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Xombi #17 – 21: Hidden Cities

March 16, 2011 Leave a comment

Written by John Rozum, Art by J.J. Birch
Milestone
Rating: Unrated

The final arc of Xombi has arrived. After facing down creatures, cults and other things that have threatened the world, David Kim’s path has brought him to begrudgingly accept his place within the shadow world. Under the tutelage of Rabbi Sinnowitz he embarks on a journey of exploration and learning before his fiance, Dalila returns home. Along the way he will uncover some very disturbing things about his future and face down a sinister and nigh unbeatable foe as well.

The final arc of Xombi is a virtual dive into the imagination of John Rozum and we begin to grasp the fact that the last seventeen issues where just the tip of the iceberg. Entire worlds populated by immortals, ancient gods, frauds, literary geniuses and more are brought to life within this final arc. Kim’s journey brings him into contact with other Xombi’s as he searches out opinions and ideas on how to deal with his condition and how to share it with his soon to return fiance. There is no overarching antagonist for these issues, instead it’s very much an exploration of the new world David Kim is a part of and it’s populated by the tales of some of the inhabitants, each working in his own way to shed light upon his new life. From the wonderful, folklorish tale of the African xombi, Dumaka, to the tragic and heartbreaking choices made by the immortal Kameko. The tension in these tales comes less from physical threats and more from the decisions the characters make. How will David Kim respond when his future is revealed to him? Will he allow his immortality to turn him into a bitter and lonely man as it did Dumaka? Even the immediate threat of The Boogeymen Dread, beings who kill be devouring hopes, dreams and positive emotions helps to further these questions and the idea of hope and despair being the two immediate paths upon which David may journey.

Birch’s art is at it’s best here. Every panel is alive and is often packed with detail and monsters, wonders and horrors. He doesn’t balk at drawing anything that Rozum’s mind can cook up, ranging from a young girls aura, sidewalk fish, fantastic cities, black knights and more. It’s a treat for the eyes. The high gloss paper is in use and it does a fantastic job at bringing out the colors which give Birch’s artwork that extra little pop. There’s a two page spread in the first issue of a flying pagoda which is absolutely gorgeous and incredibly striking, due in no short part to Birch’s pencil’s and Noelle Gidding’s colors working together beautifully. As much as I enjoyed the earlier issues I just can’t imagine that one moment having the same impact on the older paper stock.

While the final arc doesn’t answer all the questions, it certainly does a good job at wrapping up the series and gives David Kim’s story, not to mention the readers, a fairly positive and happy ending. Given his immortality and some of the revelations dropped throughout this arc David Kim’s future wouldn’t be all roses, not to mention the new ongoing Xombi series, but at the time his immediate future was looking pretty good.

Xombi #17 – 21: Hidden Cities were published by Milestone Comics..

Xombi #12 – 16

March 1, 2011 Leave a comment

Written by John Rozum, Art by J.J. Birch and Denys Cowan
Milestone
Rating: Unrated

Initially I had planned to cover the entire series in three entries, one for each of the major arcs, but upon rereading it I realized that I had forgotten just how long it was between “School of Anguish” and “Hidden Cities” arcs! With five single issues bridging the gaps between the two arcs I was forced to break my look at the series into four posts rather than three. Unlike the previous two posts there’s no singular arc present in these issues. Instead there’s a vague and loose thematic arc depicting David Kim and his gradual, reluctant acceptance of his new life. It’s comprised of three single issue tales a two parter that’s vaguely connected to a summer cross that Milestone was running at the time.

Issues #12 – #13 continue along the thread started in “School of Anguish” and deal with David’s first, tentative steps toward accepting and learning to deal with his new situation as he seeks out help from Rabbi Sinnowitz and contemplates how to break the news of his condition to his heretofore unseen wife, Dahlila. Up until now she’s only been mentioned as being out of the country due to work, but here we’re finally given a glimpse of Dahlila herself, not to mention some notion as to what kind of a person and character she is. There’s also a haunting, cautionary tale from Rabbi Sinnowitz’ past which serves as an official prelude to “Hidden Cities”, the next major arc, and introduces the Kinderessen, a threat that will turn up again in the series fairly soon. While the next three issues, #14 – #16, are technically part of a company wide crossover the first issue functions fine as a stand alone tale and requires no knowledge of anything outside of Xombi, but the final two are a little trickier. Several characters who have appeared elsewhere in the Milestone Universe pop up, but thankfully just about everything you need to know is given to you within the story itself and hopefully folks who are unfamiliar with them will be able to muddle through. Honestly it was a bit difficult to write about these issues as a whole since there’s no real overarching plot tying them together. There is the vague theme of David Kim slowly acclimating to the weirdness and starting to take in step, but the momentum of the first two issues almost feels derailed by the final three. That said we do get some development thanks a brief look into David Kim’s normal life and there’s the introduction of a wonderful new supporting character in the form of Cheryl Saltz, a fellow scientist and friend of David’s. She’s one of the highlights of the this “arc” and I can only hope that she’ll pop up again in the new series.

