This volume is really a tale of two stories though. While both have Joe Benitez on art, delivering that long-legged, hyper-sexualized look for the women in the book, the writing approach to the two titles collected here is worlds apart. The first half of the book (the issues from 'The Darkness') are misogynistic, low-brow and insulting. All of the women in the story are objectified as whores (or actually are whores), Jackie Estacado (The Darkness) incessantly refers to The Magdalena by the term "bitch" and the whole feel of the narrative is offensive beyond measure. I almost quit reading this book because I couldn't take it anymore. While Benitez delivers some excellent art here (misogynistic as it may be), Malachy Coney, a writer who hasn't done any other work, really does his best to prove what an inarticulate clown he is. It is easy to see why he hasn't done any other work in comics that I've ever heard of, he is best left on the garbage pile of 90's writers who couldn't cut it, even in a time of editorial malaise.
Speaking of the editorial, this book is rife with punctuation and grammatical errors so ubiquitous that you almost stop noticing after a dozen pages or so. I know my writing is far from perfect, but I don't have an editor that gets paid to make sure these reviews and blogs are fit for publishing!
Despite the crap-fest that is the first half of this TPB gathered from issues of 'The Darkness', I'm glad I soldiered on through it to get to the collected issues of the first Magdalena mini-series 'The Magdalena: Blood Divine'. Writer Marcia Chen does a much better job of not only avoiding the constant misogyny and low-brow approach that ruined the first half of this book, but she actually delivers an interesting narrative based on the history of the role of the Magdalena in regards to the Catholic church.
Chen succeeds in crafting a story around vampires that is not only a different take on the creatures, but humanizes them and adds a layer of depth that is often missing in vampire stories in general. Chen's much more well-developed Magdalena is still somewhat of a blank slate, programmed by the church, but she displays more of an emotional depth than in her previous appearance, and she even shows critical thinking and rationalization skills *gasp*. While you never feel connected to The Magdalena in any way during Coney's 'The Darkness' issues, you find yourself able to cheer for The Magdalena here in the Chen-penned issues of 'The Magdalena: Blood Divine", and that goes a long way towards redeeming the utter waste of time that the first half of this book is.
I find it extremely questionable that Top Cow chose to bundle these stories together under a single masthead, as they could not be any more different from a quality perspective. Joe Benitez's art is the only bridge that connects them artistically, but even that can't draw enough attention away from the disparity in writing styles and narrative. Having the same protagonist in both halves of the book simply isn't enough here, and these should have been packaged and sold separately (I believe they were, previous to this TPB, actually).
As I mentioned earlier, this is great work from Joe Benitez (when he actually could produce more than one issue every-other year), but it is straight-up 90's Image 'house' style. Short skirts, low tops, tight everything, long legs, laughably tiny waists with unbelievably large breasts and all of the other contrived 90's representations of women in comics that you can think of. Hell, even the nuns are barely wearing anything! If you can get past that and the horrifically awful first half though, the second half of this is worth reading. I picked this up at Comic-Con International: San Diego for $3 bucks, and for what amounts to essentially $1 an issue, this was worth it.
I wouldn't pay much more than $3 dollars though, and if you can find just 'The Magdalena: Blood Divine' in a back issue box (or even collected on its own), that's a purchase more worth your time. Skip 'The Darkness' portion of this altogether, I wish I had.