On March 22nd, 2017, Magdalena returns. Originally the brain child of Joe Benitez, David Wohl and Malachy Coney, the Magdalena is not just a hero– it’s a legacy. Passed down across the daughters of a single bloodline over generations, the Magdalena uses her holy spear to protect the world from the demonic forces that threaten it.
For some time now, the role of the Magdalena has been played by a woman named Patience. Now, however, a grievous wound has forced her to seek out a new Magdalena. This coming of age story, co-written by Tini Howard and Ryan Cady with art by Christian Dibari, asks us to question the meaning of legacy, responsibility, and destiny.
Recently, the Comics Beat sat down with Howard and Cady to discuss their take on Magdalena.
Alex Lu: Tini, how does it feel to return to the world of Magdalena after winning the Top Cow Talent Search with Magdalena: Seventh Sacrament?
Tini Howard: It feels really good to come back. Since I did [Seventh Sacrament], people have been asking me when I’m going to write more Magdalena. It’s a lot of fun because the Magdalena that Ryan and I are writing now is very different from the Seventh Sacrament, which was a really historical post-Crusades piece. This one looks at the role of the Magadalena in a way that’s not quite the same as Ron Marz’s take, which was great but basically saw the role of the Magdalena as “well, it’s my job.” Ryan’s and my take on it is “am I ideal for this? Is this my job? What the hell is going on?”
Lu: Ryan, having been an editor at Top Cow, how do you think your working experience has informed your writing style?
Ryan Cady: My approach to writing this book is way different because I have that inside intimate knowledge of not only the books I have worked on but of Top Cow itself. I know how people there feel that comics should be run. In addition, I read all the Top Cow talent contest entries every year while I was an editor so I’m sort of aware of how people who love these characters feel about them and how they appreciate them. I have looked back across history and seen how some earlier editors guided storylines to what they saw as the next steps for the characters and series.
Lu: Tini, I know you have a unique perspective coming into this project as well given your background in comics journalism?
Howard: Yeah, I used to do a little comics journalism, but I was kind of like Ryan with editorial– I didn’t want to get stuck in that zone. I was just a freelance writer originally and I wrote some short stories but there was I time where I finally said “okay, I want to work with comics.” I started with Magdalena: Seventh Sacrament and then wrote the Poseidon comic for Top Cow. I have a great working relationship with the people there and have always felt like the door was open for me to pitch to them.
Ryan and I have been friends for a while now and have both had some things that we always wanted to bring into the Top Cow Universe together. I think that’s what makes this partnership ideal. We spent so much time developing themes and bouncing ideas off each other.
Lu: What I appreciated about this take on the Magdalena is how friendly it is to new readers and old ones. I’ve never read a Magdalena story before, but I could easily hop onto the start of Maya’s journey. Meanwhile, old fans can continue to follow Patience. Why did you decide to craft a new journey for Maya rather than simply continue Patience’s?
Cady: Well, the cool thing about the Top Cow Universe is that it’s full of legacy characters. Everyone is passing down this power, this ability, or this tradition– the Magdalena especially because in it is so directly about bloodline, lineage, and a sense of sisterhood. It just makes sense that, if you’re going to relaunch Magdalena, to dig in deep and make a new character.
Companies are always into refreshes and reboots. Whenever I got the chance to talk to Top Cow I would always say “you know, there should be a teenage Magdalena.” I’m glad that we finally got the chance to do it.
Howard: One of the big ideas Ryan and I wanted to introduce is that, by design, these are legacy characters. The artifact Magdalena wields doesn’t make you immortal. It paints a target on your back. My original Magdalena story was about how someone can pick up an artifact and lose it very quickly– the time spent as a bearer of an artifact can be very short. On the other hand, Ryan and I are exploring a different idea. It’s one thing to lose something because you die, but it’s another thing to watch yourself possibly being made obsolete. It’s scary. We’ve been saying that this book is about Maya, but it’s also about Patience.
Cady: At the end of the day, Magdalena is not a person. It’s a sisterhood. We want to dig into the legacy of the role. The master and apprentice relationship is the core element of our run.
Lu: The transitional element definitely stands out to me in this first issue. Most of the time when a role or power is passed down from person to person, it only happens with the previous holder of said title dies, such as in Avatar: the Last Airbender, for example.
