Xombi: Monster Hunters and Mysteries

I never stuck with Milestone Media—the multicultural superhero imprint of DC Comics—beyond the first few issues of Static and a random installment of Hardware, so I’d never even heard of a 1994 comic called Xombi until six or seven years later, when a few wizened internet comic book pundits mentioned that it was a forgotten little gem.

Or maybe they mentioned that it was merely okay. I can’t quite remember. But what I can remember was the unusual spelling of the title and the fact that whatever was said or written about the book, all those years after it was published, never motivated me to track down any back issues.

And the series was certainly never collected.

Yet, here we are, barreling toward the summer of 2011, and a new Xombi comic book from DC, three issues into its run, is one of the best series of the year.

Xombi, written by John Rozum (creator of the original series) and illustrated by Frazer Irving (not the original series artist, but a master of digitally-painted artwork nonetheless) is, essentially, a monster hunter series. It’s not a genre that DC Comics tends to swim around in. They’re all about the costumed heroes, outside of Vertigo, and Xombi is no Vertigo comic.

It could be, perhaps, since it’s not radically dissimilar in tone and nods-to-literacy from Mike Carey and Peter Gross’s Unwritten. Except Xombi is a billion times more gorgeous, and doesn’t revel in its own cleverness just because it assumes the reader has read a few real books.

Plus, as much as Xombi is a monster hunter series, it’s also not-so-secretly a superhero comic. The characters don’t wear capes and costumes, but they have code names and powers and fight things that would be supervillains if they weren’t so busy being, well, monsters.

Rozum’s original run on Xombi, which, as I mentioned, I’ve never read, was apparently the origin story of David Kim, Korean-American scientist and soon-to-be “xombi,” which sounds a lot like “zombie,” but the “x” is for the tiny nanomachines that infected his body, and the dropped “e” is for his newfound immortality. He’s a zombie, I mean “xombi,” that’s an undead superhero who can regenerate and affect matter around him with the help of his nanite pals.

That’s what the internet tells me, and it’s more of an explanation than you actually get in DC’s new Xombi issues #1-3, which give a few examples of what David Kim can do with his nanites (like turn pieces of paper into popcorn kernels, for a quick and creepy little snack), and tend not to dwell on the past, but rather dive into an adventure in which David Kim and other super-powered characters visit a molecularly condensed prison in an attempt to solve a murder mystery before discovering that a shape-changing ancient god of destruction built like a flaming lion has been let loose on the suburbs.

Yeah, that.

I have no idea if this series is retelling stories from the old Milestone run, or keeping the continuity of the past and adding to it, or rebooting everything except the character names and the basic high-concept of a dude with immortal nanite powers, but John Rozum and Frazer Irving’s Xombi is a pretty great series, whatever its background.

Did I mention that the series has disturbing, cloaked bad guys who have hornet’s nests instead of heads and use magic guns shaped like skulls? Or that the comic has pistol-packing nuns, a character named “Catholic Girl” who can fly, glow, and emit a forcefield, and a gaggle of possessed typewriters that hammer out nonsense phrases in Italian? Or that the climax of the third issue ends with a monologue about the importance of love and human relationships? No? Well, you’ll just have to read the comic yourself to find out about all of that stuff.

From what I’ve seen, Xombi is one of the lowest-selling, if not THE lowest-selling, comic book series coming out of DC this year. That doesn’t give me much confidence in its longevity, but that’s the comic book industry, where sales are largely based on practically blind pre-orders, and quality is secondary to retailer guesswork. So check it out before it’s too late, before it slips away and becomes one of those comics that you end up hearing about, six or seven years after its release, and then never bother to track down.

Xombi‘s worth the attention. And it needs some, immediately.

Tim Callahan writes the weekly “When Words Collide” column at Comic Book Resources and is the author of Grant Morrison: The Early Years and the editor of Teenagers from the Future. He sometimes blogs at Geniusboy Firemelon, although these days he tends to post his fleeting but surely incisive comic book thoughts as TimCallahan on Twitter.


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