Thursday, 13 December 2012

Books: Prophet


Vol 1: Remission
Written by Brandon Graham, Simon Roy, Farel Dalrymple and Giannis Milogiannis
Art by Simon Roy, Farel Dalrymple, Brandon Graham and Giannis Milogiannis

Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:

"Being thrown into the deep end." [1] Most of the time people say that like it's a bad thing. And - yeah - ok: maybe back when you're a kid and going to the swimming pool mainly consists of running around and splashing your friends - the deep end is something that you want to stay away from. But - growing up, maturing, whatever: well - the deep end ends up being the best place in the pool: it's the place that you can extend completely, reach new depths and etc etc etc.

Most of the time - talking to unwary travellers who've stumbled into my library and who look like they may appreciate a good comic (maybe): and are thus suitable candidates for attempted Comic Foruming (although I will say that there's few things worse than asking someone: "Excuse me: do you like comic books at all?" only to be given a withering stare and an incredibly condensing "Comics books? - ha - no thanks." - but that's just a hazard of the job I guess) - I always try and make a point of delineating between "superhero comics" and the "more chin-strokey stuff" (as in: "You should totally come to one of our meetings. Don't worry - it's not all superhero stuff: we do have lots of serious chin-strokey things too.") - mainly because I guess I don't want them to think that the Comic Forum is just people arguing over who would win in a fight between Spider-Man and Superman [2]: but also because - well - that's pretty much the way the books are split: in a totally obvious way: it's like a big bag full of red balls and blue balls - I mean - how else are you gonna divide them? Ok yeah - sometimes you get your Watchmens and your Dark Knight Returns or whatever: but mostly [3] if it's got someone with a cape and tights on the cover then - well - you know it's going to be shallow and and fluffy and light (with lots of punchings and fightings and things) and if it's a cover with a picture of one person staring forlornly into the middle distance then - no duh - it's going to be something with a little bit more for your brain to chew over. And speaking to comics fans - well: there's the people who think that the only division between comics is whether you like Marvel or DC and then there's the folks who read the Comics Journal and are always talking about Love and Rockets and Daniel Clowes.

Obviously tho - as with all things - you know (we all know) - the stuff that's really good is always the things that manage to combine the best of both. It's like my good to answer when people ask me what movies I like: well - there's the "Hollywood" stuff on one side and the "Art House" stuff on the other - and somewhere in the middle: well - that's the sweet spot. 

And that's where Prophet [4] comes in.

I'd notice that there's been loads of talk across the internet about Prophet when it first came out. Seeing how all the comics I read are the ones that Islington gets I kinda did my best to ignore all the things people were saying so that I wouldn't end up spoiling it for myself (it's a little like if there's a buzz band of the moment: you see their name mentioned so much that you almost feel like - by not having ever listened to them - you've somehow failed as a 21st Century human being or something): and so when Volume One mysteriously turned up one day: it was a mini-event (well - at least for me).

So - I snuggled up - put on the new Godspeed You! Black Emperor [5] and decided to see what all the fuss was about. And - well: splash.

I guess the first thing I should say is that: yeah - Prophet is damn good comics reading that pushes the limits of what comics are supposed to do - hitting that all important sweet spot between the mindless and the intellectual. Yeah - it's science-fiction and aliens and strange weirdness - but it's not presented as just another backdrop for some punchings and fightings - the point (and the pleasure) here is found in how it explores and reveals the world it's set in - with it's stunning creature design (most of the time alien monsters just look like human's with extra make-up plastered on - but the creatures in Prophet: look more like the products of a biologist's cheese dreams) and plenty of bizarre and freakish jargon ("the Towers of Thauili Van!") all combining to create the electric feeling that you're not just reading another story with some bare-minimal set-dressing to try and make it feel different: it's more like you've been injected head-first into another world. I don't know if this is just the totally obvious thing that everyone else has already said (as previously noted: I've done by best to shy away from reading anything else about it [6]) - but if Iain M. Banks ever decided to write a comic book: then it would something awfully similar to Prophet (and in case you don't know [7]: that's a good thing).

