Xombi was one of the coolest comic books of the 1990s, and it wasn't hard to see why each cover sported an adoring blurb by Alan Moore. And now this weird horror/superhero title is coming back on Wednesday.
We've got a sneak peek at the first seven pages of Xombi #1, plus an in-depth interview with writer John Rozum about bringing back his ultra-weird series. At its best, Xombi will remind you of Moore's most insane work, as well as Grant Morrison's work on Doom Patrol and The Invisibles.
Minor spoilers ahead...
So in case you missed it, here's a brief primer on the world of Xombi. David Kim is a nanotechnology researcher who gets mortally injured by a supernatural cult, and then injected with nanomachines. And the nanomachines turn him into an immortal posthuman, whose body can repair any damage using the raw material around him — including the body of his best friend. And even though David Kim becomes a technological marvel, he finds himself drawn into a world of mystical weirdness, in which monsters, savants and religious superheroes do battle.
So here's the cover and first seven pages of Xombi #1.
We've read the whole thing, and it's really amazing stuff. The comic picks up in the middle of David Kim's new career as a "xombi" and defender of reality. And as you can see in the first few pages, the world hasn't gotten any less bizarre — paintings are attacking each other, filmic vampires are munching on people, and coins are shouting out warnings. So David Kim is called into action to stop a very special prisoner from escaping the Prison of Industry. His only allies: the Catholic superheroes Nun of the Above, Nun The Less and Catholic Girl. (The second issue features "Nuns with guns.")
Just like the original series, there's tons of silly humor (the prisoner in the Prison of Industry is a man who read a book that was infected with semicolon cancer, and it turned him into a monster) as well as outright horrifying image. The second half of the first issue takes a nasty turn, and you may never look at snow angels the same way again.
We talked to John Rozum, the original creator of Xombi, about bringing back his comic, which was part of the Milestone Comics line, and here's what he told us:
The idea of a comic that blends nanotechnology and mysticism is still just as weird as it was 15 years ago. Do you think people are finally ready for supernatural posthuman stories?
I certainly hope so. The world is certainly a strange place and almost daily there are little news items that are so bizarre that if someone made them up we'd find it too much for us to suspend our disbelief over.
No matter how weird the concepts, or content of Xombi, when it comes down to it it's really a story that everyone can relate to in some way. As we age our bodies start doing things we don't want them to, and stop doing things we do want them to. While it may seem like a dream come true to never have to worry about a decline in health, or aging, or even having to go the bathroom, David's body is doing some freaky stuff that he should be concerned about even if he isn't. This is a guy who if he's hurt can't let anyone touch him in case the nanites in his body use that other person as raw material to heal his wounds. How much of David Kim is actually David Kim and how much of it is these nanomachines? As the story progresses this is going to be an increasingly relevant question.
Aside from the body issues, it's also a story of someone who has been removed from his life and essentially placed in a new one and trying to find a place for himself in this new life while not letting go of where he came from. Most of us have been through this life transition at least once and we should be able to relate to David's difficulty with his own transition.
What was the impetus behind you and DC choosing to bring back Xombi now? Was it just that DC had brought the Milestone titles in-house, or were there other factors that made it seem like a good idea?
The original Xombi series ended 15 years ago, yet in the time between then and now I continue to get more fanmail about that series than anything else. Before the new series was announced I probably received about a dozen emails a month asking me about Xombi, or telling me how much it was loved and missed. Apparently a lot of people had been telling DC the same thing which is part of what led to it being picked for a relaunch. Another factor was that it was unique in regard to the rest of the titles being published by DC and could bring something new to the DCU. The merging with Milestone made this something that could happen.
I had certainly over the years been interested, as had some editors I'd worked with. The most likely way of bringing it back at one point seemed to be as a Vertigo series, but there were contractual reasons at the time that prevented it. I couldn't tell you the details.
Whatever the reason I was completely surprised. After all this time I'd never expected to be writing Xombi again. I'm just happy for the opportunity to return to something that brought me so much pleasure in writing. Hopefully, this time it will stick around long enough to allow me to finish the story I started seventeen years ago.
Did you feel a lot of pressure to make the first issue as weird as possible, to let people know what they're in for? Or did you try to tone down the weirdness a bit?
I didn't really go out of my way in either direction. My primary goal was to tell a story that served as a good introduction to the characters, particularly David Kim and his abilities as well as getting across the general feel of the series and to do that in a way that would welcome readers who'd never heard of Xombi before and reward those who followed the original series. It also helped that the overall story moved forward a bit.
