‘Prophet’ Relaunch Blends Conan and Sci-Fi Into A Sublime Package [Review]
A relaunch of Prophet, the muscles-and-guns Rob Liefeld comic about a time-traveling soldier originally published by Extreme Studios in the '90s, isn't something that would normally interest me. Finding out that Brandon Graham, creator of King City, was writing Prophet changed my tune. King City was the best series in comics while it went on, and its trade will be one of the best books to drop this year. I was convinced that artist Simon Roy and colorist Richard Ballerman were a team worth paying attention to once I saw Roy's DeviantArt and the preview pages.
Together, the team has turned out a comic that's Conan-inflected, but still entirely its own thing. It's a good comic, is what I'm saying, and the type of good comic that makes you wish you had more the moment you finish it.
Everything in Prophet is new. This introductory issue takes place so far into the future that Earth is nearly unrecognizable, and John Prophet, the main character, has been asleep for generations, waiting to be woken up so he can deliver an item to a client. The local fauna have too many legs, several jaws, and are best described as "wrong." They're monsters in a way that our rabbits and wolves and bears are not, but they're normal in this land. This is true of the sentient beings Prophet encounters, too -- they're a smell-based caste society, bioluminescent, and blue.
Art team Simon Roy and Richard Ballerman do an impressive job of rendering this alien world; the best word for their style is "dusty," I'd say. The book opens on an arid mountainous region before giving way to a wet forest and then an even wetter organic enclave, and while the terrain varies what they all have in common is that they feel lived in. Every surface is covered in mold, scratches, rust, or pockmarks. Animals are dirty and streaked. It feels like time has passed, and rather than showing how far into the future we are by just displaying familiar objects turned futuristic, Roy creates entirely new things to age forwards.
The sky in Prophet isn't the bright blue of a futuristic utopia, varying over the course of the book from palest green to tan to blood red. The only place we encounter the shade of blue we associate is on the skin of the creatures Prophet encounters. This only adds to the alien feel of the world, and in a good way, I'd argue.
I keep calling Roy and Ballerman's Earth "alien." It's an apt description, but it doesn't quite hit the bullseye. Prophet is a fantasy comic wearing science fiction clothes, and Roy and Ballerman do their best to make things seem dilapidated, but still fantastic. This isn't Star Wars or Star Trek, where the alien cultures were majestic and incredibly aesthetically pleasing. It's grittier and dirtier, like Conan.
Brandon Graham has mentioned Conan as something that informs his approach on Prophet, and there are a few points where it shows. An early series of captions reads, "His strength returns. And his blade is in hand. He is himself again," which is about as Conan as anything I've ever read. Graham's take on Prophet is nearly silent, with grunts and groans outnumbering actual spoken lines.
Prophet is attacked immediately after awakening, and that first burst of violence sets the tone for this world, which he learns about by moving through it, just as we do. It's not just alien. It's actively hostile, but Prophet was built for survival. His tools are simple and recognizable -- fire, rope, a tent, a blade -- but appear in new and unfamiliar configurations.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of Prophet is how un-King City it feels. Graham is best known for comics with a certain type of sense of humor and killer puns, but the closest he comes to that here is a scene featuring live ammunition. The rest is no-nonsense blood 'n thunder barbarian comics. Often, the captions take the tone of a novel, rather than a comic book, and remind me of a narrator that's a little world-weary, with no time for frills or flowery language. They're blunt instruments, and they're perfect in tone.
Graham wisely avoids the all-too-common expositional excesses of captions in comics, leaning on them to explain intangibles and things that cannot be conveyed through art alone, without insultingly obvious dialogue. They enhance what we see rather than explaining it, and Graham knows when to back off and let the art breathe. Prophet feels like a book where the creative team is fully in sync; Graham clearly trusts Roy, and vice versa.
John Prophet is a man out of time, and Prophet is a book that hints at big things. The story feels like straightforward fantasy with a twist of sci-fi, or perhaps the other way around. Graham, Roy, and Ballerman have created a world that can genuinely go in any direction, and Prophet feels fresh, despite the number 21 on the cover. It's the kind of comic where you want to get in on the ground floor, and tell your friends about how cool it is before they even realize it exists.
Prophet comes out this Wednesday from Image Comics in finer comic shops and via the finer digital comics providers. Give it a try. You won't be disappointed.