Retro Review: Xombi #0-21 By Rozum & Birch With Cowan For Milestone Media & DC Comics

Xombi #0 – 21 (January 1994 – February 1996)

Written by John Rozum

Pencilled by Denys Cowan (#0), J.J. Birch (#1-21)

Inked by Jimmy Palmiotti (#0), J.J. Birch (#1-21)

Painted colour by Noelle C. Giddings (#0-1, 4-14, 16-21), Julia Lacquement (#2-3), Micheline Hess (#15), J. Scott J. (#15), David Montoya (#15)

Colour Assist by Andrew Burrell (#5-7)

Spoilers (from twenty-three to twenty-five years ago)

I never paid much mind to the Milestone line of comics, despite their having a number of creators I liked contributing to their stories.  In 1994, there were just too many lines of superhero comics coming out, and I didn’t have the time or money to engage in them. I don’t know that I ever even noticed Xombi.

And then, in 2011, DC brought the character back in a short-lived series featuring art by the wonderful Frazer Irving.  I was immediately drawn into John Rozum’s story, and the Grant Morrison-ish weirdness of the comic. In many ways, it reminded me of the early pre-Vertigo Doom Patrol run, and I wanted to know more.  I set myself to scouring the dollar bins, but found this book to be very elusive.

Eventually, about six months ago, I found the last issue that I needed.  Now it’s time to dive into this book, and see if it was worth the hunting.

Let’s look at who turned up in the title:

Villains

  • Dharma (#0)
  • Beli Mah (#0, 8-11)
  • Twilight (#0)
  • The Snapping Jaws (#0)
  • The Artery Bandits (#0)
  • The Refractionary (#0)
  • The Rustling Husks (#1-2, 4)
  • Dr. Sugarman (#2, 4, 6)
  • Lesion Dogs (#3)
  • The Sheer Shears (#3)
  • Symptom (The Four Stable Boys of the Apocalypse; #3-4)
  • The Barrenness (The Four Stable Boys of the Apocalypse; #3-4)
  • Dispute (The Four Stable Boys of the Apocalypse; #3-4)
  • Entropy (The Four Stable Boys of the Apocalypse; #3-4)
  • Carnivore Clouds (#4)
  • Boraxis Megatheros (Lord of Fumes (#5)
  • Cole (#7-11)
  • Manuel Dexterity (Beli Mah Painful Inscription; #7)
  • Manuella Dexterity (Beli Mah Painful Inscription;#7, 10)
  • Lite Brite (Beli Mah Painful Inscription; #8)
  • Bludgeon (Beli Mah Painful Inscription; #8)
  • Blister Ed (Beli Mah Painful Inscription; #8)
  • Leland Crowne (Beli Mah leader; #8-11)
  • Depression Annie (Beli Mah Painful Inscription; #9-10)
  • Doubting Thomas (Beli Mah Painful Inscription; #9-10)
  • The Kinderessen (#13, 15-16)
  • The Ghost of ENIAC (#14)
  • The Boogeymen Dread (#18-19, 21)

Guest Stars

  • Rainsaw (#0)
  • Boogieman (Blood Syndicate; #15-16)
  • Iron Maiden (Shadow Cabinet; #16)
  • Thomas Pynchon Jr. (#21)

Supporting Characters

  • Julian Parker (#0, 2-5, 8-11)
  • Nun Of The Above (Sister Norma Praetorius; #1-5, 15-16)
  • Catholic Girl (Stacy; #1-5, 15-16)
  • Kelly Sanborne (#1)
  • Rabbi Ben Sinnowitz (#2, 4-5, 8-13, 17-21)
  • Jachin (Golem; #2, 4-5, 8-9, 11)
  • Boaz (Golem; #2, 4-5, 9, 11)
  • Liam (#2-5)
  • Pip (Mechanical bird; #2-4)
  • Leonard (Mechanical bear; #2, 4)
  • Hans (Mechanical boy; #2, 4)
  • Mechanical rooster (#4)
  • Detective Homily (#3)
  • Chet Flynn (David’s friend; #7, 12, 15-16)
  • Laurie McCarthy (David’s friend; #7, 12, 15-16)
  • Israfel (an angel; #9-11)
  • The Seraphim (#10-11)
  • Cheryl Saltz (scientist; #12, 14)
  • Dalila (David’s fiancé; #12, 21)
  • Kameko (#17, 19-20)
  • Dumaka (#17-18)

Let’s take a look at what happened in these books, with some commentary as we go:

