't go into it too deeply. That's something I would consider doing if we went to a regular series."

The Magdalena will be called in to deal with things when it's obvious humankind is out of its league, Holguin says. "The idea is that it's best for people to deal with their own problems," Holguin said. "Struggle is essential to the human experience. That's really the purpose to life. The Magdalena's job is to deal with only the greatest, most unnatural threats to the world. It's not her job to make the world a better place, to feed the hungry and aid the sick. Although Patience might have a different idea about that as well..."

While he won't be treading lightly when writing about the Church, Holguin isn't out to dump on the religion either, he says. "Well, I don't want to treat the Church as a sacred cow, so to speak, but I'm also not looking to intentionally insult or degrade anyone's faith," Holguin said. "The obvious thing these days is to paint the Catholic Church as a cabal of corrupt pederasts. But it would be just that -- crude and obvious and not terribly unimaginative. In the series, we're dealing with a very secretive branch of a very, very old institution. That's where its strengths are and that's where its weaknesses lie. It's so steeped in ritual and stricture, it doesn't necessarily see around all the corners it should. I'm kind of portraying it as an institute with honorable intentions, but one sometimes lacking in foresight. From Patience's perspective, "But it has always been done this way" isn't necessarily a valid argument.

"In the end, it's really about the inherent difference between an 'Ideal' and an 'Institution.' To make an analogy, I think you can have a profound faith and dedication to the ideals of freedom and democracy, while having equally profound questions about the institutions of the Pentagon and the Congress."

On the other side of the creative coin, Basaldua's artwork has earned raves from both Holgiun and Top Cow EIC, Jim McLauchlin, as well as…well, just about everyone who sees it. "The art that Eric is doing is just wonderful and the character has really come to life for me. I suppose it's a bit like in TV or movies - when you cast a role, suddenly the character becomes much clearer. Just seeing Eric render our heroine has brought her much more vividly to life for me and writing has become easier."

And if al goes well, this won't be the last time the Magdelena comes out of the box. "As of now, I've committed to a four-issue miniseries," Holguin said. "After that, if the reader response is strong enough I suppose they would consider an ongoing series. I'd definitely be interested in continuing, as long there were no scheduling conflicts.

As for long-range plans, Holguin is hopeful he's given the chance to think that far ahead. "Really, I've just worked out the four-issue mini," Holguin said. "I have some rough ideas that I'd like to explore, but obviously that would depend on Top Cow - and the readers - deciding they want an ongoing series. That said, I'd like to do something with Casca Longinus, the Roman Centurion who stabbed Christ on the cross and was cursed to wander the earth until doomsday. And I'd like to maybe to something with the whole Grail/Fisher King myth. We'll see if I get the chance."