I really made a list of everything I thought needed to be introduced, or reintroduced, and where I wanted David Kim to start from as a character, and where I wanted him to end up by the end of the story. The story itself came about in a weird way. I looked through all of my notes for Xombi from when I was working on the original series for Milestone. None of the stories I had planned really worked as a good entry point for a relaunch for one reason or another, so I knew I'd need to come up with something new that I hadn't planned for. My notebooks had a bunch of stray ideas, not so much for stories, but for things; objects, creatures, characters, etc. that could become elements for stories. I picked some of those, and developed details for the already existing characters, made up new ones, and eventually threads from all of these details wove together into an actual storyline and framework. At some point I realized that framework really tied into material from the original run in a way that I had not planned, but actually made my long range goals stronger. The weirdness was just a natural part of writing Xombi.
Can you give us any hints about why James Church, the villain of this first story arc, is so dangerous? What happens if he escapes from his prison?
Without giving too much away, James Church is less of the villain of the first story arc and more of a weapon detonated by the true villain. Church serves as more of a catalyst bringing David Kim into a conflict between a pair of characters that will be introduced in the second issue. What makes Church so dangerous will be revealed at the end of the second issue.
The real villain of the story is a man named Roland Finch, and in terms of Xombi, he's really the first antagonist that actually is something of a villain. Both Dr. Sugarman and the Beli Mah cult acted out of some sense of perverted altruism. Sugarman was looking for a means of physically altering humanity to force our species to evolve in order to cope with anticipated massive environmental changes. The Beli Mah wanted to strip away the masks that people present when they interact with each other. The kinderessen and the bogeymen dread were simply trying to feed even though it was at the expense of humankind. Roland Finch, however, only acts for his own selfish needs. He has a lot of superiority and entitlement issues. He's smart enough and dangerous enough to simply take whatever it is he wants without facing repercussions. Even so he's paranoid enough about those repercussions that he lives his life alone, and on the run, and spends every waking moment trying to anticipate every action that his enemies could possibly take against him, so that he's always prepared to deal with them. It's this paranoia of his that brings James Church onto the playing field.
A lot of the fun of this first issue is getting to re-meet characters like Catholic Girl and Nun of the Above... and now we meet their colleague Nun The Less. How many more superhero nuns are there?
I have a small handful in mind. Not all of them have really bad puns as their titles. I even have notes for the superhero team that operates at the behest of the Vatican.
We're very alarmed by the idea that we might get infected by a book that has semicolon cancer, like poor James Church. Should we be getting screenings?
I think it's a risk worth taking. We've all been transformed by at least one book we've read in our lives, though hopefully not in the same manner as poor James Church. Usually it's just a change in our thinking, or way of seeing things, or it might be something that inspires how we approach our own work. Like me, you no doubt read something that triggered the need to become a writer yourself. For me it was reading "The Call of the Wild" and "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" in fourth grade.
I've discovered that books, apart from their obvious narrative power, have a second language which is just as powerful in some ways. With all of the books I've bought in physical book stores, especially used ones, I can usually recall when I bought them down to the season, weather, time of day, store, who I was with when I bought it, how many people were in the store when I bought it, and other details, as if these books are a sort of trigger to memories. I can also usually recollect similar aspects pertaining to when I read it, even if I can't remember details about the actual narrative content of the book itself. Used books often come with the hints to the previous owner's attachment to that book as well; things they used for bookmarks, phone numbers, inscriptions, a stray hair. In the case of really old books you can tell how far the person read by whether the pages are cut or not.
I find that books house a great many secret powers and are the closest thing we have to actual supernaturally powered artifacts. Just think of the magic of how an author takes what's in their head, translates that to words on a page which you read and then transform into images and ideas in your own head. That's pure magic. The idea of the semi-colon cancer was just a progression of that idea, and isn't a great leap from things that Borges had done.
Can you tell us anything about how David Kim has developed since the original series. It seems like he's got a lot more control over his nanotech powers now — like he can make stuff as well as repairing himself. It also seems like he's in a happier place generally. What's happened, and will his new-found serenity last?
Each arc of Xombi is designed to take David developmentally from one point to another. The first arc was about the rug being pulled out from everything he knew as he was transformed into a xombi and now immersed in a strange new world he didn't understand. The second arc was about him rejecting his place in that world and finding out that was not an option. The third arc was him accepting that like it or not, his life has changed, and trying to learn the rules of this new world and to get a better grasp of it. This arc is about him desperately trying to keep a firm foothold in his old, mundane life, while trying to be more proactive and less reactive in the strangeness that is his new home.