Howard: There are all these great master and apprentice stories. We love Avatar: the Last Airbender. Ryan and I are huge Star Wars geeks as well. The final seasons of Buffy and Batman Beyond are awesome too. The story can take all sorts of different shapes. Ours is unique because I cannot think of many master and apprentice stories in media that are about two women. You don’t see a lot of female mentorship stories. I just want to see a woman teach another woman how to do things.
Lu: How did the team get put together?
Cady: that was a lot of work, actually. I had co-written an issue of IXth Generation with Matt Hawkins and Top Cow and I were talking about doing another book. I had always really wanted to do Magdalena. The first thing I wanted to was clear it with Matt. Then, I talked to Tini about co-writing it and making it more expansive.
After that, it took us forever to find an art team. Either we found someone that was perfect, but they got another job right away. or somebody’s samples looked great but they didn’t have the horror feel we really wanted to capture. One day I just had this thought: “Christian Dibari hasn’t posted any interior art for months– I wonder if he is free?” I asked him about it and he said “I don’t know because if you remember Nelson’s run on Ron Marz’s series, that run was freaking gorgeous but it looks very different.”
We sent him our pitches and he started drawing demons and he said “yeah, I can work with this.”
Howard: He immediately started drawing demons, too! We gave him our outline and asked him what he thought and he came back to us with all these drawings! We were like “how are you so perfect.” He looks so precious, but he is also probably a demon.
Lu: Magdalena is a book in nature that has strong religious overtones, how do you feel about producing a book like that?
Howard: So, I was raised Catholic. I am not anymore. Not in an angry bitter way but… in Magdalena, capturing the veracity of what this Catholic stuff feels like was important to me. I told Ryan early on that the stuff in this book has to feel like Catholic Church stuff and not stuff you glean from watching The Exorcist. There’s this pop culture idea of how priests talk and then there’s what it sounds like when you’re a kid and you go to church—it’s a different kind of language. Then there’s some weirder stuff like the Solomon Scroll…I’ve spent a lot of my life researching weird spiritual stuff, so it was my time to shine!
We also have a lot of sorcery going on in this book—not Mickey Mouse purple hat sorcery but Crowley-esque sigil based sorcery. This is not just thematically interesting to me, but visually intriguing. I knew it would give our art team really cool stuff to play with.
Finally, Ryan and I wanted to touch upon this pop occultism that’s really popular right now—it’s cool to post upside-down crosses on your Instagram again. Ryan and I wanted to look at where that pop occultism comes from and how it intersects with spirituality.
Nowadays, I consider myself pagan, but to me, a lot of what that means is that I am a student of the different ways that people approach religion.
Cady: I was raised super white-bread protestant. I went to Christian school through the eighth grade, went to bible school and church. It was all very removed from the real and pop culture mysticism of Catholicism, but I was a big nerd, so when we’d do bible study stuff I’d bring up stories like the one where “like, Elijah sees four monsters and the apocalypse is coming…” My teachers would say something like, “we don’t worry about that!”
This is super ancillary to your question, but I’m from southern California and a big thing for me is that no one seems to know how to make California scary. Nobody sets their horror stories in Southern California, but I know that area can be scary!
Lu: The city in Magdalena definitely has a moody tone to it, full of neon lights and grime that remind me a bit of a 1970s Times Square.
Cady: Yeah, definitely. Bryan Hill is kind of my mentor and he’s really into the occult, secret societies, and culture control. He was helping us with our early scripts and that would always bleed into my conversations with Tini about this storyline.
Howard: One of the great things about having a co-writer is that we can pick these really disparate elements from our lives and smash them together in a way that feels really unique and tonally distinct. Ryan’s never been to Catholic Church and I’ve never been to Anaheim!
There’s something about the book, to me, that’s not reminiscent of anything else. I can see where the ideas come from to some extent, but they make something totally new.
Lu: On that note, where does Maya, our lead character, come from?
Howard: One of the things that Maya comes from is the idea that trying to control a bloodline is pretty stupid. People move, make babies, and the idea that any bloodline can be controlled to the degree that every aspect is known is pretty unrealistic. Maya comes from that idea—the idea that only one person can wield this magical weapon because they have this blood. It’s not that they are literally the only person who can wield the weapon, but rather that everyone who can is descended from one line.
