I’ve been looking forward to reading this ever since the book was launched earlier this year to almost deafening acclaim. On paper, it sounds like a project destined to fail: a relaunch of a character created by Rob Liefeld who nobody remembers from a creator whose best-known work had to be license-rescued from another publisher before it could be completed. The critics said otherwise and while it hasn’t set the charts on fire (yet), “Prophet” has been a steady seller and now we’re graced with its first collection. Reading through it, I’m struck by two things: how weird it is, and how much it resembles Brandon Graham’s previous work “King City.”
The story begins with John Prophet waking up in a hyber pod on Earth some unknown time in the future. We don’t know anything about the man at first, but we quickly learn that he’s tough, resourceful and on a mission that was fed to him in his dreams. This mission involves him waking the Great Earth Empire by climbing the towers of Thauilu Vah and restarting the satellite there. Once he does that... then things get complicated.
My biggest problem with “King City” is that there was no real narrative tying it all together. Much as Graham’s fearsome imagination made it a fascinating trip, I was left wondering if the man could actually write a real story rather than just string together a bunch of fragments. The first volume of “Prophet” still has a lot of his creativity on display, but it’s tempered here by the act of worldbuilding. Rather than just throw out weirdness for the sake of weirdness, all of the things here contribute to the imagining of a larger world. Things like Prophet pulling a hungry hiber xull, screaming like a kitten, out of the river only to find out that it’s inedible or the jell city where he meets his contact being the corpse of the living ship that brought its inhabitants to Earth. Where the world of “King City” was a nondescript stage for any and all kinds of craziness to play out on, this feels like a very strange yet believable world.
Of course, it’s also interesting to note that the tone here isn’t all that different from Graham’s previous work. The syntax of the descriptions there feels essentially unchanged here, and that sense of worldbuilding, of a grander purpose, sometimes feels like the only thing keeping the story from descending into utter silliness. What we get here, of a lone warrior carving his way through the chaos of a strange land feels like nothing so much as a science fiction version of “Conan.”
At least for the first three chapters, then we start venturing into the REALLY strange. The short version is that John’s quest is successful and now we start seeing the results of the Great Human Empire’s rebirth. This leads us to a giant space station in the shape of a human, Star Fallen Mothers who project images of themselves as little girls, regenerating robots which once fought alongside Prophet, and a creature almost as old as the universe who holds the one thing the Empire fears. Following these three issues can make for a somewhat disjointed experience after the relative narrative coherence of the first arc, but things do come together in the end and the result feels like a broadening of “Prophet’s” world.
The overall work is still damn strange, and one that won’t appeal to everyone. That’s before you consider the violence, the cannibalism, the alien sex... “Prophet” is a distinctive work that wears its weirdness like a badge. The best comparison I can give is that it’s appeal is like that of an independent or foreign film with a strong authoritative voice, like Darren Aranofsky’s “Pi” or Chan-Wook Park’s “Oldboy.” It’s also interesting to note that the book does retain Graham’s voice since he’s not the sole creator this time around. I’m assuming that he’s handling all of the scripting since the dialogue still reads a lot like “King City” but he shares story credit on any given issue with the artist he works with. Is this a division of labor akin to “Marvel Style” scripting where the writer hammers out the plot, the artist draws it, and then the writer comes back to dialogue it? No clue, but the results here are solid enough to show that the approach is certainly working.
Speaking of the artists, four different ones including Graham himself, contributed to this volume. Simon Roy handled the first three issues and his loose yet detailed style sets the tone for the rest of the book. I was quite impressed with how he managed to make just about everything in that first arc suitably alien, but still grounded in recognizably human terms. Farel Dalrymple does the fourth issue, the story of a chase on the space station shaped like a man. His style is a bit more polished, but he manages to achieve the same effect in a thoroughly sci-fi setting. Graham’s issue has the broadest scope as it follows a robot across a planet, and through space, all with less detailed, but still striking linework. The last issue comes from Giannis Milonogiannis who, if I remember the solicitations correctly, is now the regular artist on the title. That final issue looks like a more savage hybrid of Graham and Roy’s styles, but he’s more than up to the task of vividly realizing all of the madness that’s thrown at him and serves up an intriguing final-page splash that heralds a game-changing moment for the title.
“Prophet” is certainly a book that has a different style than most anything else on the market. Even compared to something like “B.P.R.D.” where weirdness is their stock in trade, this one stands out like a pulsating, bloody, cancerous growth. Unlike that analogy I just used, this book represents a good kind of weirdness. The kind of different that intrigues a reader and keeps them coming back for more. You’ve more than likely realized that I’ll be back for “volume two” if only to see if Graham and company can keep up the mix they’ve got going here.