The artwork in this issues are fine and the oddities from Birch’s art in “School of Anguish” are gone. The oddness is actually toned down a bit after the dream sequence and the creatures are far from the surrealist nightmares that have appeared to date. That said, Birch digs deep and cranks out a very basic but primal nightmare in the Kinderressen, creatures who are fairly generic as far as monsters go, but also seem to fit the very basic premise of a childhood monster, large, threatening, dark, hairy and viscous as hell. They’re not terribly fancy or fantastic visually, but I thought it was the simplicity of their design that makes them so memorable. It’s also worth mentioning that the final three issues in the arc feature a switch to the high gloss paper stock which makes the Noelle Gidding’s colors really pop and helps give the artwork a much fuller and lush feel.

While I enjoyed these issues I can’t help shake the feeling that the final three are place holder material due to the cross over, and that Rozum would have happily dived into the “Hidden Cities” arc three issues earlier if possible. They break up the flow the series had developed over the past twelve issues and when you look at the series and the arcs as David Kim’s development and growing into his new life, they kind of stick out. Still, the first two issues are incredibly important and the final three, thematically awkward though they may be, are pretty damn fun.

Xombi #12 – 16 were published by Milestone Comics.

Xombi #7 – 11: School of Anguish and Xombi #0

February 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Written by John Rozum, Art by J.J. Birch and Denys Cowan
Milestone
Rating: Unrated

Following the events of the opening arc, David Kim attempts to return to his normal life. Sadly it seems that fate has other plans as a night out with friends causes him to stumble onto a hit being carried out by a most unusual being; Manuel Dexterity one of the Painful Inscriptions of the cult the Beli Mah. Once more David is drawn into the weird world of the occult and paranormal as his interference brings him to the attention of the Beli Mah.

If the second arc was David Kim’s introduction to the weird, shadow world that exists alongside ours, then the “School of Anguish” arc is all about his denial of this world. From the beginning of the arc until the end David is a reluctant participant in the story, getting involved only out of necessity and his desire to be left alone and to have a normal a life. His reasons for this should be readily apparent to anyone who read the first arc, but his fears are made manifest as he finds himself pulled into the Beli Mah’s plans. While it’s unlikely given the ending of the arc, I’ve always hoped that the Beli Mah might be expanded upon and discussed a bit more at some point as there are several unanswered questions raised during the climatic battle; the exact nature of their leader, Crowne, why everyone’s skin seems to be flakey and so forth. Plus they’re just an interesting group that I can’t help but want to see more of them.

Xombi #0, while published months before the launch of the ongoing series, is effectively a bit of an epilogue to the “School of Anguish” arc, taking place mere minutes after it’s resolution it continues the theme of David Kim’s attempts to deny his role as a weirdness magnet but features what seems to be a fairly key moment in his journey towards accepting his place in the world of the weird. What’s interesting about the issue is that it was also our first introduction to Xombi and it fills the role of an introductory story just as well as fills its role as an epilogue to “School of Anguish” arc, and that’s despite being part of a cross over to boot!

J.J. Birch’s art actually wanes a bit here. While he still does a good job at conveying emotions and mood through the characters’ faces, there’s a few times where things just look odd. At one point there’s a panel where the background perspective just looks… off. There’s also a distinct lack of backgrounds in this arc and that’s always been a bit of a pet peeve for me. Still, he does a great job with the Painful Inscriptions with the Dexterities and Flickering Ed being my favorite of the group. For Xombi #0 Denys Cowan handles the art and does a fantastic job as well. What really stands out in the zero issue though, are the colors. I didn’t mention it in the first review but Xombi featured painted colors by Noelle Giddings. The series is mostly printed on your typical comic paper stock and they look ok, nothing terribly special or outstanding, but in Xombi #0 they printed on a glossy paper stock and look absolutely fantastic.

