I haven’t flicked through the dollar bins at my LCS (local comic shop) in years, but recently I had a rather tiny selection of new comics, so I thought I’d revisit some oldies. I also thought it’d be a good time to cast my eyes over a few DC #1s from the ’90s, in light of September’s 52 title relaunch that the publisher is pinning their hopes on. I picked up a surprising number of older debut issues and it reminded me yet again that superhero relaunches are nothing new.
So, my aim is to look at these issues, without jumping to Wiki, and approaching them as if I was a first timer to this series. OK, let’s jump in. First up is Xenobrood #1.
Written by Doug Moench with art by Tomm Coker (whose new, excellent Image series Undying Love has been picked up for a potential film) it’s a 7 issue mini-series that has a cover date of November 1994. The best way to cast your mind back to such days is by checking out the ads inside. We have more ads for video games in this issue than we do today, including Mortal Kombat II, the Looney Tunes’ Tasmanian Devil in Taz: Escape From Mars on the Sega Genesis and Game Gear, and The Death and Return of Superman on the SNES, which I still wish I could play. House ads include a 1 year subscription for $15, and ads for Hawkman, The Flash (my fave Wally West) and Guy Gardner in his weird Warrior phase. I must admit those three ads look cool and they do seem simple and enticing enough for a newbie to be curious about.
OK, the cover. It’s pretty generic, much like the team’s costumes, which are skintight with bits of shiny metal (another ’90s excess) and Zechaharia Leight cowering on the floor looks more weak and nerdy than he does inside. It’s a pretty standard “posing superheroes” approach that doesn’t offer much enticement, or even hint at the greater goings-on within the pages.
The first thing I noticed is that I was playing catch up with this issue right from the first page. There’s four oddly dressed beings standing in front of a young guy (with a mullet) and girl (without a mullet) in “The Genetrix Lab.” These four tell the pair that they “await your commands.”A couple of pages later and we decipher that the pair are scientists (Zechariah and Lorna) and have accidentally created/awoken these beings, who are kind of like alien genies in a bottle, here to serve their unwitting scientist masters.
It turns out that these beings were cooked from four crystals found in an ancient (and probably of alien origin) rock strata in Sumeria by Leight, and the Xenobrood are formed instantly with Lorna’s help. The first few pages show the four aliens and two humans getting to know each other while they are awkwardly given names. Astra is a ghost who can inhabit bodies and is so called because she can perform astral travel. The guy in purple emits power beams from his hands and is called “Zapatak,” since, “his zaps can attack anything.” The second female in the foursome can teleport stuff and is nicknamed Blip. Finally, the big guy in brown and gold (and with another mullet) is the strongman. They call him Thrasher since when he shows off his powers he gives a wall, “a sound thrashing.” So, that’s the obligatory origin of codenames over with, but it’s really no more cringeworthy than the similar scene in X-Men: First Class. Actually, there’s one more codename to be explained – the one on the cover, for the entire team, which comes together from Zecharaiah stating that, “People’s xenophobia is bound to click in faced with a…brood of aliens.”
Zechariah then buys an old, rundown place in a bad neighbourhood to house his new alien buddies and to protect them from the world and their lurking-in-the-wings enemies. Upon their arrival, they’re accosted by a few of the local youths. Blip teleports the teeth of the mouthy leader and drops them on his head. Nice. The rest of the Xenobrood scare off the remaining gang members with their abilities and then renovate their new abode while the last two gang members fight outside, in what is a neato idea for a sequence. Their building soon catches fire (due to the junkie hangout on the roof) so Astra flies up there, possesses the junkie’s body and jumps down into Thrasher’s arms. Another neato idea. The final page shows a guy with a white ponytail and three eyes watching all this and declaring that he must recapture the four.
A letter from editor Kevin Dooley explains the origins of this title and introduces the creative team, which isn’t a bad idea, seeing as Moench’s Batman work was everywhere at the time.
This title was actually a spinoff from DC’s previous retcon/relaunch, Zero Hour and there was a Xenobrood #0 before this which probably explained a few more details of how Leight found the crystals and formed the team.
I must admit that although the series has a premise that seems to come straight out of some harried Image meeting back in the day (“Four superpowered aliens on earth helping two scientists while avoiding alien ninjas? Sounds awesome. Get it done.”) Moench does manage to convey moments of simple humour and charm. Coker’s art is fine, with the crosshatching of the era prevalent but not distracting, and there’s some definite hints here as to Coker’s future more realistic art, with the use of facial expressions. Would I want to read the remaining six issues though? If I saw them all in the dollar bin, probably.
There seems to be some confusion as to if this was supposed to be an ongoing series (as DC’s Wikia states) or a mini-series (which the cover states) and Wiki also mentions that it was cancelled due to low sales, like a lot of titles in the ’90s philosophy of “let’s publish every idea.” It hasn’t been collected in TPB and will probably never be, but series like this are a nice reminder that flicking through the dollar bins can sometimes be a good idea. It’s only a dollar after all.
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