  • Xombi #0 came out months before the first issue of the monthly series.  It was launched as part of the Shadow War, a Milestone crossover event, and has to be the least new-reader friendly debut issue I’ve ever read.  In the letters page, writer John Rozum explains that this issue takes place after #10 in the series – which wouldn’t come out for at least a year.  The issue opens with a guy named Dharma arriving in a room strewn with bodies. Dharma can apparently see through time, so we get glimpses of our hero, David Kim, the Xombi, fighting and I guess killing some guy in Rac Shade’s trench coat.  We know that Dharma is after him to join some group. Next, we see David and the guy he was with in the time vision sitting in a bar. We don’t know who the guy is, but we can tell they are friends. David talks about how, since his transformation, he no longer gets drunk, goes to the bathroom, or needs to brush his teeth.  We also learn that David is getting married soon. His friend tells him he’s in for a life of weirdness, and that he doesn’t believe that David’s new life is the result of nanotech alone, but David rejects this. There is talk about peanuts as metaphors for expectations, and then the friend leaves. When David walks out of the bar, he sees a man who looks like a walking Magritte painting, complete with a top hat.  This guy, named Twilight, explains that he’s part of an organization that is trying to save humanity. They want David to help them stop some terrorists who are stealing a biochemical weapon. Twilight wants David to step inside of him (he’s a gateway), and just as David reaches into him, something weird happens with the wind, and suddenly David’s arm is severed. A pile of sentient blades has shown up, and explains that when he startled Twilight, it caused him to close his portal, with David’s arm on the other side.  This creature, called Rainsaw, explains that Twilight works for Dharma, who made the bioweapon himself with someone named Dr. Nemo, and that they are going to use it on more people. Twilight disagrees with this, and offers David his arm back. Twilight tries to get David back inside him (sounds kind of wrong, doesn’t it?), and Rainsaw tries to get Twilight to leave the Shadow Cabinet and join them. Instead, Twilight opens up his portal and brings out everyone and everything that lives inside him, including The Snapping Jaws, a mostly invisible rottweiler, The Artery Bandits, creatures that steal peoples’ circulatory systems, The Refractionary, a guy who is described as an “image ventriloquist”, and some creepy doll creatures.  They attack the crowd that has gathered, Twilight realizes he’s done wrong, and David starts using his severed arm as a club to stop them all. David manages to regrow his arm, between stopping the Artery Bandits and taking on the creepy dolls. The Refractionary confuses him, and Rainsaw, who thinking he’s flying through The Refractionary, actually slices David to ribbons. Twilight takes this as a victory, as Rainsaw kills The Snapping Jaws. David is somehow returned to one piece, telling the others that he can’t be killed. He tells both men that he wants nothing to do with them, but is going to go with Rainsaw. He picks up his bag of peanuts before leaving.
  • Issue one opens two months before the rest of the issue (which is also ten issues before the zero issue).  Nun Of The Above and Catholic Girl are called to a hospital that has been infested by Nomatoads – toads that appear wherever teleportation has happened.  Listening to the toads speak, they figure out that someone called Sugarman has escaped, and that they need to find him. David Kim is a doctoral student working at a place called Organitek.  He welcomes his new assistant, a former student of his named Kelly Sanborne. He shows her around the lab, stopping first at The Cabinet Beast, a nanotech machine that can break down and rearrange organic particles.  He next introduces her to Gerald Davies, who has used nanotech, pheromones, and electrical signals to create an elaborate miniature circus populated by ants. David is called to give a blood sample which is needed for an experiment that night.  He tells another scientist, Nishi, to go home since he has Kelly to help him. They order dinner. Later, the night security guard is approached by something called a Rustling Husk – a homunculi with a head like a wasps’ nest. It blasts him with a gun that looks like an HR Giger Alien.  David and Kelly talk about David’s fiancé Dalila, who we learn is away in France. Kelly shares that her she broke up with her boyfriend, and the two flirt with one another. They are interrupted by Cecilia, a cleaning lady, who is unimpressed with the frankly creepy way they are talking with one another.  Another security guard is attacked by two Rustling Husks. David explains his experiment – he’s programming nanomachines with his DNA so they can fix another vial of blood that has been contaminated with polio. Kelly heads to the washroom, passing Cecilia who gives her more grief. The elevator opens and three Rustling Husks emerge.  They don’t want to make any noise (their Aliens guns scream when fired), and Cecilia bashes in one of their heads with her broom stick. Another uses its tail to impale her, and we learn from the narration that Rustling Husks are made from the ghosts of insects who die on windowsills. The surviving ones release a handful of little men into the lab to find the discs.  David is surprised to see them, and takes an Alien gunshot to the chest. The Husks leave with the device and discs they came for. Kelly finds Cecilia and then finds David, who is still alive. He has her inject the nanomachines into him, and we get a lot of narration about how they are using raw matter from around David’s wound to fix him. When he wakes up, he is completely fine, but he discovers that the machines, which have replicated through his whole body, used Kelly’s flesh to feed themselves – she is half skeletal and clearly dead.
  • David is still coming to grips with what happened when police surprise him and assume that all the carnage in the lab is his fault.  The cops start beating on him, and he realizes he needs to run, getting shot in the shoulder in the process. He jumps out a fourth floor window and survives.  As he walks away, he runs into another Rustling Husk. Just before it can shoot him, it is smashed by one of two large Golem, who are accompanied by an older rabbi.  He explains to David what the Husks are, and then explains that he built the two Golem. He has a lot to explain, but never offers his name. David fixes his dislocated shoulder, and the rabbi asks him to come home with him.  At a pawn shop, someone I later figure out is Dr. Sugarman trades a strange stillborn fetus that sounds a bit like Pinhead from Hellraiser for a book that he is planning to use to start the Apocalypse. The rabbi returns home with David and the Golem to find guests waiting for him – Nun Of The Above, Catholic Girl, and Julian Parker, the guy we saw in the zero issue talking about peanuts.  They are there to tell the rabbi that Sugarman has escaped, and was helped by an organization called Trapeze. The rabbi introduces David to everyone (without explaining who they all are), and tells them about David’s work. David further explains that he has been transformed by the nanomachines, at the cost of his assistant’s life. He also mentions how he doesn’t need his glasses anymore.  Nun Of The Above explains that Sugarman was a surgeon who experimented on children to try to achieve immortality. When science wasn’t enough, he turned to the occult as well. Nun can’t find Sugarman anywhere (presumably she has powers that would aid in this quest), and Julian suggests that Sugarman might have more than one scheme in play. On cue, we see Sugarman sitting at a computer, talking about how he will be starting the end of the world presently.  In a place called the Garden of Spires, a mechanical bird is surprised to see beams of light coming out of a castle. A man dressed as a medieval knight is praying, when a clockwork teddy bear calls to him (calling him Master Liam) to tell him that Pip, the bird, is upset about something. The bird informs Liam that someone or something called Boraxis Megatheros, the Lord of Fumes, is escaping, which upsets the bear.
