Thursday, April 26, 2012

I Walked With a Xombi, Part 2 (of 2)

"...Please remember that being deeply weird is supposed to be FUN. You seem to think that weirdness makes a comic IMPORTANT. There's already a Vertigo out there; last time I saw him, there was already a Grant Morrison, too." - John Rozum, letters page of Xombi#2

Although Milestone was barely one year old by the time Xombi launched, already its fans had certain expectations about the super heroes who inhabited its shared universe. As the letters page of Xombi bears witness, many thought the adventures of David Kim did not belong on the Milestone label, repeatedly wondering why it hadn't been published with Vertigo. Frequent comparisons were drawn to Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol, as you can see in the quote above.

What I have to say about shared universes might be the last thing you'd expect from a former Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe contributor. I feel within shared universes, even when the caretakers of said universes attempt to maintain consistency, the wonderful moments where multiple creators compliment each other's efforts are balanced by the frequent contradictory statements they make. But there is nothing offensive about this; when you consider the sheer number of extraterrestrial races, superhumans, hidden civilizations and advanced technology in every shared super hero universe, you realize no real universe could function this way. It's a good thing, then, that comic books are fictional, not real! The worst thing about the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe - before and during my involvement with it - is how it codifies what supposedly exists, robbing its world(s) of a sense of mystery.

After the careful and gradual universe building seen in other Milestone titles (many of the Milestone superhumans shared a common origin), some readers seemed unable to comprehend how quickly Xombi suggested a much larger universe living side-by-side with Icon, Static, Hardware and their friends. Not only does the foreground of "Silent Cathedrals" feature Sheer Shears, Rustling Husks, Lesion Dogs, the Garden of Spires, Carnivore Clouds, the Lord of Fumes, Nomatoads and Meat Man, but we only learn in passing of other weird characters inhabiting this world such as Trapeze, the "secret society of blind aerialists."

Those of you who came to super hero comic books since the rise of the super hero action movie phenomenon may be surprised to learn there was a time when heroes and villains need not shared common origins, nor even obey the same scientific principles. In fact, there was a time when super hero comic books had no particular structure in how they were maintained, it being left up to the talent of the creative people involved. Jack Kirby's one-time assistant Mark Evanier tells a story about how Kirby created the Black Racer for the New Gods and Evanier thought he convinced his boss to hold the character back for at least another issue and spend some time on the newly-introduced Metron instead. But after just two pages of drawing Metron, Kirby shrugged his shoulders and introduced the Black Racer.

It's this same love of creating for the sake of creating which permeates John Rozum & J.J. Birch's Xombi. Much as Bob Hope would tell his jokes quickly then move on to the next one to avoid dwelling on jokes which didn't work, Rozum & Birch's "Silent Cathdrals" introduces one bit of weirdness, then moves on to the next one. The caretakers have told us this isn't how you build a shared universe - there have to be rules and classifications within classifications. Rozum & Birch were under no illusions: they knew they were crafting a work of fiction. I believe their efforts produced heartfelt and genuine moments (some discussed in the previous blog entry), but primarily they were seeking to create, to have fun and to entertain others. There may be no "importance" behind the Carnivore Clouds, nor a need for the Sheer Shears to be the villains masterminding the latest super hero crossover; Xombi was a pure comic book, a throwback to the days before rules and expectations were institutionalized. Defy your sense of order and seek it out for yourself.

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