Best Shots Extra: XOMBI #1, FEAR ITSELF: BOOK OF THE SKULL

Best Shots Extra: XOMBI, FEAR ITSELF

 

Xombi #1

Written by John Rozum

Art by Frazier Irving

Letters by Dave Sharpe

Published by DC Entertainment

Review by George Marston

I had never even heard of Xombi before I opened this first issue in the new ongoing series.  I was never into Milestone comics; I almost always preferred the X-Men while the bulk of those titles were hitting the stands, and never really delved into the back issues, even after the late, great Dwayne McDuffie showed up on my RADAR.  I've also never really heard of John Rozum, but that stands to reason as his main claim to fame is actually creating the titular character of this title.  So why did I bother with the book?  Because of Frazier Irving's art.  I've been a fan for some time now, and anytime I can dive into his moody, lush pages, I take the chance, no matter the title.  And guess what?  It paid off this time.  While Irving's outstanding work is a big factor in this issue's success, Rozum's script and world are intriguing enough to hold their own water.

Without a recap page, or any kind of introduction, I was a little hesitant at the accessibility of this title.  Fortunately, Rozum injects just enough exposition into his narrative to bring the reader up to speed.  There are a few necessary jumps in logic to understand exactly who and what the main character, David Kim, truly is, but there's nothing "need to know" that doesn't come across on the page, and the exposition doesn't slow or bog down the book.  Honestly, the most interesting parts of this book revolved around the bizarre and subtle aspects of the world that David Kim populates.  With a whole convent of seemingly super-powered Nuns with names like, "Nun of the Above," "Nun the Less," and, possibly, "Nun of Your Business," and superheroes such as Catholic Girl at his side, David Kim is sent to investigate a possible prison break at a supernatural holding facility for what one of the Nuns calls "simply incurable" villains.  There are magic typewriters, talking pocket change, ethereal snow angels that melt people's faces, and a villain who caught "semi-colon cancer," from a reading of "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde."  We're getting into Grant Morrison-esque avant-garde weirdness here, and somehow, the nanite-injected, super-powered, and immortal David Kim is the calm epicenter at the eye of this weirdness, and the reader's doorway into the world.

I love it.

Frazier Irving's art doesn't hurt; in fact, it sings.  He is truly one of the top talents in DC's stable, and even more than on his recent run on "Batman & Robin," this is a fitting book for his style.  I can't say enough how good his art here is.  He handles it at all stages, from pencils, to color, and each with fantastic proficiency.  I don't really know what more I can say, but it is Irving's ability to give clarity, mood, and energy to Rozum's bizarre world that truly makes this book worthwhile. 

The only thing that could derail this book after this issue would be interjection from the DC Universe at large.  This is not a world of characters like Superman, the Green Lantern, or even Batman.  It's much more nuanced, eccentric, and dependent on its own ideals and cosmology to truly function under the weight of the mainstream DCU, and would be easily misplaced by forcing a connection to those characters, that world, on the narrative.  As it stands, this book is set to be a gem among some of DC's more recent launches, and might even be enough to convince me to go hunt down those back issues.  Whatever the future may hold for Xombi, I'm on board for at least another month, and you should be too.

 

Fear Itself: Book of the Skull

Written by Ed Brubaker

Pencils by Scot Eaton

Inks by Mark Morales

Colors by Sonny Gho of IFS

Letters by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by George Marston

Well, after a little break from world-shaking events to do some establishment of the status quo, Marvel Comics seems to be headed right back into a new company wide crossover.  So what's different about Fear Itself?  Well, judging solely by this kick-off special, it's not nearly as dependent on the last few years of heavy continuity.  Fear Itself: Book of the Skull follows Sin (the Red Skull's daughter, and heir to his mantle), and Baron Helmut Zemo (also heir to his father's legacy) as they seek out and find the key to one of the Red Skull's secret experiments from WWII.  The book also recaps the story of the experiment itself, introducing some Hellboy-style supernatural elements to the ever-evolving legacy of Marvel's wartime super heroes, and giving one hell of a fun set up for the upcoming crossover.

First, it should be noted that this is one of Ed Brubaker's best scripts in a while.  He gets a little out of his wheelhouse with the supernatural bent of the flashback tale, but it works to his advantage, and with some of his most tried and true cast members as our guide, he really knocks this issue out of the park.  It's really exciting to see Helmut Zemo back in action, as he's been showing up all across the Marvel Universe lately, and to see that he's still operating as one of Marveldom's only real "free agents," working with heroes, villains, and anyone else who can further his personal agenda.  He's a very intriguing character, and Brubaker writes him with aplomb.  Sin comes off a little bit corny herself, but it seems like that's the intention, as even Zemo seems to be rolling his eyes at her bloodlust under that inscrutable hood.  Every great villain has a bombastic and exciting persona, and hers seems to be that of someone who delights in the mayhem and carnage she is able to wreak. 

On top of Brubaker's script, my biggest joy in this book must've been Scot Eaton's excellent pencils.  Somehow, I've missed most of his past work, so this title was my first chance to really see what he can do, and I really, really enjoyed the look of the book.  The layouts are fun and clear, the body language dynamic, and the facial details engaging.  While the style is certainly a bit less photo-realistic than that of some of Brubaker's previous "Captain America" collaborators, I could really see the team on this book putting out a very worthwhile run on that title.  If nothing else, I definitely hope that Eaton has more opportunities to play in that sandbox.  Mark Morales's inking was the perfect complement to these pages, and his strong, vivid blacks really made Eaton's angular, striking anatomy pop on the page.  Colorist Sunny Gho also pulls more than his own weight, laying down the perfect balance of bright colors, moody grays, and just enough rendering to make Morale's hatching details stand out.  This is a great art team all around.

All in all, many may be weary of another big event book, after a half-decade of almost perpetual crossovers, but this is a very promising start.  The villains are fun, the hook is solid, and the balance of Marvel history and accessibility seems to be a top priority.  Even if you don't continue on with Fear Itself, I recommend this issue.  Its stand-alone flashback adventure is a fun, and unseen chapter in the Invaders continuity, and though it has its own ending, there's enough promise of what's to come to bring the reader back for more.

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