Monday, May 9, 2011

Some Kind of Xombi#1-2 Review

Xombi is a newly-relaunched ongoing comic book series being published by DC Comics. It was originally published by DC in the 1990s as part of the Milestone Media imprint, Milestone being an initiative to promote greater diversity in comics (both in the characters who appeared in stories and the creators making them).

I didn't read Xombi in its original run, but I was interested in the series because of the creative team. I felt artist Frazer Irving's work seemed a little stiff when I first saw him drawing the mini-series Iron Man: the Inevitable, but as of his story in last year's Mystic Hands of Dr. Strange anthology, I've come to really enjoy his work. As for writer John Rozum, I don't believe I've read any of his work before. Rozum's presence was a selling point when I learned he was the original author of Xombi; I felt comfortable supporting this book because it was clearly different from the rest of DC's output and had gone the extra mile by respecting the original creator's input. 'Please accept this gift coupon for another prisoner of your choice.'

So, Xombi. What can I tell you about Xombi... The protagonist is David Kim, a man infested by nanomachines which have made him virtually immortal and allow him to reshape materials at a molecular level; a being such as Kim is, according to the mythos of the series, a Xombi (no relation to zombie; or Mombi). Kim's background is just briefly related in Xombi#1, along with a handy demonstration of his powers as he transforms paper into popcorn. This power is part of what makes Kim nigh-unkillable, since his body can rebuild itself out of any nearby matter; it's also dangerous since the nanomachines will choose to rebuild him out of a living person if they're nearby (something which evidently happened in the original series run). Good eatin'!

So, that's David Kim. Being a fairly odd character, he seems fated to encounter extremely odd things everywhere he goes. In the span of Xombi#1-2 we meet a man who talks to his spare change (not so strange, but the change talks back), papier-mache despots, books which give people cancer and dozens of other such weirdness. It's a super hero meets science fiction horror comedy series. Crisis on Infinite Cashboxes!

Kim also exists in the DC "Universe," with issue #2 featuring blink-and-you'll-miss-em cameos by obscure heroes Mark Merlin and Sargon the Sorcerer. The series' ties to the DC Universe are not overt and overall it seems to want to live in its own world. Which ought to be the point of all "shared universe" comics, to my way of thinking; the "shared universe" came into being to support the narratives, the narratives should not exist to support the universe. Too many books today believe they're part of a "shared narrative" when they should be standing on their own merits, providing a singular experience in every monthly release, not "chapter HG of series BW, a sequel to story NX in crossover KQ." Rant over. Dr. Occult was considered too high profile for this cameo.

Kim's allies (for some reason...original series continuity, obviously) are a band of Catholic heroes which include Catholic Girl (whose power matches her faith), Nun the Less (can shrink) and Nun of the Above (can see what people are doing within a 30 mile radius). They're initially accompanied by the priest Father Maxwell, but he doesn't last long. Nuns with puns!

Father Maxwell is a pretty decent illustration of what I'm enjoying about Xombi. As the Catholic team's non-super powered, non-codenamed member, he was an obvious choice for the "redshirt" to prove how dangerous the enemies were. However, the story considered him to be as valid a person as any other and doesn't take him for granted; check out this moment where the team is reacting to the story of a man cursed to become Mr. Hyde after reading a tainted copy of the book: You really want to chance a Bulstrode infection, Father?

In the midst of weirdness...really, an awful lot of weirdness, not unlike reading a dream journal, the recognizably human moments really stand out. Xombi doesn't take itself too seriously, yet still manages some effective dramatic tension (as in the aforementioned description of how Kim's powers can unintentionally kill people). Many of the reviews online prematurely bemoaned the title's cancellation, automatically assuming Xombi will be "too good to be noticed" and "too good to last." To which I respond: so what? Enjoy Xombi while we have it. If issues #1-2 are indicative of what the series will keep providing, I'll enjoy the title to the bitter end. As it stands, Xombi is the one and only DC Universe book I'm currently reading.

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