Sudden Comic Death Syndrome: Xombi #1-6

A comic review article by: David Fairbanks

 

Sudden Comic Death Syndrome looks back at comics that were tragically canceled long before their time.


 

With all of the Before Watchmen news going on this week, it's not too hard to find people complaining about DC comics. You're not about to hear me sing praise for their publishing decisions here either, but I'm actually cautiously optimistic about the Watchmen prequels.

No, my ire at DC comes from the Xombi trade paperback I picked up last week, because it reminded me of just how badly they dropped the ball with that series. Rozum and Irving, in the six issues they received, created some of the best comics of 2011, and there is no reason they shouldn't still be working on it. 

Dr. David Kim, the xombi that gives the book its title, was a scientist working on cutting edge nanotechnology until -- as so often seems to be the case with comic book scientists -- there was an accident. Now he shares his body with millions of nanomachines, constantly working to keep his body in top physical condition.

It may not sound like it, but Xombi would have fit in perfectly alongside Animal Man, Swamp Thing, and the rest of the "Dark" titles, bringing a whole different kind of creepy to the table. Because for some reason, Kim manages to attract all manner of supernatural and/or superscience weirdness. 

Releasing Xombi just before the reboot of the DCU ensured that, whether its sales were spectacular or disappointing, it would be going away, probably never to return (because DC desperately needed what Resurrection Man or Red Hood and the Outlaws brought to the table). Besides, it's not as if there's a precedent for a potentially critically acclaimed series that was delayed until the relaunch.

Going into it, I knew absolutely nothing about Xombi or David Kim until I saw previews of Frazer Irving's spectacularly creepy artwork. The man uses a color palette that the majority of the industry seems to shy away from; never before have I been as unnerved by fuchsia as when Irving lays it down on the page. 

I wasn't the biggest fan of Irving's linework when I first saw his art; it's certainly nothing like his contemporaries. By the time I had finished reading his run on Batman & Robin, however, I was hooked. His simple, clean lines are probably a side-effect of working digitally, but I've found the help to bring facial expressions and the emotions of the characters to the forefront.

 

If Irving wasn't reason enough to be reading Xombi, Rozum delivers the goods in a way I wish other writers would emulate. While in the first few pages there's a quite a few thought boxes worth of backstory and exposition, it's delivered in a way that feels a whole lot more like showing than telling. Editor's notes or summary pages are fine, but generally they don't do much better than glancing at Wikipedia.

Rozum puts David Kim's life, up until this point, in perspective for the reader in a way that tells us a fair bit about him. It feels really strange to praise Rozum for being a good writer, but when I've seen so many comics fail at covertly catching up the reader, I feel it needs to be pointed out. He's informed the reader just enough to enjoy the story without confusion, though I certainly want to pick up the back issues of the series now.

 

Now, maybe the Xombi would've been canceled with the first wave of underperforming series in the new DCU, but given that Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. survived the cull, I bet it would've picked up a fair number of curious readers at the launch and held onto them tight. I guess DC didn't want to risk publishing a brilliant, witty horror comic that straddles the "mature readers" line and has a readership a bit lower than what's expected for superhero titles. It sure is a shame that there isn't an imprint they could release it under instead.

Xombi has so much weirdness that it brings to the table that you really have to struggle to find anything similar in another comic, least of all from DC or Marvel. Here's a taste of what Rozum and Irving throw at you:

  • Super-powered nuns (Nun the Less and Nun of the Above) 
  • An almost Sailor Moon-esque Catholic school girl (appropriately named Catholic Girl)

  • A secretive, mystical rabbi
  • A homunculus made from the corpses of dead insects called a Rustling Husk.
  • The sisterhood of blood mummies.
  • An army of winged men with eyeballs for heads
  • Demon trick-or-treaters
  • Terrifying snow angels
  • A series of strongholds (one made from the skull of a giant) floating high above the Earth, full of ridiculous relics of societies mankind is unaware of.

Add in a manipulative genius hell-bent on world domination and the fact that Rozum brings just the right amount of humor to Xombi through little bits of cleverness sprinkled throughout the six issues, and it is a wonder that anyone could think it is anything less than spectacular.

 


 

David Fairbanks doesn't get many things right the first time. He studied physics in college, loves science, music, comics, poetry, movies, books, and education pertaining to all of the above. He will talk your ear off about Grant Morrison and Ben Folds, has an indie bookshelf larger than his Marvel, DC and Vertigo ones combined and if he ever actually grows up, more than anything else, he wants to still be happy as an “adult,” whatever that is.

Mostly self-indulgent ramblings can be found at @bairfanx and untilsomethingbreaks.blogspot.com.

 

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