Prophet #32, by Simon Roy and Ed Brisson
Series artist Simon Roy flies solo on this issue (discounting the lettering of Ed Brisson, which we’ll get to in a minute). The results are… interesting. Roy certainly plays to the series’ trademark weirdness, but his approach to storytelling is much more straightforward than that of regular writer Brandon Graham. The result is a fun read that’s perhaps the most accessible issue of Prophet to date, but one that lacks the book’s usual edge.
The story concerns female Prophet clone John Ka, who’s been awakened on Earth for a mission to learn all she can about the races that now dominate the planet in preparation for the return of the Earth Empire. So we return to the Oonaka meat farmers of the first issue and, through the eyes of John Ka, learn more about them. And on the surface, at least, they’re really weird:
Lots to love about that two-page spread right there. Roy continues to deliver some of the more genuinely alien-looking aliens I’ve ever seen, and the composition of that piece is stellar. It’s just fun to look at. Then you get down to the details, and it gets even better. The aliens’ clothing is as intriguing as their anatomy, and the detail on the Prophet life-pod to the center-right almost makes the thing look functional. What I love the most, though, is that self-mounting poop sling attached to the waist of that feral human. So… wrong. And therefore, absolutely perfect.
The only thing I might love more than that shit-catcher is the lettering. The double-balloon technique is brilliant, and I’m not sure who should get credit for it: Roy, or letterer Ed Brisson. Whoever did it, they executed it beautifully. The overlapping English balloons get across the idea that we’re reading a translation without a moment’s thought, and the alien calligraphy is a work of art unto itself.
Roy’s knocking it out of the park art-wise in general, though. Especially on the early pages, his work has a nice solidity about it that he doesn’t always deliver. In part, that’s due to his color work. I don’t remember if he’s colored his own stuff on previous issues, but here the colors really accentuate the lines to make his very alien aliens feel even more like something that could actually exist. The best example of that might be this panel from page one:
It’s the guy on the left that makes it, I think. The color really defines the contours of his face, rendering him extra-special horrifying. The fact that he’s wearing some kind of weird alien Nehru jacket is pretty disturbing, too. But it’s the color and shading that makes him pop off the page in an uncomfortable way.
As I said, though, that’s all surface weird. Though the Earth’s future rulers are disturbing to look at, the writing has rendered them entirely too human to be disturbing on the deep level they once were. Much as I love the term “Oonaka Meat Barons,” for instance, it implies recognizable social structures. They’re not incomprehensible alien monsters anymore, they’re corrupt businessmen. Their breeding of humans for food is no longer an unknowable horror, it’s something driven by all-too-familiar greed. Even the fact that the Oonaka have gathered together a group of bounty hunters to do their dirty work for them makes everyone involved less scary.
The translations don’t help, either. Effective as the word balloons themselves are visually, the English dialogue reveals these previously-disturbing alien beings as bog-standard pulp villains expressing cynicism and pettiness in such a way that they might as well be human. After only a few pages of this, the sheer horror of them has been diminished to the point that even a background scene of three completely bizarre aliens tussling with a weird-ass splay-mouthed giant worm just comes across as whacky hijinks:
I don’t mean to trash the issue completely, understand. I really enjoyed it on the first read-through, and was in a great mood when I finished. It was easy and fun and just strange enough to appeal to me, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But on the second read, I found myself missing the creeping anxiety I normally feel when reading Prophet.
Under Brandon Graham, this book has a genuine “what the fuck?!” quality, a sense of High Weirdness that’s unmatched in funnybooks. Even the “good guy” alien races seem just beyond the veil of human understanding, and it’s that sense of the truly strange that makes me love the series as much as I do. That’s what Simon Roy didn’t deliver on, and that’s why I’m now left feeling a tiny bit let down.
Plus, I figured out the ending pages ahead of time, and that’s never a good thing. So, even though I did enjoy this issue, the simpler storytelling and lack of anything that truly made me squirm means it’s not gonna get the series’ usual five-stars.