Monday, 20 May 2013

Prophet vol. 1: Remission review

When I first heard about this comic, I knew I would read it eventually. I read Brandon Graham’s previous comic, King City, and I really enjoyed it. There was a creative vibe to it that I really appreciated. My feelings towards Prophet increased during its monthly single issue publishing. It was receiving great reviews and, more importantly, some bloggers and reviewers online whose opinion is close to my own (or whose criticisms of comics and entertainment in general are excellent) also praised it. Prophet is published by Image comics and it’s a reboot of a Rob Liefield comic of the 90s. That doesn’t matter at all though; this comic is carving its own path and is an absolute delight.

With his previous comic, King City, Graham's writing was loose and casual. With Prophet he's a bit more structured but he retains a very relaxed, almost improvisational, tone to the story. Like some of the best science fiction, Graham and his team of artists give the reader the time to settle into this future world and familiarize ourselves with its alien inhabitants. The story is captivating but not because of storytelling momentum, although Graham does built some of that. No, I was mesmerized by all the strangeness present in the comic. I was enraptured by John's mission to the towers of Thauilu Vah as well as the strangeness of the civilizations Graham put in John’s path as he journeyed across the desert landscape of what was once planet Earth.

I really enjoyed Graham's King City. Not as much as others, I found him to be too playful of a storyteller, but it's still a very, very good comic. With Prophet, Graham has impressed me with his skill as a writer. In a similar way that Sean Murphy did with Punk Rock Jesus. Graham impressed me in a different way, though. Few words are to be found on these pages but Graham makes sure they've earned their place. Most of the world building of the future Earth in the first three issues is done by the art alone. John Prophet barely utters a word and most of the dialogue we read is alien languages translated trough a floating device that hangs around John. The majority of the story is told with the use of narrative caption boxes. Graham gives us the name of some creatures and future cultures and technology. It adds just enough structure and insight into what's developing in front of our eyes to allow the reader to follow. 

I like how the artists gave John Prophet the appearance of a caveman. He is a member of an old, possibly extinct, species on a future Earth (men, or at least some form of primate still exist and are used as cattle, quite ironic when you think about it). Bugs and highly evolved bug-like creatures now rule the earth and John is nothing but an echo of what used to be. He barely speaks. He doesn't have to. His actions speak for him.

This comic is pretty dense compared to King City. It's not dense in the way a comic by Alan Moore is dense. No, Prophet has room to breathe. This comic is dense in ideas. There is so much imagination at play that the just sheer delight to take your time and read the captions that guide you through pages upon pages of fascinating, creepy and well thought out art. Unfortunately, many casual reviewers online have described this comic as being light and underwhelming. This frustrates me because too many people who read comics don’t give the art more than a passing glance. It’s a visual medium and often times, the art is more important than anything else. I want to blame superhero comics for this since they’re primarily composed of colourful characters in heroic poses with unnecessary exclamatory speech bubbles surrounding them. It could also be something more symptomatic of our society not taking the time to enjoy things any more.  It’s more important to watch an entire season of a TV series in one weekend than it is to actually stop and think about what we’ve just experience. I’m losing focus here. This is supposed to be about how great a comic Prophet is, especially for readers who took the time to connect the dots of what Graham and his artists were showing us.

The art here is as much I a surprise as anything else which is fitting since the art more than contributes to its fair share of the world building and storytelling. The story is also dense even though it doesn't appear to be. In six issues Graham and company give us four complete stories that all contribute to the larger story that is to come. I mentioned how the book has an improvisational feel but you also get an impression that the creative teams has a good idea where it's going even though some of the details might not be completely pinned down. Prophet is drawn by Simon Roy (issues #21-23 and 26), Farel Dalrymple (issue #24), Brandon Graham (issue #25), and Giannis Milogiannis (issue #26). Their styles all work well together and it’s not jarring to have a different artist from issue to issue. The first three issues tell a continuous story while the last three tell single issue stories that all interconnect in some way or another. I really liked the art. It played a crucial role in making this a great comic.

Prophet breathes fresh air into science fiction comics. It is at times challenging, gross, emotionally rewarding and absolutely fascinating to read. I would love to break down these issues page by page but that's the wrong approach for a review of a book like Prophet. Especially considering it’s still ongoing. The best way to enjoy Prophet at this point in time is to grab a copy, be it from a book store, a comic shop or a public library, and take an evening to enjoy the strange vision of the future Graham and his team of artists are unveiling.

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