  • Liam goes to the site of the holding cathedral that held the Lord of Fumes, confirming that someone has brought him back into the world.  Liam says he’s going to go after him. At a busy restaurant in Dakota, all of the meat, and even a lot of the leather, coalesces into the form of a man and walks out of the place.  David and Julian are at the library, trying to figure out where Sugarman is. Julian explains that Nun Of The Above’s powers give her something like an omniscient narrator’s overview of the world, but for some reason she can’t see where Sugarman is.  Instead, they are going to use the finger joint of a Rustling Husk to divine Sugarman’s location over a map. Nun and Catholic Girl talk about the meat man, and Catholic Girl flies off to stop him. A cop, Detective Homily, chats with Sister Norma, and she tells him she’ll handle the meat stuff; she also tells him that David is innocent.  The meat man, already rotting in the summer heat, gets attacked by a pack of Lesion Dogs, dogs that are covered in sores. Catholic Girl comes to help fight off the dogs. A librarian tries to stop Julian from his divining, and he makes her lose her voice by waving his hand. He divines that Sugarman is at the waterfront, and as they leave, they let the woman speak again.  Sister Norma, watching Julian with her powers, decides to call Rabbi Sinnowitz to let him know what’s going on (this is the first we see his name). Catholic Girl keeps fighting the dogs. One dog bites the neck of a bystander, killing him. The meat man transfers his consciousness into the dead man, and introduces himself as Liam, claiming to also be an agent of the Lord. As David and Julian head towards the door of the library, they are attacked by a pair of Sheer Shears, robed figures with scissors for faces.  Julian explains that they can’t be beat by knowledge, but can be beaten by things made of rock. They kill them using a bust of Socrates and a marble column. Sister Norma paraphrases Liam, which helps explain that he has been working since 1210 to guard the Lord of Fumes, an imprisoned giant. Now that he’s back in the world, Liam can kill him with a weapon that God made. Liam asks for Sister Norma’s help. Julian and David see some paper fragments in the shape of a church, which tells Julian that Sugarman is really in a church somewhere.  Some guy tells them to look outside the library, where four weird figures have gathered. Julian calls them the Four Stable Boys of the Apocalypse.
  • Julian explains the Stable Boys to David – they are there to make the false Apocalypse real.  Julian tells David to neither touch nor breathe around them, and immediately he gets sick from one of them, however he’s able to cure himself with his nanomachines.  Another swings a sword at him, and misses, and then I guess they just walk away from them, because we don’t see them again this issue. Julian and David go to meet the others – the Rabbi, his Golem, Nun, Catholic Girl, and Liam, who is not introduced to anyone.  They see a large church on top of a manmade island or large scow. In the Garden of Spires, some hands reach out of a grave and drag Liam’s horse into it. As our heroes get on the scow, which is covered in trash, they become aware of a cluster of Carnivore Clouds above them, that are munching on seagulls.  Since no one has any Mr. Bubble, there is no way to get rid of them. Catholic Girl, who we learn is named Stacy, flies up to them for no good reason, and has to use her forcefield, which is activated by reciting the Hail Mary prayer. As the clouds approach the others, Dr. Sugarman comes out of the church with six Rustling Husks.  He stops the clouds and then praises the heroes for surviving his obstacles. There’s a weird page where his asking Nun a question gives her a nosebleed. Sugarman thanks David for developing the nanomachines, which he has in a syringe. Before injecting himself, he wants to test them, so one of the Husks shoots David in the leg, teleporting it away.  As everyone watches, David’s leg regrows. Sugarman then injects himself with his syringe, and asks David to test the machines. David starts punching him, while explaining that the machines hadn’t been programed, and are therefore useless. When one of the Husks makes ready to shoot, Stacy blasts them all. David keeps punching Sugarman, and Sugarman somehow bites his hand off at the wrist.  When he spits it out, it has a scorpion’s tail and attacks David, except that the Rabbi and one of the Golem destroy it. Somehow, Sugarman escapes, and everyone notices another problem coming, which we don’t get to see. In the Garden of Spires, the bear (named Leonard), the bird Pip, the boy Hans, and an unnamed rooster, all mechanical, are alarmed about the missing horse. They hear a banging on the door of the hut where they are watching over Liam’s body, and open it to find shadowy, scary figures with red eyes.
  • The Lord of Fumes, a giant with smoke stacks coming out of his back and a stovepipe emerging from his rear end, walks through Dakota’s version of Central Park, killing all life that crosses his path.  Our group of heroes, other than David and Stacy, work with Liam, whose borrowed body is decaying rapidly, to prepare a pool of genetically engineered bacteria from David’s company that they believe will be able to kill the creature.  David and Stacy, meanwhile, use the screaming guns that belonged to the Rustling Husks to try to get his attention and lead him to the trap they’ve planned. The pool is ready, and magic symbols have been drawn around it (I guess Liam gave up on the sword he was supposed to be looking for).  David and Catholic Girl manage to lead the giant to the right place, and everyone shoots at his leg with the screaming guns, toppling him right into the pool. Julian starts to read an incantation, but the rabbi grabs it from him and reads it instead. The spell causes a massive gothic church to rise around the Lord of Fumes, which then sinks into the Earth, taking him with it.  Liam returns to his body in the Garden of Spires, to learn that his body has been killed, and that when it rots, he is going to have to find a new body or finally die. He sees that his mechanical friends have been killed by agents of the Lord of Fumes, about whom we are told nothing. Stacy helps David heal from the wounds he got fighting the Lord, and transmutes a bottle of water into wine.  Sister Norma wonders why Dr. Sugarman would ally himself with the Lord of Fumes, and where he is getting his powers from. David, regrowing a hand he lost in the battle (actually, I think it’s the one Sugarman bit off), tells the rabbi that now that he has had some time to pause and think, he wants to resurrect his assistant Kelly.
  • David narrates issue six, as he thinks about Kelly and their friendship together.  As a way of memorializing, he keeps thinking about her favourite things and her life goals, like skydiving.  David returns to the lab where his transformation, and Kelly’s death, happened. He sees a colleague who lets him know that the police have cleared the crime scene, even though it’s still sealed off and a mess.  David goes in, and scraps samples of blood off the walls (I’m not sure how or why that would be Kelly’s) into a test tube, which he runs through his machines to replicate Kelly’s DNA. He takes a train to her hometown, still thinking about her favourite things and the minutiae that made her her.  He meets with the undertaker at the funeral home where her remains have been sent, lying to convince the man to let him spend some time with her body. The man is understanding, but reveals that she has been cremated. Standing over a small river, David releases the nanomachines he’d planned to use to revive Kelly, and thinks about her relationships with men that were bad for her.  He thinks about seeking out Dr. Sugarman to gain revenge, and while he rejects that idea, we see that Sugarman has teleported to Venice. David goes to Kelly’s funeral, which is held in a cemetery. The priest releases her ashes, and we see some of them falling into the same river where the nanomachines were released. David thinks about how his body devoured hers, but also that the nanomachines broke down her DNA, so he can’t decide how much of her is still within him.  At the end, he goes skydiving to help her live one of her unrealized dreams.
  • A wealthy businessman, Mr. Duncan, goes to see a man named Cole to arranged the assassination of his wife to prevent her from taking half of his business and wealth with her in their impending divorce.  David is having dinner with two friends, Chet and Laurie, after they saw a Bruce Willis/Julia Roberts movie together that David hated. They speak briefly about Kelly, and the police investigation into her killing.  In the diner is Lenore Duncan, the target of assassination, and learn that her coffee grounds predict a bad future. As David’s friends get into a cab, a woman across the street notices something strange in an alley – a naked man whose lower body is a giant hand.  This is Manuel Dexterity, the assassin whose touch brings about such great regret that people die. He touches the woman, and then the two cops that run up to him. He starts to chase Lenore, and just as he is about to catch her, David jumps in to help. Manuel’s powers have no effect on David, nor does the physical attack that leads to him falling down a flight of stairs.  Dexterity makes it into Lenore’s apartment, and David attacks again. Dexterity tries to choke him to death, while Lenore throws a typical but interesting selection of books at him. David kicks him out of the window and he falls to the pavement, where he dies. Mr. Duncan comforts his estranged wife, who wants to go home with him. Cole watches from the crowd, and we learn from his narration that he’s now going to be in trouble with an organization called the Beli Mah, as will be David.  Elsewhere, Manuella Dexterity learns of her brother’s death, and plots revenge.
