Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Turning a Prophet

Posted by Don MacPherson on January 22nd, 2012

Prophet #21
Writer: Brandon Graham
Artist: Simon Roy
Colors: Richard Ballermann
Letters: Ed Brisson
Cover artists: Marian Churchland (regular)/Rob Liefeld & Andy Troy (variant)
Editor: Eric Stephenson
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $2.99 US

I never even thumbed through a single issue of the previous volumes of this Rob Liefeld-created comic title in the 1990s. His work and that of other artists who worked on the book, including Stephen Platt, just didn’t boast styles that appealed to me at the time. Furthermore, nothing about the concept made me want to take note of it either. When it was announced Liefeld was resurrecting the property more than a decade into the 21st century, one wouldn’t have thought I’d have any interest either, but it’s clear this isn’t the same comic it was 15-20 years ago. Tapping King City writer/artist Brandon Graham to helm this new take on the title character got me excited. I’ll read anything Graham touches, it’s a policy that’s never steered me wrong. I’m also thrilled to see Simon Roy illustrating Graham’s story. Roy made a real impression on me with his graphic novella Jan’s Atomic Heart, and it was fun to see him back in action. His and Graham’s styles definitely complement each other, and the two Canadian creators have brought a distinctly European sensibility to this once bombastic and wholly American property.

Super-soldier John Prophet awakens in a far distant future on a world he no longer recognizes, transformed by environmental changes and its colonization by thoroughly alien life forms. It doesn’t matter that everyone and everything he ever knew is gone and lost to a history that’s no longer being kept… he has a mission to carry out, and he sets out across a hostile landscape to accomplish it. Wearing the skin of one of the aliens he’s encounter, he sneaks into the Jell City, a huge gelatinous shelter that throngs of aliens call home, and awaits the appearance of his contact.

Simon Roy offers a much more organic look for characters and backdrops here than he did in Jan’s Atomic Heart, but then this is a radically different premise and setting. His style works well with Graham’s off-the-wall perspectives and ideas, but I think it’s pretty clear the writer provided some layout and design suggestions. The panel in which Prophet’s supplies and equipment are inventoried has Graham’s hands all over it. The only difference is the captions identifying each item is in a specific font rather than hand-lettered. Roy conveys a sense of the truly alien throughout this issue. This future vision of a post-human Earth isn’t populated by other humanoids, men with blue skin, or three-breasted mutants.

I also appreciated the design for the title character. Instead of implausible padding over a bare chest, he’s clad in what appears to be a survival suit, the kind of thing one might find an astronaut wearing for lunar exploration or a spacewalk. Richard Ballerman’s colors reinforce the sense of the alien and unearthly through this issue. However, there were scenes in which the colors overpower the linework, specifically those scenes in which one color dominates a page. The red tone that bathes the scene in which Prophet meets his contact and the cool blues in the subsequent scenes overwhelm the storytelling and flatten the artwork overall.

I think what struck me most about this comic is the fact it lacks something Graham’s other works have in spades: whimsy. There’s a playfulness to Graham’s work in King City, Multiple Warheads and his porno comics that’s not to be found here. That’s not a criticism, per se. While this issue and creative team represents a fresh start for the property, there’s still some history to be taken into account. Prophet was and remains a grim, driven warrior, and the nature of the plot in this new beginning also doesn’t lend itself to wordplay and humor. My hope is future issues will introduce characters and situations that allow the writer to add a little more personality to the premise.

Still, there remains an unrestrained quality in Graham’s plot, but rather than something goofy or whimsical, it’s a savagery the title character exhibits. He’s disciplined and directed, but when it’s called for, he’s brutal as well. While some of Graham’s past projects have included darker elements, this is a departure, and it’s interesting it see Graham explore new territory. His ability to build unimaginable new worlds is more than enough to keep me coming back for more, and Simon Roy’s skill at delineating and defining Graham’s definition-defining imagination just adds to the appeal of this basically new title. 8/10

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