“Interplanetary warriors contemplating their place in the universe and intellectually evolving over the millennia” – sounds like vintage Robert Liefeld, no? Okay, so the surprise of seeing what Liefeld’s “Prophet” has become in the hands of Brandon Graham & co. should have long worn off by now, but it really hasn’t. That’s because “Prophet” continues to feel like an increasingly unlikely surprise with every new issue that serves to widen its scope while maintaining its subtlety.
Written by Brandon Graham & Simon Roy
Illustrated by Joseph Bergin III, Matt Sheean, Malachi Ward, Aaron Conley, Lando, Ron Wimberly, Brandon Graham, James Stokoe, Simon Roy & Giannia Milonogiannis
Die-Hard, a cyborg trying to regain his humanity, looks back over the thousands of years since his birth.
Artists get a lot of flack for trying to be writers. Bear with me here, because that is certainly not indicative of my opinion. Whether it’s criticism for being overly wordy to make up for some perceived deficiency, or being too indulgent in their visuals to care about a coherent or interesting plot, there seems to be a negative stigma associated with written work from creators known for their art. The funny thing about these criticisms is that they really have nothing to do with what they’re “known talent” is and that they can apply to just as many creators who are solely writers. Beyond that, some of the greatest works in the annals of comics came from creators who did both: Will Eisner, Frank Miller, Jack Kirby, Dave Sim, Jeff Smith – the list can go on and on. But though these criticisms are very real and prevalent, most of our intelligent readership probably knows that they’re ultimately a fallacy. So, why am I bringing this up and what does it have to do with “Prophet”?
Well, Brandon Graham’s current run on “Prophet” happens to be the best reigning example of a writer-artist producing a finer, more intelligently-written comic book than most writers in the medium can muster.
“Prophet” #39 concerns Diehard, a cybersoldier known for his involvement in Liefeld’s “Youngblood.” But in Graham’s now-classic “Prophet” tradition, we’re getting a more introspective and mature take at what was before a visually bombastic ’90s character, affiliated with all of the excesses that the medium was known for at the time. Graham and writing partner Simon Roy subvert another Liefeld property by taking a very serious and expansive look at how this undying character would exist over thousands of years. They take the same exact visual representation and character traits of Diehard, but treat him with a hard science fiction filter, rather than as “Deadpool with color palette 00101.”
In this way, Graham nails another reconceptualization, rescuing Diehard from an era of comics that has not aged gracefully. But more than that, he shoots for the moon with his exploration of the character by choosing to briefly view him at different points in his vast life. At each stop along the way, he’s a little bit different – philosophically, visually, behaviorally – each time informed by what’s come before in his life. Graham and Roy economize their use of narration boxes to make observations about each chosen era of Diehards’ life. When young, Diehard struggles to find satisfaction in his life. Having lived by a fraction of his tens-of-thousands of years, he struggles to see the good that he’s done. He doesn’t see the bigger picture. Thousands of years later, long after allies and friends have left him, perhaps he’s found some closure. Just as humans aim to do, perhaps he’s come to grips with the world. It’s just that his world and his frame of reference is so very different from everyone else’s. Where other writers would attempt overwrought narration and employ angst to create this internal conflict, Graham and Roy play everything contemplatively. The emotional notes are there, but they’re played so softly as to almost deny detection. Diehard is a cold observer – moments of silence to take in climactic events tell us all we need to know about the world he faces.
With subtle technique, Graham has proven to be a smart writer time and again. But part of great writing is being able to collaborate, and it’s hard to argue that there is better collaboration in comics than the ones that take place between he and the endless array of artists that have been on “Prophet” with him. The evidence is in the backmatter that shows you what sort of collaborate effort beared out on this issue. It is a huge testament to everyone’s talent that “Prophet” #39 features the art talents of no less than 10 “pencillers” and yet the entire length feels cohesive and very much of the same world. These guys tend to have similar sensibilities when it comes to comic art, in general, but with issue #39 they all get the opportunity to play off of one another using the same character – it’s certainly something to see.Continued below
All that said, James Stokoe is the most outstanding artist in this thing. Stokoe’s unyielding commitment and reputation for doing incredibly detailed work slips comfortably into the likewise detailed work of this art cast. Stokoe revels in the hard sci-fi weirdness of the “Prophet” world, but adds a multicolored sense of wonder to his pages that breaks things up in a really satisfying way.
It is a massive coup to have Stokoe art within these pages and just goes to show how good Graham’s jam-session of an ongoing comic truly can be. Every creative choice that Graham has made, whether with the art or the writing, has made “Prophet” the award-worthy comic that it’s known to be today. It is also a testimonial for letting creative people do their thing and trusting their instincts. If more modern comics followed the “Prophet” model for re-appropriating unrefined ideas, we’d have a lot more great comics to read.
Final Verdict: 9.2 – Buy, and keep buying, “Prophet”