It has been a while since we’ve discussed Image’s first title in the Extreme relaunch, “Prophet” (since the book debuted, actually), but this issue sees Brandon Graham both writing and illustrating the issue. If that’s not worth a discussion, then I don’t know what is. Let’s discuss.
Written and illustrated by Brandon Graham
Jaxson must find a way to warn John Prophet of the newly awakened Earth Empire.
Line-wide relaunches are an interesting beast. We’ve seen a lot of these in comics recently from just about every major publisher, and Image is certainly no different with their Extreme relaunch, which brought back several Rob Liefeld titles with new creative teams. It has been interesting to watch itself playout as it didn’t necessarily have the same “it” factor that DC claimed theirs did, or even the name recognition IDW has had when relaunching books like “Popeye” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” Yet here were several titles, franchises and characters who were all laying dormant that incoming creative teams really had to rebuild from the ground up, and most of the titles have found success regardless.
Of course, so far they’ve all essentially followed a simple rule of thumb: pay tribute to what came before and push the titles in a new direction that represents an easy jumping onpoint for readers who may never have read “Supreme” or “Glory” or even “Youngblood.” It’s not a bad way to go, all things considered. Fans of Alan Moore’s run on “Supreme” got closure with his final issue, and who knows how many kids and teens reading comics today came to comics thanks to books like “Youngblood” with all of their muscle-y glory. Eric Stephenson has done an excellent job curating the entire endeavor, and the Image relaunch has deftly managed to deliver something for everyone.
And yet, “Prophet” has taken this relaunch edict to a completely different level. Oh, sure, it pays tribute to what came before, but seemingly only in name. Where other titles are actually “the next issue” of their given series (like the aforementioned “Supreme”), “Prophet” has become an entirely different beast. Other superheroes were stirred from their slumber to become champions again for a new age (did you see the YouTube joke in “Youngblood?”), but not John Prophet. With Brandon Graham at the helm the title has changed entirely, moving away from a character with a Captain America-esque origin in Shatterstar’s costume and transforming him into a man on a mission, starring in a sprawling science fiction epic and exploring seemingly empty corners of the universe, discovering the weird and unknown as all great sci-fi does. And with this issue, with Graham both writing and illustrating followed by an Emma Rios backup, we’re given the single best issue of the relaunch, and perhaps one of the best single issues of the year.
The reason for this is simple: “Prophet” is truly a different book. You can compare it to almost any book from any of our favorite comic publishers who put out single issue books on a weekly basis, and chances are you’ll be hard-pressed to find a way in which “Prophet” doesn’t do something atypical seemingly effortlessly. That’s the beauty of bringing a guy like Brandon Graham in to pilot this ship with John Prophet. As good as any superhero book can be (and truly, there are some great superhero-starring books on stands right now), Graham is seemingly the type of person who doesn’t care to take such a straightforward approach to classic archetypes. If his pun-filled artwork in previous comics is any indication, Graham simply sees storytelling differently than most other comic creators, and if the goal of the Extreme relaunch is to somewhat build a book from the ground up for new readers then Graham is performing this task above and beyond the call of duty.
For example, there are two things that really help the book stand out:
1. So far, Graham has decided to eschew typical narrative storytelling entirely, where the other Extreme relaunch books have yet to be so bold. This isn’t to say anything bad about the other titles; each book has introduced their new directions, characters, etc, and it has worked well in the realm of superhero relaunches. “Glory” by Keatinge and Campbell, for example, remains one of my favorites, and it very much “follows the norm” in terms of execution (a story that evolves arc by arc with its character growth and concept execution). And yet, seven issues into this run, Graham has yet to put out a book that simply picks up where the last issue left off, nor one that hands you a map to lead you along the path he’s charting. There’s certainly an overall plan (which I’ll get to in my next point), but despite the lexicon of comic knowledge I have in my brain, I couldn’t even begin to guess what will happen in the next issue if I tried.Continued below
For a book that is ostensibly related to the superhero genre, that’s a fairly impressive task, and for something often times referred to as polarizing in other books, the infinite accessibility of “Prophet” as it hops from planet to planet and character to character is inspiring.
