ADVANCE REVIEW! Prophet #21 will go on sale Wednesday, January 18, 2012.
As late as sixth months ago, the idea of a new issue of Prophet being the Comics Internet's most anticipated book of 2012 would have been a throwaway joke by a CBR columnist or something. It sucks that Prophet #21 debuted at the beginning of 2012 — not for readers' sakes, but for other comics, because now everybody has this to live up to — one of most surprising, impressive relaunches in ages.
Now, '90s nostalgia can fuck right off, but I kind of have to thank the resurgence of the flannel years for giving us a revival of Extreme Studios, the Rob Liefeld-fronted portion of Image Comics that gave us Youngblood, Glory, Supreme and Prophet. Which is inconceivable to readers who have grown past the improbable poses, ridiculous muscles and flat-out inaccurate anatomy. That stuff has its place, don't get me wrong (as I've established, I refuse to slag off Liefeld for sport), but the return of Extreme Studios is hypothetically The Relaunch Nobody Asked For.
One of my biggest complaints about DC Comics' New 52 relaunch was how "safe" it was, as most of the books were either business as usual or a gathering of spectacularly mediocre creators whose greatest talent was being able to get a book in on time — combined with a unifying motif of looking like the most disposable of '90s Pouch Comics. Now, while DC is trying their fuckingest to make their comics look like Brigade, Extreme Studios comes in with new versions of old properties created by interesting, unconventional creators like Brandon Graham of King City and Simon Roy of the awesome sci-fi graphic novella Jan's Atomic Heart.
I don't remember a goddamn thing about the original Prophet, but googling tells me that he has gigantic muscles that make his tiny swords look like cocktail skewers and that a Cable/Prophet crossover sounds more than a little redundant. The original issues of the title are irrelevant to the 2012 iteration because nothing about this issue feels like it's tethered to comics that came before it — at least in a continuity sense.
No, this John Prophet is, for all intents and purposes, a fresh start — a brutish looking man who more than a little resembles Conan the Barbarian, sent into a future where the Earth is unrecognizable to even Prophet, where he must traverse unknown territory to complete his mission where he must meet, fight, eat and fuck unfamiliar new species — one assumes, for the sake of his race.
Graham and Roy seem to think that there hasn't been enough Jean Giraud published in the English-speaking world. They're absolutely right, and so Prophet adopts the hyperdetailed, alien landscapes that Moebius is known for in service of a comic that's equal parts sci-fi and barbarian sci-fi, like a more oblique John Carter of Mars.
And it's fucking gorgeous, thanks to Simon Roy's art. Jan's Atomic Heart was something I bought on a whim on one of my many minicomic shopping sprees (read: anytime I see a collection of minicomics) a few years ago and, save 2010's Barfight, I hadn't seen work from Roy since. Well, until Prophet. And boy, was it worth the wait — Roy delivers some amazing designs that practically beg Hollywood to steal him from us, coupled with an exciting sense of storytelling and panel layout. And he seems to draw his own sound effects, which is my favorite thing to see a comic book artist pull off. Colorist Richard Ballermann's subtle palettes only enhance the art, conveying the sandy heat of the surface world as well as the dense, thick air of the world below.
Graham's script presents its ideas in third-person narration boxes that convey what the art couldn't get across in the limited/limiting page count, both ethnographic ("The city is a smell based caste society. Most that live on this ground level are working caste.") and closing the gaps between panels for the sake of the passage of time ("Other animals, new unknowns. His second morning awake."), written in a direct, pulp prose style, using only the presentation of his terse description as artistry ("Metal under his boots."). Despite the Howard/Burroughs flavoring, Prophet is one of those comics with a brand new sci-fi idea on every page that fleshes out a story that carries as much weight as the art.
Prophet #21 is a beautiful, weird comic and more than just an oddball stopgap between issues of Nonplayer. There aren't enough hardcore sci-fi comics being published, and here comes Prophet to make up for all the ones that could exist. Dear sci-fi fans who are afraid of looking like sexual deviants buying Heavy Metal: Prophet is here, and it just became your favorite comic.
Danny Djeljosevic is a comic book creator, award-winning filmmaker (assuming you have absolutely no follow-up questions), film/music critic for Spectrum Culture and Co-Managing Editor of Comics Bulletin. Follow him on Twitter at @djeljosevic or find him somewhere in San Diego, often wearing a hat. Read his comic, "Sgt. Death and his Metachromatic Men," over at Champion City Comics and check out his other comics at his Tumblr, Sequential Fuckery.