There’s a lot to like about this arc and I barely touched the surface of some of them. The further fleshing out of some of the series supporting cast, most notably the return of Rabbi Sinnowitz and the nice attention to detail given to his faith and it’s practice. David Kim’s fears being represented physically rather than verbally is another fantastic moment as well. The second arc definitely feels a bit more nightmarish than the first and it does a good job at showing my David wants nothing to do with the supernatural world, while at the same time showing why he has no real choice in the matter.

Xombi #7 – 11: Silent Cathedrals and Xombi #0 were published by Milestone Comics..

Xombi #1 – 6: Silent Cathedrals

February 14, 2011 2 comments

Written by John Rozum, Art by J.J. Birch.
DC/Milestone
Rating: Unrated

Beginning in 1994, Xombi was the story of scientist David Kim as his world of logic, computers and normalcy became intertwined with the shadowy world of the occult, magic and other weirdness. For two years the series gave readers a glimpse into a fantastic world that ran alongside the more traditional superheroics of the Milestone comics line, one comprised of carnivorous clouds, cults, angels, computer ghosts, teleporting frogs and more. While our first glimpse came via a special #0, the regular series kicked off with a six part arc called “Silent Cathedrals” which depicts the events that led to David Kim’s immortality and introduced most of the major supporting cast as well as setting the tone for the entire series.

The story opens in a broom closet as a nun known as Nun of the Above and her sidekick/apprentice Catholic Girl are called to investigate the appearance of a horde of talking frogs known as the Nomatoads. After some suitably ominous and odd moments involving the frogs babbling about where they’ve been and who they’ve been near the scene switches to a more mundane one as the series protagonist finally appears. David Kim is introduced as he walks his new employee and long time friend, Kelly Sandborne, through the details of what they’ll be working on, medical applications for nanotechnology by using it to reconfigure available organic material. Unfortunately things don’t end well and following an attack upon the lab by the bizarre Rustling Husks, homunculi composed of the spirits of insects who died trapped between window panes, Kelly Sandborne makes a desperate attempt to use the nanomachines to heal his wounds. Shortly after David Kim awakes with this wound healed.. only to make the grisly discovery that the raw material utilized in the repair process came from Kelly Sandborne’s body. Accused of murder David Kim flees and finds himself sucked into a world of the weird as he attempts to clear his name and unravel the mystery behind the attack.

If the above didn’t clue you in, weirdness is one of the hallmarks of the series and the first arc is full of it. Creatures like Carnivorous Clouds share page time along side characters like the aforementioned Nun of the Above, Rabbi Sinnowitz and his golems and more. Almost everyone in this arc will appear later in the series, some becoming hugely important and influential in David Kim’s new life. With so many characters and monsters featured perhaps it was almost inevitable that the first five parts end up feeling a plot heavy as David and company move from one encounter with crazy creatures to another as they follow the bread crumbs towards a potential world ending situation. The story barely stops to catch its breath or give us any real insight into the players. This is a bit of a double edged sword as it’s one hell of an entertaining ride, but as the main story ends in the fifth chapter you’re left knowing not much more about David Kim and his allies then you did when it started. Then you get to chapter six, the epilogue, and that changes drastically. In what is easily one of the most talked about issues from the original series, the weirdness, monsters and supernatural threats and evil plots are set aside as David Kim reflects upon the life of his Kelly Sandborne. The entire issue is a journey through his memories of their friendship. It’s a quiet moment that still manages to get me choked up every time I read it, and frankly I think it did more to set the book apart from the grim and gritty 90′s than the five issues before it.

J.J. Birch’s artwork is unique and definitely an acquired taste. There’s an awkwardness to it that’s a bit off putting at first, but one that ultimately works and helps sell the reality of some of the weird creatures and monsters that appear in this arc. I’d love to know just how much details he was given in Rozum’s scripts and how much of it was left to him. He’s also very good a depicting emotions through body language and facial expressions, something that’s good given that the book ultimately isn’t much of a slap, bang action fest, though he handles the few fights we see in this arc fairly well too.

“Silent Cathedrals” is a fast paced, whirlwind tour of the weird and Rozum does a great job at sweeping the reader and David Kim up into it, introducing many of the players who will play into the rest of the series and giving us all the basic information we really need on them. The final installment of the arc shows that he’s not just capable of doing strange and quirky and that series isn’t just about that, but that underneath it all is a human and emotional tale about someone’s who’s life was turned upside down and how he’ll deal with it.

Xombi #1 – 6: Silent Cathedrals was published by Milestone Comics..

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