Spirit World #2 returns to explore the background of its lead character of Xanthe Zhou. When we last left off, Xanthe was on their way to rescue Cassandra Cain from the Spirit World. Now, our hero has to answer to someone from Xanthe’s past.
Breaking Your Mother’s Heart
When the story began, Xanthe saves a little girl in a raincoat from washing down to the Spirit World. In contrast, issue two shows us an identical parallel where the same girl dies. The greater reveal is that somehow that little girl used to be Xanthe! While the book does not directly state what’s going on with the mirrored scenes, we see young Xanthe’s photo on a funeral shrine. In further contrast, after saving the girl in the original scene, Xanthe enters Nguyen’s and calls out to their “mom” for some reason. Moreover, despite the call out in the original issue, we get to meet real Xanthe’s family this time.
After being “dead” for fifteen years, Xanthe’s mother welcomes them home for dinner. Although, Xanthe neither identifies with their original name nor gender. I’m not even sure Xanthe fully remembers that life either. At first, it seems that this is the source of the friction between Xanthe and their family. The traditional parents even offer to introduce them to a nice Asian boy with a good job. If you ask me, the tone deaf suggestion of dating is the least of the questions I’d ask a revived relative. Regardless, Alyssa Wong leaves much of the tension between them vague, despite strongly hinting at magical interferences.
You Can’t Take Anything With You
I’d also like to mention the emotional handling of Xanthe’s situation has a lot of worth during Pride Month. First, Constantine is there to support Xanthe by invoking his own abusive childhood. Considering Constantine’s own fluid sexuality and connection to the arcane, he seems to have no problem understanding Xanthe’s unique but familiar plight. Secondly, readers learn that Xanthe has been watching over their young sibling from afar. Though Stephie and Xanthe have never met, Stephie accepts and validates every aspect of them. This allows Xanthe to have a definitive connection between the living and the dead.
However, I found the part when Xanthe’s mother uses a magical talisman to prevent them from leaving to be the weakest part. Heavy handedly, Xanthe waves off her mother’s magic because it just so happens to hinge on their previous identity. Yes, the magic was ineffectual because Xanthe’s mother misgenders them. In a way, the new identity seems to work like The Crow or Swamp Thing. Beyond disassociating with the old self, Xanthe magically presents as an entirely new being on a spiritual level like Alec Holland.
That’s The Spirit
Meanwhile, Batgirl passively joins forces with Granny Po Po and Bowen in the Spirit World. Unfortunately, Cassie’s presence in the realm draws out jiangshi and other spirits. One of those spirits corrupts one of Bowen’s associates named Mr. Hong into a mass of evil limbs. Instead of vanquishing him, they search for answers or a possible cure on the streets of the Spirit World. Unique looking demons and spirits populate the colorful city resembling panels of Yuji Kaku’s Ayashimon. Haining’s creative imagery is a genuine highlight of the issue, whether through magic or character designs.
One of the stand out designs in the story is the nine-tail fox spirit Shen that wants Bowen’s heart. Fox spirits are a popular element in different Asian cultures. Korea has the kumiho, Japan has the kitsune, and the Chinese have several similar trickster deities. Haining portrays Shen as an elegant but light faced person with fox ears and a set of nine glowing tails. Yet, it is interesting how sketchy the character feels, regardless of their light appearance. Furthermore, the ethereal illustrations like the chrysanthemum portal or chrysanthemum path gives the book a mythical vibe. However, the abundant use of thick smoke plumes for magic effects gets old pretty quickly.
- Looking for a well thought out Pride Month title.
- You have interest in Chinese or Asian mythology and culture.
- You love DC’s magical universe.
Overall, Spirit World is entertaining, but has a few distracting flaws. While I appreciate the nuance in working topics of gender identity into the complex lore, some of the choices come off way too convenient or heavy handed. While the mystery of Xanthe’s identity can be relatable, it is not nearly as compelling as it could be. To be honest, most of the conflict in the issue is an awkward family dinner and a tangential mission. I believe we haven’t seen the best of what awaits Spirit World, and sincerely hope it continues it’s exciting art style and mysterious tone.
DISCLAIMER: DC Comics provided Batman-News with a copy of this comic for the purposes of this review.