Xombi #1 – 6: Silent Cathedrals
Written by John Rozum, Art by J.J. Birch.
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..