2. Graham is going for the extremely long con here. Most books will state their purpose or give you an idea of what direction they’re heading in, but “Prophet” has been blazing it’s own trail since #20 (#1) hit. It was noticeable right off the bat when John Prophet nixed his previous costume for a seemingly retro-future Scott-esque spacesuit and had sex with an alien in the first issue, with no mention of his friendship with Supreme or what had happened to his fetching cape. By the third issue Graham had revealed an inkling of his plan, and the following two issues saw just a tiny bit more “explained” as the overall mystery developed further, but as he takes over as both writer and artist of the issue he manages to pull off an entire story without featuring its titular hero while still bringing in an entirely new angle to this sprawling saga. This isn’t just a one-off story in which a character prattles on for the length of an issue; this is an issue-length equivalent to “The Other 48 Days,” the LOST episode that showed what happened to the people inhabit the tail-end of Oceanic 815 and subsequently gave us a completely different view of the entire ongoing saga of the mysterious island and our assumptions of its purpose.
Now, granted: putting your protagonist aside for a done-in-one is an old trick, sure (Rucka’s “Punisher” didn’t even really have the Punisher in the book for the first handful of issues), but Graham delivers it in a way that will leave you guessing its purpose right up until the end. Even when “all is revealed” we’re still mostly left in the dark, especially after the big reveal of the previous issue. It’s haunting, it’s bold and it’s potentially polarizing, but it reads so incredibly well that it’s impossible to dislike.
Suffice it to say, Graham is working wonders with the scripts and the direction of this book.
A large part of what makes this issue so unique of a story (in a book full of unique stories) is that Graham takes over pencils of this particular story. Graham has worked on the title with a few artists at this point, all of whom have been able to translate his style well onto the page, and the variety of artists on this book acts as a boon while for the same reasons it acts as a detriment to other titles; where other books seemingly lack continuity due to shifting creative teams, “Prophet” seems to be painting a complex mosaic, comprised of individual artists adding their own stamp to whatever it is Graham has planned for the complete story. The fact that they can all pull of similar tricks to develop a cohesive sequential structure only makes the change of artist each issue that much better. Yet a story like this could only be pulled off by Graham himself.
Graham is an artist whose work is sorely underappreciated, yet everytime he works on a book it remains a highlight of the week/month it came out (and longer still). This issue finds him continuing the relaunch’s retro-future style of the book with a new character named Jaxson, a robot who looks potentially like a Buy-N-Large prototype for waste clean-up. This bot, brand new to the reader and to the larger story we’re being introduced to, manages to abstain from mechanical norms thanks to Graham’s art, which turns a being without a proper face (multiple ones, in fact) or any discernible emotive capabilities into a highly emotive figure. He’s at times weak, naive and childlike as he wakes from his sleep, and at others he’s strong, intelligent and powerful. Jaxson quickly becomes an entertaining character to follow after a few panels of the story, and his journey through the issue is like something out of a Pixar movie, thanks to the pairing of Graham’s writing and artwork. One issue sees little Jaxson becoming one of the best characters introduced so far, and after “just” a twenty page story he’s easily one of the most likable figures in this ongoing mystery war.Continued below
Not only that, but the entire setting of the book is something only Graham could do. Graham comes from a stylized European-influenced school of art with hyper-attentive attention to detail alongside artists like James Stokoe, but where Stokoe fills every corner with impressive minutiae, Graham manages to somewhat do the inverse. Graham’s artwork is just as dense and sprawling, but he has a wider use of open space in his work, especially evident in this issue and the desolate landscape traversed. It’s a dark sci-fi setting right out of Robinson Crusoe on Mars, just with more trash all over the place, yet despite the open plains and rock heaps left and right, the book is still just as rich as you’d expect from Graham when he’s drawing cities in “King City.” It’s an issue that features just the right design to make the book’s setting to still feel barren, cold and alone, and with impressive artists like Simon Roy, Farel Dalrymple and Giannis Milonogiannis all adding to the book, Graham’s artwork still manages to stand above and beyond the impossibly impressive line-up.
Of course, there’s also the amazing Emma Rios back-up story, but rather than tell you about it (because I probably can’t do it any better than David Brothers did admittedly), we’ll simply show it in its entirety (as Graham posted it online because of a printing error):
If you don’t want to pick up a comic with that in it, then I literally just don’t know what to tell you.
At this point in the relaunch, “Prophet” is like a puzzle that has just been opened, the pieces scattered over the table and the box thrown away so we can’t see the completed picture yet. We’ve put a few pieces together to form some tiny foresight of the whole, but with every new piece we pick up comes something different; a new shape with different imagery that fits onto the larger body yet still stands alone. When Graham eventually finishes his run on “Prophet”, it will certainly be a sight to behold. For now, though, it’s one hell of a ride you can’t afford to miss.
Final Verdict: 9.5 – Buy
For a great interview with Brandon Graham about where the book is going in the future and how it connects to the past, click this link.