  • Issue eight stands out as the first in which David is referred to as Xombi, and it happens on two separate occasions.  Cole is worried that the Beli Mah are going to be coming after him, and he’s proven correct when his weird doll warning system goes off.  A creature called Lite Brite emerges from some flowers, and Cole only saves himself by turning off the lights. David is getting beaten on by a many-armed creature called Bludgeon.  Their fight ends up in a subway tunnel, where Bludgeon is hit by a train. David turns up at Rabbi Sinnowitz’s, being carried in by one of the Golem. After three hours of painful sleep and bodily reorganizing, David is able to speak with the Rabbi, who identifies David’s attacker, and his connection to the Beli Mah cult.  He refuses to help further, as it is the Sabbath, but sends David to speak with Julian Parker. When he arrives at Julian’s place, Julian is speaking to a horned lion creature that is inside some sort of magical circle; this creature announces David’s presence, and calls him both Xombi and one of the “indestructible ones.” David surprises Julian by saying he’s being hunted by the Beli Mah.  A creature made of flames, wearing a straitjacket, flies through the neighbourhood, causing the people he passes to combust in a fit of remorse. Julian explains the Beli Mah’s beliefs that the world should be reduced to abstraction (this is Grant Morrison land), but they are interrupted by the flying flame guy. Julian tells David to think of good deeds he’s done, while he creates a lot of steam in the room.  Remembering complimenting his sister as a child causes the creature, who Julian identifies as Blister Ed, to disappear. Julian is surprised that David has now defeated three of the Painful Inscriptions, the Beli Mah’s assassins, and as Julian changes his shirt, David is surprised by the eyeballs on his chest; apparently something he caught from a girl in a rival cult called The Veil. Julian tells David he’s going to help him, but thinks they will need help.  It is at this point that Cole walks in the room. At the Beli Mah’s place, their leader, a guy wearing a weird wrought iron fence crown, is upset to hear he’s lost three of his people, but pleased to learn that David is a Xombi, and wants to capture him and use him as a template for something.
  • We see the chamber where the Beli Mah make their inscriptions, and watch as a pregnant woman is placed beneath a device while cultists, in the Rac Shade-style jackets we saw in issue zero, chant.  The woman delivers the two Dexterity twins, Manuel and Manuella. In the present, in Julian’s apartment, he identifies Cole as someone who can’t be trusted. Cole tells Julian and David that he knows secrets of the Beli Mah, and can help them.  In return, he wants the skull of Tezcatlapoca, that Julian owns, so he can sell it to a woman in Naples. Julian reluctantly agrees. Cole leads them to the School of Anguish, an old textiles mill that the Beli Mah use as their training facility.  Upon entering, they are surrounded by cultists and a couple of inscriptions – Depression Annie and Doubting Thomas. The cult’s leader approaches, and reveals that Cole was working with them. The men are locked in a room with an angel sitting in a containment circle in it.  The Rabbi is woken from his restless sleep, and his sheets tell him to go help David. The angel speaks in images, showing how the cult used their funnel thing on him. The angel suggests calling other angels to help, but Julian recognizes that Crowne (presumably the leader of the cult – I wish that Rozum was better at introducing character names) intends to use David as a new painful inscription.  Julian has the idea of using the chalk he brought to write a spell to call the host of angels himself. Somewhere along the way, we learn that the angel’s name is Israfel, although how we know that is a mystery. Crowne prepares his funnel, but then learns that the Rabbi is approaching. While Julian works on drawing his spell, he has a long talk with David about what magic is, and it’s clear that he’s the Milestone Universe answer to John Constantine.  The Rabbi is captured, and something is done to the Golems to immobilize them (this is the first that we learn the second one is named Boaz). The cultists come to the cell, and take David, leaving the Rabbi behind. They don’t see the spell that Julian is working on. David is placed under the funnel. Just as Julian nears finishing his spell, Crowne brings David back to the cell, only now he’s gigantic, with a brontosaurus’s neck, and a toothy asshole on top of his head.
  • The transformed David advances on his former friends, and stabs Julian through the back.  Cole uses one of the Beli Mah as a shield, and he and the rabbi run though the open door, followed by David and Crowne.  Julian is not dead, although he is dying, and he uses his last bit of strength to continue the incantation he’d begun before.  Manuella Dexterity, knowing that the person who killed her brother is around, escapes from her room. Cole and the rabbi run into Doubting Thomas, who begins to make them feel bad about themselves.  With his last breath, Julian finishes his spell. Crowne and David caught up with the rabbi and Cole, and just as David is about to kill them, Manuella attacks him. Her touch, which digs up shame, helps David to reassert control over himself.  His nanomachines begin to work to put him back to normal, and he hurries to try to kill Manuella before that happens. It doesn’t appear to work though. A glowing caduceus appears, the symbol of the Seraphim, and frees Israfel. He asks that it cures Julian, and it agrees.  David, back to normal and naked, maneuvers Doubting Thomas to be his shield, and then stabs him, striking Manuella through him, presumably killing her. Crowne hurries to move his mystical funnel. The Rabbi is happy to see David, but disturbed by his nakedness. Julian is happy to be restored, even though he’s a bit disappointed to learn that the Seraphim did not cure his affliction.  It leaves with Israfel, but before doing so, it shines its light on the Beli Mah, making Depression Annie, among others, feel its love. David, Cole, and the Rabbi continue to fight their way out of the building, while Julian uses his magic to make the cultists disappear. David, the Rabbi, and Cole are surrounded by cultists with spears.
  • David fights the Beli Mah, sending the Rabbi to go stop Crowne.  Cole takes the chance to run away, and David, stabbed through by one of the cultists, attacks them all viciously.  Elsewhere, Israfel and the Seraphim show themselves to some cultists, and the Rabbi finds his Golem. Julian finds David, who has killed all but one of the cultists.  Julian is worried that Crowne will use the funnel, so he goes to find the Rabbi. Crowne wheels the funnel away, while the narration explains how it works to create the Painful Inscriptions, and how this debacle is the cult’s worst defeat since their fight with the Veil.  Israfel, still accompanied by the Seraphim, shows himself to Crowne. Julian catches up with the Rabbi and they update one another on what’s going on. Crowne fires the funnel at Israfel, and it doesn’t really do anything. This revelation stuns Crowne, who believes in stripping away illusion.  When Israfel kisses him, he falls into pieces. Israfel and the Seraphim turn their attention to David. The others wait outside the building, and see the angels depart. David joins them, but tells them he wants out of their crazy lives. He says that the Seraphim told him things he doesn’t want to deal with, including claiming him as one of them.  The Rabbi explains the Seraphim, and offers him further tutelage from someone, but David refuses it. We learn that he’s upset that he’s killed, but Julian tries to change his perspective on that. The Rabbi explains that David is a magnet for weirdness now, and Julian offers to take him to a local bar (setting up the beginning of issue #0). Cole calls Mr. Duncan, the guy who wanted to kill his wife before.  Duncan explains that he’s changed his mind, and Cole tries to get more money out of him. A little later, Cole shows up at the Duncans’, and plays the wife a recording of her husband hiring Cole to kill her.
