Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Future I Signed Up For

To plug and paraphrase my recent Open Letters Monthly article, comic books kick most movies and television to the back of the creative classroom. What an artist transfers from his brain to the Bristol board can be tamed by no budget. A writer need only feed her mind omnivorously, and her next daydream (or nightmare) could become a groundbreaking new series.

That said, the noise I make today celebrates the successful relaunch of a title from the holo-foil dungeon that was the 90s. If you were a teen collector back then (or an adult reader, patiently awaiting some awful trends to die), the word Prophet might mean something. The character burst, locked and loaded, from the the mind of Rob Liefeld, co-founder of Image Comics. Like most of Liefeld's tortured creations, John Prophet was a time-traveler, muscled like a brontosaur, and easily bored when not shooting or impaling something. A typical issue (drawn by talented flame-out Stephen Platt) had more lines than there are neurons in the brain.

Anyway. I come not to bemoan the past, but to extol the wonderfully weird future set forth by creators Brandon Graham and Simon Roy. As Prophet's new helmsmen, they scratch the science-fiction itch that Ridley Scott's film Prometheus failed to last summer. And by that, I mean that this comic is more challenging, engaging, and fantastically repulsive than just about anything outside of the Alien universe.

The setting is Earth. Only fossilized machinery reminds that humanity once ruled. Prophet tunnels up from below ground, and out of stasis, in a spiky Hyber Pod. He then vomits up a capsule of "Ampa Micakane", which he injects into his arm to "stimulate his nervous system and activate his implants."

Prophet then takes a moment to enjoy barren, orange scenery evocative of New Mexico. Within seconds, a four-legged animal he calls a tulnaka creeps up. His killing and eating of the thing entertains, but isn't the whole picture. Like most of the animals he encounters- reptiles, mammals and fish alike- the tulnaka's evolved jaws that open on every side, like a voracious flower. Unexamined by the narrative, this is the sort of brain candy I love. Did the animals radiate from a common ancestor? Did they mutate because of chemicals or the environment? That the storytellers thought to include this treat is enough for me. And this comic is full of similarly inspiring oddities- a simple listing of them would be a class in creative storytelling.

Alas, structure counts for something. Let's follow our hero as he descends upon Jell City, an organic spaceship that landed and began rotting that its denizens might subsist on the mold grown at its base. While sleeping in a gourd-like protuberance, he dreams the clues that will further his (as yet) undeclared mission. In the bowels of Jell City, Prophet meets with another Hyber Pod that delivers some tools. One is the so-brilliant-I'm-jealous DolMantle, a glowing blue slug, worn across the shoulders, that adapts to help the imperiled wearer. On different occasions, it stops a bullet, acts as a breathing apparatus, and helps Prophet obtain a new arm.

The rest of the graphic novel Remission is just as innovative. The visual narrative, in fact, is almost clearer than the text. This is supposedly the tale of John Prophet as he scales the towers of Thauilu Vah to awaken the Earth Empire. Alright. Most of that is evident. Generally, Simon Roy, and later Farel Dalrymple, Giannis Milonogiannis, and Graham himself, focus on sights that border on the insane. These other artists are also credited alongside Graham for the story, which hints at the text being secondary.

Legendary artist Jack Kirby used to work with Stan Lee in the same manner. Notes and sketches went back and forth until the material shaped-up into a solid story. If Prophet was produced in a similar manner, how can I complain? The title's publisher, Image, celebrates its 20th Anniversary this year. I wish them twenty more, the weirder the better.

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