It's a bit like going away to college for a year and then coming back and trying to hang out with your friends from high school. There's that sad, almost desperate need to try and make that old relationship work and keep it alive, but deep down you know it's already dead. You've moved on and changed and have new friends and experiences, and you don't belong in that old life anymore.
The ability to transform external matter using the nanomachines in his body was actually something that began in the completed, but unpublished Xombi Hanukkah Special that Guy Davis drew. There was also a bit of it, including the bit where David unlocks the door, and was supposed to have been a part of the story that made up the second half of the last issue of the original series. David is a scientist. He's curious, and someone who experiments, so it seemed like he'd take his knowledge of what nanomachines can do, and see if he could apply some of that to the ones that inhabit his body. If the nanites can convert cloth and sticks and other stuff into bone and blood and skin and hair, why can't he use that some ability when he's not damaged to reverse things, or to sample an outside material and replicate it? A lot of the magic in Xombi (as well as Midnight, Mass.), even though I've never expressed it in such terms comes from manipulating molecules or the vast amount of space between them. In a sense it's really magic functioning by using science. I found that aspects of Holographic Universe theory lend themselves really well to creating a fictional universe where magic functions and people have superpowers.
As to David's serenity. It will not last long. One of the reasons that Xombi became an ensemble piece with a batch of supporting characters is that in working with a character who cannot be physically harmed let alone killed, there can never be that tension of "I wonder if he'll survive this adventure." We know he will. But we don't know if his friends will.
David's story is really a tragic one. The nanomachines that brought him back to life and made him immortal did so by consuming one of his closest friends and converting her into material to repair David's damaged body. He's messed up and let the bogeymen dread into our world causing untold numbers of deaths before he set things right, and he and his nanomachines will the the cause of more misery and suffering before long.
This story takes place before the final two pages of issue #21 of the original run, before his fiancé, Dalila, returns to the city of Dakota and confronts David in his transformed state for the first time. For anyone who read the original series, we know that this has been of serious concern to David. Dalila does not deal well with surprises and the unknown well at all, so he's afraid of how she'll react when she finds out he's a xombi. Let's just say that things for David really go downhill once she finds out what he is.
How does being in the DC Universe change your approach to Xombi? Is there a limit to how freaky things can get in the DCU? Are you going to be having more DC crossovers?
I don't think there's really a limit to how freaky things can get in the DCU. I mean look at all those comics from the 1960s where characters were turned into marionettes. I actually think it's a bit of a shame that comics aren't more like that anymore with a real sense of wonder to them. Much as people used to complain about how the 1960s Batman television series wrecked superhero comics by making them campy, or at least seen that way, I think The Dark Knight Returns in its own way ruined comics by initiating this movement to try and make superheroes work as if they were real and occupying the real world, and it's made them, and the genre a bit dull. I'm all for introducing more weirdness to the DCU.
The notion of crossovers becomes more problematic. Xombi is marginally still a superhero comic book even though none of the characters go by superhero names, except Catholic Girl, Nun of the Above and Nun the Less, and none of them wear costumes, except for Catholic Girl. So it seems to me that it would be a bit unnatural, in the sense that it doesn't feel true, or right, having David Kim going off on adventures with spandex clad heroes, even ones that might seem like a good match such as Deadman.
When the original Xombi series was part of "the Long Hot Summer" crossover, the Xombi issues had little to do with the crossover as a whole, but superheroes did appear in a couple of issues, and even though I picked characters who seemed like they'd fit a bit better than some of the more traditional tights and capes characters, it still seemed a bit jarring to me. There was a reason that even though Xombi occupied the same universe as the other Milestone characters that you didn't see him interacting with them.
My approach with Xombi being in the DCU is to make it apparent that this series takes place in the same universe as Batman and Wonder Woman, but not to go out of my way to have crossovers unless there's a really compelling reason to do so. It would really have to be something that would have to make the story of David Kim stronger and not be something that was done simply because I thought it would be really cool to team up David Kim with the Phantom Stranger. The Phantom Stranger and Zatanna are the kinds of characters that could probably work naturally with Xombi, the Flash and Blue Devil are not. I can't ever see David Kim joining the Justice League or even Shadowpact. By the end of Xombi #2, it should be apparent how I plan to go about incorporating the DCU into Xombi.
And finally, back in the original series, we learned that David Kim is destined to destroy the world. Is this still the case? And now that he's in the DC Universe, doesn't he have to get in line behind a few thousand other world-destroyers?
As this new story arc progresses, you'll find a lot of connections to the previous storyline where his destiny is revealed. As far as I'm concerned that's still all in place and in choosing some of the elements that go into this first storyline, I'm reinforcing that scenario. Whether David can avoid this future, or not remains to be seen.