  • David has gone to see an old friend, Cheryl Saltz, a scientist who works at Alva Technologies, about his nanomachines.  She is impressed with their design, but seeing how they work and the list of injuries they have helped David recover from, she suspects that they are working well beyond their specifications and design.  She wonders if David is immortal. David has been trying to figure out how he’s going to tell Dalila, his fiancé, about his transformation. He has written many versions, but is reluctant to explain things to her.  He starts to read Rilke, and then has a surrealistic dream about her. She calls him and wakes him up. She tells him about going to a party and feeling uncomfortable around some transvestites. She also tells him that she’s going to be coming home from Paris in a couple of weeks, which makes him happy but also gives him a deadline to figure out how to explain things to her.  We learn that she doesn’t like to have things sprung on her. David goes to see his friend Chet to get his advice, but Chet just wants to watch 70s TV shows on videotape. Eventually, David gets his attention by stabbing himself through the hand. They head to a bar, where David explains everything to him over a game of pool, but Chet doesn’t have any helpful advice. Later, David decides to take Rabbi Sinnowitz’s offer of tutelage from the last issue and calls him up.
  • David is with Rabbi Sinnowitz at a cafe, and while he’s still not sure if he wants to be a part of the strange world he’s discovered, he knows that he wants more knowledge of it.  Sinnowitz tells him about how his wife discovered his involvement in the shadow worlds, and how it went badly (especially since it looked at the time like he was going to sacrifice a baby).  The rest of the issue consists of Sinnowitz’s story about when he was living on Paris Island with his wife during the Great Depression. They had a comfortable apartment with German neighbours whose place smelled strange.  Sinnowitz’s wife was barely speaking to him, so he consulted a few people, including one of his enemies, about how to get her to come around. This guy suggested that he have her experience the world he lives in. The German neighbour, who had something like five kids, figured out that Mrs. Sinnowitz was pregnant, and warned her of the Kinderessen, a creature that eats children.  She thought it nonsense but a few days later, when she noticed that the family’s smell (a potion designed to hide from the creature) was missing, she got very scared. Her husband comforted her and filled her in on the legends of the creature. He left her home alone though, and that night, the creature (which reminds me a lot of the way Bill Sienkiewicz drew the Demon Bear, only smaller) burst through the door, trying to eat her unborn child.  She managed to kill it, largely through luck, and the experience caused her to accept the work her husband did. At the same time, it also caused her to miscarry, and they were never able to have another child. David, hearing the story, figures out that the Rabbi had created this situation to get his wife on his side. The Rabbi makes it sound like this is the cost of love, and alludes to Julian having gone through something worse. The Rabbi also tells David that however he tells Dalilah about his new life, it’s probably going to be the wrong way.
  • Issue fourteen marks the beginning of the Long Hot Summer event, which sort of tied together all the various Milestone books, I guess, although I don’t fully see how.  It also is the start of the Milestone books using a higher quality paper. It opens with a history lesson on ENIAC, an early computer first designed to predict the weather but immediately pushed into war applications.  David is accompanying Cheryl to her job at the computer pavilion in something called Utopia Park. I don’t know why he never goes to his job now, and instead is always assisting someone who works for a rival company, but whatever.  Cheryl shows him around the exhibit, which I guess is about the history of computing. She shows him the ENIAC, which is a massive room-sized computer. Apparently it’s developed some sort of ghostly spirit, and it tries to connect itself to the “information superhighway” (that phrase is the most 90s thing about this comic).  Cheryl sees a number of ectoplasm-soaked punchcards, and after touching one, figures out what the computer wants. They find themselves trapped in the exhibit. David contacts Sister Norma to learn an exorcism rite, and then tries to banish the spirit from the computer. Cheryl decides instead to shut it down with a power surge, and after the spirits tendrils grab David, she succeeds.  This was a strange issue, and I’m starting to seriously wonder if David ever really does anything, or just always lets stuff happen to him.
  • The recap page (is this when this practice started catching on) explains that Utopia Park has been built on land that used to be Paris Island, where numerous things have always hidden.  The issue opens with a bunch of rats scurrying through tunnels trying to avoid something they call “People Eaters” on their way to the “Big Rat” for advice on what to do. Nun of the Above is playing basketball with some other nuns when she gets a vision of bloody teeth and leaves the game to call her assistant.  David is hanging out at Utopia Park with Chet and Laurie, talking about how the future hasn’t been what was promised. Chet even believes that in twenty-five years (i.e., 2020), people will be driving the same boring cars they are now. With the possible exception of the Tesla, he’s pretty much right there. Anyway, they aren’t so impressed with this vision of the future.  The rats go to the “Big Rat”, who the internet tells me is Boogieman, a member of the Blood Syndicate. Catholic Girl is about to head out on a date when Sister Norma calls her to work. The “People Eaters” turn out to be the Kinderessen, and they gather in great numbers ready to pop out of sewers and tunnels to feast on the crowd at Utopia Park. David and his friends hear a loud boom, and then another, and see smoke in the distance.  Catholic Girl arrives on the scene to meet Sister Norma, just as a riot begins to break out. Boogieman leads the rats towards the surface. David tries to get his friends to leave the spreading riot (I assume something happened in the Long Hot Summer book, or one of the other tie-ins that explains this riot). Norma notices David in the distance. Chet keeps talking about the apocalypse. David introduces all of his friends as they come together.  Boogieman leads hundreds of rats into the riot, and everyone gets very nervous. Sister Norma points out hundreds of Kinderessen pouring out of a tunnel towards the crowd from the other side.
  • Everyone scrambles to stop the Kinderessen from eating everyone at Utopia Park.  Catholic Girl protects David’s friends while Nun of the Above gives him some iron knives and crucifixes.  David saves Boogieman, and the heroes figure they have to keep the beasts contained. David sees Iron Maiden, one of the Shadow Cabinet flying overhead.  She rescues a bunch of people from being trampled by a giant metal steamroller thing (I have no idea where it is coming from), and is approached by David and Stacy, who ask for her help.  Nun and Boogieman keep fighting, but the Nun is grabbed from behind and narrowly saved by Iron Maiden, who then uses her metal wings, Archangel style, to kill the rest of the Kinderessen. The Nun tells the heroes they have to go into the tunnels and destroy the creatures’ nest.  Luckily everyone happens to have flashlights, but that doesn’t help when the floor collapses under everyone except Iron Maiden, who grabs David. The ones who fell, along with a number of Boogieman’s rats, are surrounded by more Kinderessen. David jumps down to help fight them while Iron Maiden fashions a ladder to help the others get out.  As the last of the Kinderessen start climbing the ladder, Iron Maiden kills them all. The Nun tells the heroes they should go help everyone else in the park.
  • With issue seventeen, which is a “Reader’s Choice” $0.99 issue, Rozum remembers that he wants to be Grant Morrison.  The issue opens on a guy parking his bike, and the bike then begin devoured by sidewalk piranha. In a pagoda on a floating island, an immortal woman named Kameko gets ready for bed.  Her seer collects some tears which she puts into Kameko’s eyes so she can have visions while she sleeps. Apparently this has been going on for a long time. Kameko sees two hundred years from now, as her pagoda burns, under attack from someone named Morgan, Kameko is rescued by David Kim.  She knows that she will meet him soon, and wonders how she will talk to him when she knows so much of their shared future, and he doesn’t. David is having soup with Rabbi Sinnowitz, who is getting ready to show him the secret sides of Dakota. They enter an alley doorway that takes them underground.  When a spirit, a Shrieking Skin, approaches, the Rabbi tells him to close his eyes and plug his nose. David peeks at the creature, which would cause a rash on a normal person, and the Rabbi decides that he doesn’t deserve his tutelage. David is annoyed, and points out that it was the Rabbi and Julian who convinced him to pay attention to things and learn about the weird aspects of the world.  The Rabbi takes him to an establishment full of strange creatures watching homunculi fight, and then walks him through an otherworldly brothel, before leading him into a bar run by Tarantis, a human-looking spider hive intelligence. Tarantis says he is no longer an oracle, and sends them to sit with Claros, a woman with a flaming head and a jacket that shows news photos. Claros gives a number of prophecies to David, which mostly don’t make much sense without more context.  David asks why he gets called a Xombi all the time, and Sinnowitz explains that it means he cannot be killed. He points out another Xombi in the bar, and suggests he goes to talk to him.
  • The other Xombi, named Dumaka, starts to tell David his story after listening to David’s own.  Dumaka’s story traces back to an old African folktale about a young man who went out to find food for his village, which had been suffering from famine and attacks by other tribes.  The man, Dumaka, helped a wood thrush and a chameleon, and after killing a guinea fowl, helped a python goddess named Zombie. In return, Zombie told him to cut off part of her tail, which would cure his people.  Along the way home, the thrush told him that a hyena was coming for the python meat, so Dumaka used a magic knife the chameleon had given him to disguise the meat as various plants and herbs, hiding the last two pieces inside his animal friends.  He then killed the hyena, and fed it to his village. He also sent some girls to retrieve the python tail, which cured everyone. Dumaka himself became immortal in the process, and knows that so long as he has the will to live, he will do so. He talks to David about the negative aspects of his immortal life, since the python’s tail doesn’t help others the same way it did him.  He talks of how his wife, children, and grandchildren all died, but how he has never lost the will to live, mostly out of fear of dying. Rabbi Sinnowitz gets David, as he warns that the place they’re in is not safe after dark. In some hell dimension or something, a demon named Crimbil is celebrating his retirement from a prison where he has a reputation for torture. While his colleagues enjoy his party, his boss, Vuul, tells him he needs to feed the special prisoners, which terrifies everyone.  None of his colleagues are willing to do the job for him. The Rabbi tells David that other Xombies enjoy their long life. We see that Dumaka has returned to the land where his village once was, and has decided to will his life to end. Crimbil takes food into the lower levels of the prison, and distracted by his thoughts, doesn’t notice numerous signs that something is wrong. Finally, he realizes that the Bogeymen Dread are escaping.
  • Other guards in that prison find a number of dead guards, who have all died by suicide, and then are overwhelmed with despair themselves, as the Bogeymen Dread approach.  David and the Rabbi enter the lobby of Kameko’s building. The elevator to her pagoda is run by storytelling, so David reads the story in a book that leads to the correct floor.  It’s a story about boastful but petulant kings. They arrive in the pagoda, which is wondrous and strange, and are told by other guests that Kameko is not seeing anyone that day, as she is waiting for someone important to come.  A doorman tells them the same, but offers to allow them to wait. We see more of her strange pagoda, before they are left in a sitting room. David reads from the Book of Anger, and becomes enraged briefly, which leads to the Rabbi talking about the power of books.  Other guests join them, including Aileurs, a beautiful woman who David becomes slightly smitten with. As he introduces himself, the doorman reacts to his name, and after confirming that David is who he says he is, rushes out. He goes to speak to Kameko, who does not know how to approach David, knowing that he will become the great love of her very long life.  She thinks for a while, while her guests eat together. The doorman comes to gather David, letting him know that his presence has long been prophesied.
  • The doorman leads David through the pagoda, and past many strange sights before taking him to a terrace where Kameko awaits him.  She has to remind herself that he doesn’t know her at all, and that she only knows him through her prophetic dreams. David expresses surprise at how young she looks, considering she is 40 000 years old, and they talk about how long life can seem.  She admits that because she knows so much about his future, she doesn’t really know how to communicate with him now. He considers how similar her situation is in relation to his with deciding what to tell Dalila, and asks her to tell him everything.  Rabbi Sinnowitz waits for David in a large hall filling with a variety of guests, who have learned that David and Kameko are finally meeting. There are a few guests claiming to be the Comte de Saint-Germain, which is apparently socially awkward. Kameko tells David all about his future life, including how his nanomachines will eventually cause the destruction of 90% of all life on Earth.  She also tells him about their long relationship. Kameko declares her love for David, and also admits that warning him of his future like this might lead to him preventing it. David asks about Dalila’s future, and Kameko admits she doesn’t know; they aren’t set to meet again for another eighty years. David decides to leave, and thanking Kameko for being a good host, he also claims that the future she has told him about will not come to pass.  He finds the Rabbi and they leave. David isn’t ready to discuss what he learned with the Rabbi, but he does tell him that he’s going to tell Dalila everything, deciding that being truthful is worth putting their relationship at risk. The letters column of this issue reveals that the next issue will be the last, with the decline in the comics market getting the blame.
  • Issue twenty-one is extra-sized, and extra-wordy, to mark the end of the title.  The issue opens with a history of the Bogeymen Dread coming to America and feeding on people on Ellis Island.  Rabbi Sinnowitz continues his tour of the Hidden Cities (as the arc is named) with David, and we see some odd spots.  Next he wants to take him to the Guild of Unseen Wonders, so they head to a plain looking office. The door there, which appears to lead off an upper floor actually takes them to Elsewhere, a dimension made up of unused spaces in drawers and locked rooms.  We see Cerebus, Fone Bone, Concrete, a Rat Creature, and I think the guy from Nightmare Before Christmas in a town square. We see that David doesn’t fully close the door behind him as they enter, and then they travel for hours through this land, on their way to Jericho.  The sights they pass give Rozum and Birch some opportunities to amuse themselves and their surrealistic passions. The Rabbi recognizes someone he knows – Ingrid Platz – a parapsychologist, who is having coffee at a café with Thomas Pynchon. They chat about how Elsewhere is the source of all writers’ and artists’ ideas.  A Black Knight is returning from a quest when he comes across Treetown, where everyone has killed themselves but one person. That guy tells the Knight that the Bogeymen Dread have escaped their prison. Ingrid continues to tell David about how fireflies and bumblebees both came from Elsewhere, and they talk about the danger of things making their way into the normal world.  It’s at this point (many hours after they arrived in the world) that the Rabbi asks David if he shut the door behind him. The Black Knight races through Elsewhere, and his horse collapses right in front of our hero. The Knight tells them what’s going on, and the Rabbi asks again if the door was closed. At the same time, the woman in the office starts to worry that her boyfriend is sleeping with her best friend, and then she kills herself; the Bogeymen Dread have arrived in New York (not, apparently, Dakota).  We see a rash of suicides taking place, as they head to Ellis Island. Somehow, David is already there, laying a trap for them, to draw them in with emanations of hope. Next, he draws a door (Julian’s usual trick) to lead them back to their cell. When they arrive, the Bogeymen Dread realize that David is the only person to feed on, but due to his Xombi nature, he cannot kill himself. Eventually, he shakes off the despair they make him feel, and sends them through the door. Later, the Rabbi praises him, and encourages him to not feel bad for having basically caused so much death.  Later still, we see Dalilah arrive in Dakota. David meets her, not knowing how he’s going to explain his new life, but also knowing that everything will be fine.

With that, the series ended, although it did come back for six issues in 2011.  Rozum had written many times in the letter column that he had the book planned for years to come, but the 1996 comics market did not allow that to happen, which is a shame.

At the same time, I can see how this book would have been a difficult sell.  It was weird. I mean that in the best possible way, but where Grant Morrison always managed to include enough action or sex to keep even his weirdest titles moving, Rozum really just seemed to embrace the world-building aspects of his storylines, and as the story continued, just do what he wanted without much apparent thought to marketability or new-reader outreach.

David Kim is not much of a hero in this book.  Sure, he tries to do the right thing, but he’s really just a smart guy who cannot die.  He doesn’t learn magic (until it’s necessary right in the last issue), nor does he even arm himself before heading into conflicts.  At the same time, the aspect of his Xombi-ness becomes downplayed, as we stop seeing him recovering from wounds pretty early on in the run.  Instead, Kim is a conduit for Rozum to explore oddball ideas, without ever fully fleshing them out.

I don’t want this to sound harsh.  I’ve really enjoyed reading about these characters, and getting to know their world.  I’m just not surprised that a book like this had a hard time making a go of it, and I’m not sure if there was ever an era or time when things would have been different.  

Aside from the strange story approach, Rozum is generally terrible at introducing characters.  I’m incredibly interested in Nun of the Above and Catholic Girl, but we get next to no backstory for them.  Julian Parker goes ages before we learn his name; likewise with Rabbi Sinnowitz. It makes the series hard to follow, and to get into.  With time, I started to get a feel for everyone, but I can’t imagine how that would have worked on a monthly, instead of a daily, schedule.

Another thing I found noteworthy is David Kim himself.  I’m going to assume he’s Korean, but his ethnicity is never discussed.  I always understood Milestone as an experiment in putting characters of colour (predominantly black) centre stage, but Kim’s identity is never a part of the story.  It kind of felt like he was made Asian-American so that he can fit in the Milestone line, but could have just as easily been a white man, if the book were published through Vertigo.

Another thing that makes Milestone books stand out is the gorgeous painted colour, mostly by Noelle C. Giddings.  This happened just before almost all colouring went digital, and so it marks an interesting window into a world that could have been, when comics companies began elevating the colourist in importance, and putting more thought into how colour could enhance a story, but at the same time, largely chose to support a Betamax style while everyone else started to invest in VHS.

JJ Birch’s art was remarkable throughout the series.  I loved his run on Firestorm when I was younger, and the combination of the understated approach he took here, with Giddings’s colours, was pretty awesome.  He must have really enjoyed drawing the wide variety of things that showed up in this title, and the originality of this comic shone through on every page.

I’m leaving this even more curious to read more Milestone books.  I wasn’t impressed when I read the first Hardware trade, but now I’m kind of curious about Kobalt, Blood Syndicate, Shadow Cabinet, and Static.  I think I’ll be digging through some more dollar bins in my future.

Next time around, I’m going to be diving into a Marvel series that really helped shape my reading tastes, and helped develop a limited sense of patriotic pride, as it was the first time I saw my home portrayed in comics.

If you’d like to see the archives of all of my retro review columns, click here.

If you’d like to read any of the stories I talk about here, you are going to have to do some longbox digging; none of these comics were ever collected in trade.

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