The first collection of Brandon Graham's Prophet revival has arrived. Take a look at what Graham is up to.
Earlier this year, Rob Liefeld and Image Comics launched a revival of their Extreme line of comics, featuring all new takes on Liefeld's characters and concepts by younger, more innovative creators. The centerpiece of this relaunch was no doubt Prophet, spearheaded by King City creator Brandon Graham. Graham, who shares story credit with artists Simon Roy, Farel Dalrymple, and Giannis Milonogiannis, tosses the character of John Prohpet into a far-flung future where humanity is a distant memory, and the landscape is harsh and unforgiving. Somehow, it's up to Prophet (that is to say, it's up to all the John Prophets, since there are clones of them that are tasked with this mission), to take steps that would jumpstart humanity.
Graham utilizes this Robert E. Howard-meets-Roger Zelazny approach to defining the world of Prophet. Using different stories, each by a different artist (including one with art by Graham himself), he tackles the narrative from a multitude of viewpoints that establishes an expansive world while telling an intimate, personal story of desolation and loneliness. More than that, it's an ambitious, far-reaching science fiction story that brings together disparate threads in a truly compelling way. Formally, it's a triumph. Each artist approaches his story differently, but all of their styles are similar enough as to complete a unified whole, which happens to make the series more accessible when read as a trade paperback collection. Simon Roy draws the first story, which takes up three issues, with a lot of larger panels featuring panoramic shots of the landscape, establishing the harsh world Prophet has woken up in after a long period of stasis, as well as his place in it (it's so desolate and abandoned that even the deep forests don't really feel all that lush). For most of his journey, Prophet narrowly avoids becoming prey to aggressive (and hungry) fauna, and he intrudes upon bizarre alien civilizations before he gets his orders. Graham and Roy use the story as a kind of a tour of this new world, but it also serves as a survey of what kind of comic this is going to be. It's unexpected and a little funny, but it's mostly a bold new take on the "Wandering Hero" story. It isn't so much informative as it isexperiential; there's very little we really learn about the environment that Prophet himself doesn't figure out. We're not thrust into the setting, we're exploring it along with the lead character. That thread continues in the second story, featuring pencil art by the great Farel Dalrymple. This story is a lot more intimate, and Dalrymple's grittier, more textured drawings bring more immediacy to it (he seems to rely more on medium shots and close-ups as well). It feels a lot more visceral, and you can really feel the blows delivered during a brutal fight scene. This story is just as mind-bending as the first one, and it expands the narrative out by focusing on another Prophet clone who also wakes up in the same distant future, but in very different circumstances and tasked with a different mission.
It's the third story where Graham really throws us a curveball. Providing both story and art, Graham shifts the story over to Jaxson, the robotic "egg" creature that's dispatched to aid a Prophet in his mission. Although each Prophet clone has his own version of Jaxson, these little robotic guys have their own thoughts and some degree of autonomy. They also feel familial bonds. Jaxson helps out his "brother" Xefferson before the two of them head off on their big mission, a type of high-octane "race to the finish" that has a poignant, if open-ended (possibly tragic) resolution. Graham forgoes the terse, Robert E. Howard-style narration captions for a first-person perspective, and as such two faceless, featureless ovoid masses become two of the most sympathetic and resonant supporting characters to appear in any comic book issue all year. This trade paperback edition also includes Emma Rios' backup story that appeared behind this story in Prophet #26. That story, an action-packed short that details the way another Prophet clone escapes a giant spider-creature, is so formally experimental that although it's created by somebody who doesn't work elsewhere in this collection, it's still very much of a piece with everything Graham is doing. It's a testament to how sensitivity and insight that Rios is capable of, but also Graham's clarity of vision for this book. The final story in the trade paperback features art by Giannis Milonogiannis, and it's more visually abstracted, emphasizing motion and gestures as well as a pure sense of graphic design. Narratively, it starts out as a type of family drama before becoming a monster fight and finally, a twist ending that hits like a truck while making the reader anxiously anticipate whatever is coming up next in the series.
Ultimately, this first collection of the revived Prophet series is a pure success. More than just a bold reimagining of a dormant property, it's an original synthesis of powerful influences and a success of comics form. Though it feels loose and flowing, the book is meticulously constructed and specific. It's often chaotic and at times a little obscure, but that just leads to re-reading, which is the best thing about this book. It's rich and ambitious enough that giving it a second (and fifth, etc.) reading will open up more and more detail and make clear some jarring and challenging material. Read Prophet. Then read it again.