Courtesy of Image Comics

December 23, 2016

Space Barbarians: Brandon Graham and Simon Roy’s Prophet

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I’ve been listening to a lot of late ’70s – early ’80s electronic music lately, mostly European stuff but not exclusively. There’s a quality to this music that I’m very fond of, a particular sort of richness. The sounds are very basic, yet there’s a sense throughout that these are sounds that haven’t been made before, and everything you’re hearing is an all-new discovery for the musician. There’s no codified sense of what the music “should” be yet, and the excitement of discovering these new sounds with the listener translates into warmth and texture which transcends the cliché many (but not all) of these compositions tend to fall into.

There’s a sequence in the final pages of Prophet: Earth War, the concluding storyline of the now long running space opera series, in which we are presented a series of panels depicting, out of sequence, events in the distant and near past and future beyond the scope of the narrative, finally landing on an image of a starscape captioned with the locations of various fantastic planets and celestial phenomena both familiar and unknown to the reader. The layout of this star map recalls an image from the very first issue of the series way back in 2012, in which we are presented an itinerary of strange future devices. The effect of both pages is similar — through the simple presentation of unusual phrases and objects collected in the space of a panel, the reader is opened to an uncanny universe where absolutely anything could happen.

Prophet is the brainchild of the writer-artists Brandon Graham and Simon Roy, a continuation of an obscure Rob Liefeld comic from the ’90s which picks up some thousands of years after that series left off – the continuity of the two works is mostly an affectation. The musclebound superhero of the original has aged to the elder leader of a resistance to an “earth empire” spanning the universe whose soldiers are clones of himself. However, the first few issues of the book do not make this clear. At the start, it’s just a man, John Prophet, emerging from a pod, hacking his way across an alien landscape which is apparently earth.

The comic’s premise was novel from the start, mining the raw macho nonsense of ’90s superhero comics for a thoughtful, strange and artistic world populated with wonders and oddities. What made the book extra special is the care put into the illustration, manned by a team of artistic collaborators with hands-on experience in cartooning that many mainstream comic writers usually lack.  There’s a sense of personality to Prophet that grows as more and more artists become involved with the title where other books would become industrial, the visual quirks of Giannis Milogiannis, Farel Dalrymple, Grim Wilkins and others informing the path of the story under the guidance of Graham’s thumbnail “scripts.” It was a special comic to pick up every month because you knew there would always be something exciting every issue, some concept or image that would just be great.

Key to the sense of infinite possibility that Prophet offers are the constraints placed upon the work. It’s a barbarian adventure in space, designed to “out-Conan Conan,” as Graham put it in an early interview. Like the early electronica that I love so much, Prophet is a series that functions with a limited tool set, playing bluntly to familiar motifs. But like the itinerary from issue one, these simple themes power you through a vast landscape that grows richer the longer you dwell.

Nathan Chazan is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected].