Xombi was one of the two series introduced during the Shadow War, the first crossover event of the Milestone universe. It’s also the only one in the whole lot that looks nothing like a superhero comic. With its unusual artwork and mindbogglingly weird plots and characters, Xombi is in a class all by itself.
The central character is one David Kim, a scientist whose body—mostly by accident—has become host to thousands of microscopic robots which negate the effects of aging and disease, as well as immediately heal any injuries. Now he is a xombi, a mortal person rendered immortal through artificial means. At the same time, he has crossed the line into the world of the bizarre, which exists side by side with our own. No matter how much he wishes to, David Kim can never return to his normal existence.
The series is divided into several long storylines. The first, “Silent Cathedrals,” introduces Kim and his new companions, including Nun of the Above (a clairvoyant nun) and her associate, Catholic Girl. This spunky blonde adolescent has many neat powers, including flight, projecting a force field around herself when she recites the “Hail Mary,” and firing energy bolts from her rosary. Which, I admit, sounds completely ridiculous when I write it out like this, but that’s part of the series’ charm: writer John Rozum shamelessly mixed creepy horror, gratuitously absurd settings and silly puns and made it all work. That’s genius, right there.
“Silent Cathedrals” concerns the plans of Dr. Sugarman—an evil man with bizarre magical powers—to achieve immortality and summon a creature called Boraxis Megatheros, the incarnation of pollution. Servants of his break into David Kim’s lab to steal a supply of the regenerative nanomachines, killing David Kim in the process. His assistant, Kelly Sanborne, injects him with the nanomachines which bring him back to life. However, Kim’s body has been so badly damaged that the machines have to find an outside source to rebuild his tissues. That source is Kelly Sanborne’s body.
In the end, Kim and his friends manage to re-imprison Megatheros, but Dr. Sugarman escapes. The epilogue to this storyline (issue #6, entitled “Resurrection”) is one of the most beautiful and moving issues of any comic I’ve ever read. Feeling responsible for her death, Kim decides to bring Sanborne back using the same nanomachines that revived him. Most of the issue is taken up by quiet reminiscence and flashbacks as Kim looks back on her life.
It’s amazing how well you think you know someone, without really knowing much about them at all. She was one of my closest friends, yet I know next to nothing of her childhood, her friends from high school, her favorite color, her favorite flavor of ice cream, whether or not she wanted children. This time around, I’ll be sure to ask.
But upon finding that Sanborne’s remains were cremated, he realizes the nanomachines will be useless, so he has to accept her death.
The second main storyline, “School of Anguish” (starting with issue #7) pits Kim and his associates against a cult called “the Beli Mah.” Their central belief is that “the world can be made ideal by reducing everything to an abstraction of what it represents. A true form of itself, with no masks to be misinterpreted. They feel that the world is full of masks behind masks behind masks.” Accordingly, the Beli Mah create and use as their assassins creatures called the Painful Inscriptions: physical embodiments of certain abstract concepts. There’s Manuel Dexterity, crafted out of all the unfulfilled intense desires in the world; his twin sister Manuella, the embodiment of deep-rooted shame; Bludgeon, crafted from misdirected rage; Blister Ed, a construct of words spoken in anger, which can’t be unsaid; and many others, each stranger than the last.
Xombi’s last storyline (issues #17–21) is entitled “Hidden Cities.” Finally accepting that his life would never go back to normal, David Kim decides to learn more about the worlds beyond normalcy. With every page I got the feeling that everything we’d seen up to this point was just to get us in the mood, and the serious fun was about to begin. The hilarious (if slightly disturbing) lecture on sidewalk piranhas… David’s first meeting with another xombi, who tells the tale of how he became immortal (a magical healing concoction called the “serpent’s tail” that inexplicably stayed active in his body)… The visit to “Elsewhere,” a parallel world that is the source of all true artistic inspiration in our world… David’s meeting with yet another xombi, this time a forty-thousand-year-old woman living in a flying pagoda who has been having repeated visions of Kim and their life together in the centuries to come, and fell in love with him though they had never met… David agreeing to bait a trap for the Bogeymen Dread, evil creatures from Elsewhere feeding on hope, that invaded our world leaving a trail of death by suicide. Only David Kim can survive an encounter with the Bogeymen since he cannot kill himself. With his help, the Elsewhere authorities are able to imprison the Bogeymen again and save countless lives.
And… that’s where Xombi ended, with Kim realizing that his power could be used to help others, and finally accepting his place in the shadow worlds. A shame: though it was a good place to end, positive and hopeful, David Kim’s story had hardly begun, and I’m sure that Rozum’s twisted, fertile imagination would have been up to the challenge.