I know that quite a few times on here I've described artwork as looking "European" and pretty much every time I say that -- what really I mean that it looks like Jean Giraud (aka Moebius [8]). Well - out of all the books on this blog: this is the most Moebiusy (which is also a very good thing): yeah - it's kinda hard to put into words exactly - but it's generally just all the crazy alien landscapes and the whole solitary human figure making his way across them.

Plus: obviously - yeah: what with the whole distant far-flung future thing and all the strange and delightful beasties crawling all over the page - you can't help but be reminded of the (also very excellent) Orc Stain (you haven't read it yet? Well then - do yourself a favor and go check it out). But Orc Stain is a lot more - I dunno - buoyant and compared to Prophet: like it's more a saturday morning cartoon compared to Prophet's feeling like it was directed by Alien-era Ridley Scott [9].  

One final note: if - like me - you got a little confused when you finished the book and reached the back cover only to see that it says it collects "Prophet #21-26" on the back ("what the hell?") - well - (and this just makes me love this book even more) - Prophet isn't exactly a new character. In fact (brace yourself) he was originally created by Rob Liefeld back in 1990 he used to be a lazy uninspired Captain America rip-off ("John Prophet, a poor and homeless man living in the World War II era, volunteered to participate in the medical experiments of Dr. Horatio Wells, a time-travelling scientist from the future who used DNA-enhancing methods to transform Prophet into a super-soldier"). Which - for me: just makes the comic even better (in fact - unlike pretty much all the new comics I've written about here which can be consumed whole in one go and don't really merit a second look - I'm actually planning to reread Prophet a few more times in order to fully take it all in).

[1] A phrase which always makes me think of this little symbol from the artwork on Radiohead's Kid A.

[2] Plus: Superman would win. Obviously.

[3] Yeah - ok - so I'm exaggerating loads for effect here. I mean - yeah - there's loads and loads of great "mature" superhero comics (a fair few of which I'm managed to mention on this blog) - but still: you get the point - right?

[4] I keep wanting to write "A Prophet" - because - I dunno - just saying "Prophet" sounds a bit strange. (But maybe I just have that French prison film stuck in my head. You want to know what I thought of it? Well - it's pretty good. And worth watching once - but I don't think I loved it as much as everyone else in the world seemed to).  

[5] 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! Twenty Minute Songs! Canyons of Feedback! Bleak Samples! Buzzing and Rusty Guitars! Joyful Crescendos! The Sense That Something is Wrong: but What The Hey Let's Just Raise Our Fists And Cry Out Until Our Lungs Explode Anyway! And Just Make Sure You Play It As Loud As It Can Possibly Go!

[6] And - another thing that I wonder if anyone else has picked up on: has anyone remarked on how similar the whole Prophet set-up is to the Alan Moore and Jim Baikie three-issue mini-series, Deathblow Byblows (as collected in the book Alan Moore: Wild Worlds)? I not saying (and I don't think) that Brandon Graham ripped it off - I'm just saying it's an interesting coincidence...

[7] You've never read a Culture novel? Wow. You're missing out. Go and correct this mistake immediately by reporting right now to your local library and getting one out now. Go on - Go!

[8] Sadly we only have one Moebius book currently in stock in Islington and it's not a very good one. Have been trying to order a copy of The Incal: but so far not had much luck - still: watch this space.

[9] Or maybe that's just me getting swung by the Moebius thing again? Seeing how he helped on some of the design work on Alien? Check out this excellent Tor article (Moebius: The Visionary’s Visionary) for more. (And also I found this: Alien Explorations: Space Jockey's origins in "Swiss Family Robinson" - which credits (amongst others) Jack Kirby for the design of the Space Jockey so - you know: go treat yourself).

Links: The Comics Journal Review of #21-22, Comic Book Resources Interview with Brandon GrahamComic Book Resources Article: When Words Collide: Colonizing the Post-Extreme With Brandon Graham's "Prophet."

Further reading: Orc StainThe Manhattan ProjectsJudge Dredd: The Cursed Earth SagaThe Ballad of Halo Jones, B.P.R.D.: Hell on EarthHard Boiled, I'm Never Coming BackS.H.I.E.L.D.SagaNikolai Dante: The Romanov DynastyJust a Pilgrim, The Filth.

All comments welcome.

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