From that conceit, we developed the character surrounding that. A lot of characters in comics are either people who are very prepared to be a superhero or people who are completely unprepared but take to it quickly. Thus, what we wanted was someone who felt would be really good for the role but maybe wasn’t or at least didn’t understand all the challenges that came with the role.
Maya is a community college student who lives with her mom. In many ways, she’s kind of shiftless. Then, the hand of God comes down and tells her she has purpose, which is something she’s been looking for. Thus, of course, she’s excited about the role. And in contrast, we gave her a teacher who was able to mitigate that excitement somewhat.
Lu: In fairness to Patience, Maya is a little weirdly into her newfound role for someone who witnesses what she does in the issue.
Cady: Here’s the thing though. It always bothers me in fiction where someone gets fantastic power and they’re like “aw man, I hate this.” I get that it ruins your life sometimes and there are plenty of other decent reasons why you don’t want to be the chosen one. But I know that if a warrior nun walked through the door and I got a magic holy spear, I would be a little terrified but I would be really into it. This is the literal. Spear. Of. Destiny.
Howard: Plus, even though something terrible happened around her that was totally out of her control, the universe’s immediate response to that is to say “well, here is some control you have over it.” So, her reaction is to say “oh, well, things felt completely out of control, but you’re saying I have the power to fix it? Great, I’m going to do that.” I’m a total handraiser and a total fixer so I know that the lesson that people like Maya have to learn is that just because you think you have the power to make something right doesn’t mean you have the knowledge to do so correctly.
Maya is like a lot of young people who feel a little out of control right now. That’s kind of like…I hate to use the m-word, but it’s like the “millennial” problem. The universe throws you a problem and the means to fix it. What does it mean to take on the challenge of repair—or what does it mean to shirk that opportunity instead?
Lu: In many ways, this portrayal of the Magdalena universe is very progressive. However, in the past, many Top Cow series have been, to a greater or lesser extent, informed by an element of cheesecake or objectification. What would you say to people who are worried about trying your take on Magdalena based on that history?
Howard: Christian was an active and considered choice for us. Ryan, Christian, and I are making a Magdalena book that’s a horror book. We’re all huge horror fans and for me, one of the most important things about the genre is that, whenever I was looking strong female leads and there was nowhere else I could go to find really good female leads, I could always find them in horror—Halloween, Alien, Texas Chainsaw Massacre—all of these feature women who are not sexualized but instead take charge, save the day, and kick ass. And on the other hand, I don’t think there’s anything necessarily wrong with cheesecake. As a woman who likes women I like looking at cheesecake—you just can’t eat it for every meal or else you get a stomachache.
Part of our book is also looking into and challenging this cheesecake idea. Patience is a little bit older—she’s thirty-two, and Patience is definitely still sexy, but not necessarily a pin-up. There’s a line where one of the demons calls her a hag, and her response is “I’m thirty-two!” I’m not a hag!
We want our characters to look good and look cool. Confidence is sexy. Ellen Ripley is sexy because she’s confident as hell. Being a horror book, our focus was on making competent heroine that held up to the women we love in horror rather than sexy visuals, but hey…if you want to make sexy Magdalena fan-art, go nuts. We’d love to retweet it!
Cady: In the second issue, we make a joke where someone calls Patience’s outfit a “dominuntrix” outfit. She responds “what are you talking about?” This leather armor is what she goes into battle in—it’s what she feels confident in. It’s not meant to be ogled. We’ll retweet the sexy fanart, but that’s not what this is to that character, and Maya might also choose to be armored differently.
Howard: It was exciting to me as a female writer to be able to develop our characters’ styles. I have Pinterest boards devoted to what these characters would wear. It’s very important to me for characters’ personalities to be reflected in what they wear. I wouldn’t want to make any of our characters sexy for the sake of being sexy any more than I’d want to make them look Gothic for the sake of looking Gothic unless it reflected who they are.
Magdalena #1 is out on March 22nd!
Alex is the New Media Editor of the Comics Beat. He is also a freelance comics editor with previous credits at First Second, Top Cow, and Papercutz. He primarily covers DC Comics and Magic: the Gathering.