Digital ComicsAlliance: The Cream of the Neo-Milestone Comics Crop
A few years ago, DC Comics announced that they’d licensed the characters from Milestone Media and would be folding them into the DC Universe at large. Milestone was one of the most forward-thinking and best-produced comics companies of the ’90s, and built a truly inclusive universe that reflected a variety of ages, ethnicities, nationalities, sexual orientations, religions, political alignments, and other aspects of real life. Milestone was a breath of fresh air.
Sadly, the Milestone relaunch… wasn’t. Dwayne McDuffie’s Justice League of America was marred by editorial interference, and the New 52 version of Static Shock is canceled in April. There were a few gems, though, and this edition of Digital ComicsAlliance is all about paying homage to one of the best companies that ever did it.The crown jewel of the Milestone relaunch, for my money, was Xombi. Written by John Rozum and drawn and colored by Frazer Irving, it was the DC comic I enjoyed the most over the course of its six-month run. It stars David Kim, the eponymous xombi, and picks up right where the ’90s series left off, but in such a way that new readers can easily understand what’s going on. The summary of his origin in each issue only scratches the depths of what the series is actually about.
A lethal combination of science and the supernatural has turned David Kim into a xombi, an immortal being created through artificial means. The same incident that made him impossible to kill also made him a weirdness magnet. Now he must learn to navigate this strange new world while desperately trying to remain part of the world he leaves behind.
A lot of good stories feature an ordinary man thrust into extraordinary circumstances. A lot of superhero narratives exist in that lane, and there’s a reason for it. It gives the average reader an easy way to fall into the story. If your main character is human in a way that we can all recognize and understand, then we’re more willing to follow your story wherever it goes. David Kim is an everyman, like Peter Parker, and that’s what holds Xombi together.
Xombi needs the glue that Kim provides, because it is a series that is all about the weird. Xombi is non-denominationally weird. Rozum and Irving mine (or make up) the depths of religious esoterica, cryptids, monsters, and mysteries to come up with fascinating creatures. Early in Xombi, the cast encounters Maranatha, a creature that may be the physical incarnation of God’s wrath and looks like a flaming version of the Chinese guardian lions. Rustling Husks, another enemy they encounter, are humanoid beings made from the swarms of ghosts of dead wasps and yellow jackets that were driven mad when trying to get through a pane of glass. Rozum and Irving take a concept that’s already weird and then double-down on it, just for the sake of making the story even more interesting to read.
But really, it’s David Kim that makes Xombi so good. He reacts to new and horrible things like we would imagine ourselves to react: with a mix of horror, fear, and exhilaration. HIs new life is exciting, and sometimes he gets caught up in the moment. Luckily, real life is always there to bring him back down to Earth. He pays for his quips and brief bursts of over-confidence in pain and terror, and Frazer Irving makes it all look great.
Irving’s contribution to the series cannot be undervalued. Xombi looks like no other book on the stands, even today, on almost every possible level. Irving’s palette is unrealistic, but does a fantastic job of making the book feel real. Each scene and location has a palette all its own, and once powers and monsters start coming into play, things get even more wild. Irving goes crazy with panel-to-panel storytelling, creating fight scenes that look like they’d work in real life, despite every participant in them being completely unrealistic. And I mean, just look at these samples. This level of art should be the standard in comics, instead of something that comes along every once and a while.
The Static Shock Special was another treat for Milestone fans, but a bittersweet one. It came out as a way to honor Dwayne McDuffie after he passed away early last year, and honor him they did. Felicia D Henderson, Denys Cowan, Rodney Ramos, Prentis Rollins, John Stanisci, Lee Loughridge, and Dave Sharpe delivered a Static story that emphasized everything that was great about the character, from his heart to his science smarts. Their story was about Static’s uncle, nicknamed Maestro in honor of McDuffie, being released from prison after being unfairly convicted, and how he got reacquainted with his family. It’s touching and sad, as expected, but still well worth your time.
The rest of the issue is good, too. There’s a selection of pin-ups and covers, a mixture of material from the first aborted stab at a Static Shock series and material produced after McDuffie’s death, and a touching remembrance from Michael Davis, one of the founders of Milestone. Davis talks about how McDuffie was comfortable in any situation and how he can inspire us to be better people.
The highlight of the issue, though, is the two-page story by Matt Wayne, John Paul Leon, Noelle Giddings, and Dave Sharpe. It’s another Milestone reunion, as Wayne, Leon, and Giddings were all essential members of the team in the ’90s, and their brief return to the fold hits with all the force of a Mack truck dropped from orbit. A silent McDuffie browses some of his favorite comics in Dakota, the location of most stories in Milestone’s comics, as Static and Rocket, two of his greatest creations, discuss his impact on the world and what things are going to be like now that he’s gone.
Rather than going for something saccharine, the creative team goes right for your heart and neck. Static explains that everybody loves McDuffie now “because you’re no longer a threat. Folks who ignored and belitted your work in life are anointing you in death.” They talk about the inevitability of people who had no time for McDuffie in life taking advantage of his death, and how there’s nothing they can do about it, because that’s just life. “That’s just what happens to legends,” Static says, as he, McDuffie, and Rocket walk off into history.
This is incredibly touching, in part because it feels so appropriate, despite its razor-sharp edge. McDuffie was nothing if not a straight shooter, and his honesty got him in trouble more than once. The greatest possible tribute to the man is following in his footsteps, whether that’s speaking truth to power and implicitly dissing DC Comics in one of their own comics or simply pushing forward the values he revered. I like the package, but this short story was more than worth the money.
Digital Comics Reading List:
-Xombi (written by John Rozum, drawn by Frazer Irving, published by DC Comics)
-Static Shock Special (various, published by DC Comics)
-Static Shock (written by John Rozum & Scott McDaniel, drawn by Scott McDaniel, published by DC Comics)
-Justice League of America 27, 28, 30, 32, 33, 34 (written by Dwayne McDuffie, drawn by various, published by DC Comics)