Writers: Brandon Graham, Simon Roy
Artists: Brandon Graham, Simon Roy, Grim Wilkins, Sandra Lanz, Others
Release Date: September 10, 2014
The ‘90s nostalgia boom has not extended to comics, thank God. The Cobain-era may have given us such iconic gems as The Sandman and The Maxx, so it certainly wasn’t all a wash, but publishers and prospectors were lying when they told us snatching up all 17 variant chromium covers of X-Men (Vol. 2) #1 would someday pay for our college tuition. In the ‘90s, Marvel went bankrupt, Superman died and the perceived importance of art eclipsed story so completely that some fans argued, without irony, whether comic books needed writers at all.
It’s fun to mock Rob Liefeld for his remarkable inability to draw feet today, but his style-over-substance approach was inexplicably dominated sales during its time. Remember when we all thought Spawn was a big deal? Todd McFarlane slapped a cape on Venom and wrote him saying “fuck” and doing other “gritty” things, and then we all gave Todd McFarlane our allowance money because we were 10-year-old boys and 10-year-old boys are really stupid.
But compared to the original John Prophet — one of the dozens of interchangeable mean dudes with big knives, guns and endless pouches — Spawn comes across as a Shakespearean paragon of complexity and nuance. Possibly out of reverence for Liefeld, Brandon Graham continued to write Prophet as an interchangeable — literally, one of an infinite score of clones — mean dude with a big knife and without charisma for his 2012 reboot. But a compelling protagonist isn’t the end-all-be-all when it comes to adding depth to a story: Graham plopped his Prophet smack-dab into a meticulously-constructed, brilliantly-batshit, post-post-apocalyptic distant future. Prophet Strikefile #1 aims to explain the ins-and-outs of this post-post-(post?)-apocalyptic scenario. Think The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe meets a history lesson about the rise and fall of an imperialistic, malignant empire…in outer space.
In theory, this issue could present a solid jumping-off point for readers who aren’t already versed in the peculiar reality in which Prophet resides. In practice, word nuggets such as, “Following the defeat of the psiomegadom, Golden Empire engineers began utilizing psionic genes for the management of their growing clone forced-labour systems,” and “Finally, in the empire’s final attempt to secure the Cyclops Rails of Hadar Theta, the free armies of the wolf-rayet traitor broke the empire’s Kun armada — but were themselves destroyed,” appear throughout, rendering the text utterly incomprehensible.
But in the old school Image tradition, the words mostly don’t matter because the entire book looks flabbergasting. Consider the page dedicated to the Empire Birther — a monolithic centipede-like creature, apparently custom-bred to squeeze out John Prophets faster than a chicken lays eggs. It’s as if the prospect of human reproduction (the not-fun part) inspired an OBGYN anxiety nightmare, and then that nightmare had an even worse nightmare starring an appalling, hairy pile of distorted faces, breasts, man-containing transparent eggs, cellulite, and other ambiguous genitalia. In fairness, the rest of the book — featuring the wares of several artists — isn’t as over-the-top. In the initial 10 pages, Grim Wilkins depicts an idiosyncratic Star Wars-tinged universe populated largely by misshapen human clones, anthropomorphic lizards and insects, and the occasional living blob-like-thing.
Complaining about the lack of story would be missing the point, though: Prophet Strikefile was designed for exposition, exclusively. Attempting to forge a sprawling mythology around Prophet shows commendable ambition, but this book plays out like an info-dump propped up as an excuse for artists to draw crazy outer space esoterica. For Prophet completests, it’s worth picking up. But it’s not compelling enough on its own to justify anyone else dropping $3.99.