So.... I went ahead and ordered the trade for this series, admittedly with some misgivings. (Skotti's comment about the thong suggested that I was going to have my usual issues with the Magdalena's outfit. After reading the book, I can honestly say I've seen worse costumes, although I still don’t understand the need to dress these women in bare-midriff tops and hip-hugger pants. :roll: )
My initial impressions, after having read it all the way through twice and spot reading a couple of times: interesting concept, kind of confusing execution. I think the whole "warrior nun" thing is cool -- kind of like a Roman Catholic version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (including, in one story arc, some actual vampires).
General thoughts: the book contains four stories, three multi-issue arcs and one short that is kind of a follow-up to the first arc. The fourth story is the strongest and most coherent of them -- it's basically an origin story of the current Magdalena, beginning with her running away from the convent and getting "found", trained, and sent on her first assignment by the Knights of Malta.
The term "Magdalena" is actually a title. It's been held by a succession of women, at least three of whom appear in these stories in some form or another. (This is somewhat confusing in and of itself -- not only do the three women resemble each other, but we often aren't given any personal names for them.)
Warning: the following paragraphs contain spoilers. I realize this stuff has been in publication for several months now, and I will try not to give away too many details, but if you plan to read the book for yourself, you might want to keep that in mind before you proceed.
In this volume, we get two different origins for the Magdalena line, which can be traced back to Mary Magdalene, one of the followers of Jesus Christ. One origin has Jesus as the father of the first child by Mary; the two were actually married and the whole story of the Resurrection was a tale Mary told after Jesus was killed. The other origin doesn't specify who the father is or whether Mary and Jesus had any physical relationship at all, just that Jesus gave Mary and her female descendants the ability to see people's sins.
There is also some confusion about who supports the Magdalena. In one story, it's the Order of the Magdalene (convenient, huh?), which are the warrior nuns I mentioned earlier. In another, it's the Knights of Malta. There may be some connection between the two groups, but it's not obvious when reading this book. (Although members of the Order do end up defeated by a person/creature called The Darkness, so perhaps the Knights step in while the Order rebuilds.)
The stories themselves: in the first story, we see the Magdalena of the 1940s break into Adolf Hitler's hidden bunker and remove a spear -- apparently the Holy Lance (also known as the Spear of Longinus), which was supposedly the spear that pierced Jesus' side as he hung on the cross. The spear is taken to the Vatican and we cut to the present day, when the current Magdalena, about to be sent on a mission, is presented with the spear by a man called Cardinal Innocent. (Based on the language he uses, he’s no innocent. He’s also not much of a cardinal – he calls the spear the Holy Sepulcher. A sepulcher is a kind of tomb; the Holy Sepulcher is actually a church in the Holy Land. Someone didn’t do their homework....) The Magdalena tracks down and battles Jackie Estacado, a man who takes on the form of a creature with a bunch of what appear to be demons attached to him. (You kind of have to see this for yourself to get the picture – it’s hard to describe without taking up a lot of space.) Estacado is the current form of The Darkness. This seems to be something that’s dealt with in a separate title, and it makes for a rather confusing story here.
Anyway, during the battle the Spear is broken, and the head is passed on to a young woman suffering from some sort of trauma in a local hospital. The Magdalena survives, and is found by members of the Order, who put her through her final rituals to activate her powers. The rite is interrupted when Estacado finds them. Let’s just say the final battle doesn’t go well, although the Magdalena, at least, survives.
The second story starts with the murder of a priest by something that seems like a vampire. When the Magdalena investigates she finds a group of people who seem to be vampires, but who don’t react the way they’re supposed to – they aren’t affected by holy water and when she skewers one through the heart, the “vampire” doesn’t die. Once the Magdalena traces the group to their lair, she finds their form of vampirism has a medical rather than a supernatural explanation. One of the members had indeed killed the priest, although when we find out why, it’s hard to disagree with the vampire’s motives.
There’s also a subplot in which a young priest finds a box containing letters and other evidence of the Magdalena’s line, which is supposed to be a deep, dark secret. He brings the items to Cardinal Innocent, who dismisses them as unimportant. (In the first story, the young priest ends up taking the fall for something Innocent does, so apparently the vampire story takes place before the first story. This must be a completely different woman, however, as she seems very competent. There’s no mention of the spear.)
In addition to sending the Magdalena after the vampires, someone has also send the Garduna, who are an elite group of fighters attached to the Vatican. This story again ends in a battle, which again does not go well for the Magdalena.
The one-issue short follows up the events of the first story. We find out what happens to the young woman who received the Lance head, which transforms her into something else. The Magdalena, recovered from her battle with The Darkness, goes to South America to retrieve the part of the Lance, and encounters not only the young woman, but the woman’s mother, who has also been transformed into something no longer human.
The fourth story provides the origin of Patience, who has run away from the convent where she was raised. She is found by Kristof, who calls himself the shepherd to the Magdalena; he’s the one who trains her in this story. (No mention of the Order here.) He finds Patience and her friend Rowan, another runaway. While Kristof explains some of the Magdalena’s background, Rowan is kidnapped. Patience is taken to the Isle of Malta for training. Part of her job is to reassemble the pieces of the Holy Lance.
The Lance has a dual history. It has a connection to Christ, but it’s also supposed to be the spear that the Celtic hero Lugh uses to defeat the Old Gods and drive them underground. There’s a sect working to release the Old Gods. They’ve kidnapped Rowan, and need the Lance, which Patience brings to the battle.
This last story at least seems to hang together pretty well, and is one of the few times the Magdalena does well in battle, at least in this book.
There's a running theme of betrayal in all of the stories -- at least one Cardinal has pretty questionable motives, and one of people training the current Magdalena is revealed to be working for the enemy. At least one of the priests portrayed isn't the kind of man you want to leave alone with young girls. He pretty much deserves what happens to him, and it's not pleasant.
I will say the art overall is well done, even if the writing doesn’t always make sense to me. There’s a website called The Convent
that has a lot of art examples, as well as some background on the series.