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‘Prophet,’ Vol. 1: ‘Remission,’ by Brandon Graham

By Douglas Wolk,

In the ’90s, “Prophet” was a forgettable generic superhero comic book, one of artist Rob Liefeld’s bulging-muscled, hyperviolent creations; it wasn’t exactly calling out for revival. Improbably, its 2012 reincarnation is a delight — a smart, inventive and gorgeous piece of science fiction.

The mastermind of the new “Prophet” is Brandon Graham, whose own series “King City” and “Multiple Warheads” are loopy sci-fi comedies. His “Prophet” exchanges Graham’s usual goofiness for a crawling sense of the uncanny and a focus on nightmarish hybrids of biology and technology. Graham has described his take on the series as “future space Conan,” which isn’t exactly wrong — there’s a lot of bare-chested monster-slaying going on — but it’s more like a Darwinian space ­opera: a single-minded struggle to find sustenance, survive aggressors, and mutate as necessary within a strange and murderous ecosystem.

The “prophet” of the title is John ­Prophet, a human warrior who emerges from suspended animation at the beginning of the book. Simon Roy draws him fighting his way across an almost unrecognizable future Earth, armed only with a nasty blade, a half-decayed pack of tools and a ferocious survival instinct. When “Pop Gun War” cartoonist Farel Dalrymple takes over the art in Chapter 4, Prophet emerges from suspended animation again (this time with a tail), and the new series’ premise falls into place. Prophet, it turns out, is not a particular character but an army of clones, created to survive and adapt to the environments in which they’re released, and each of this volume’s five artists is drawing a different Prophet.

Graham himself is one of the artists, and the entire book is driven by grand, warped, lushly hued artwork. The plot, such as it is, moves slowly, although it hints at a broader scope in future volumes. But all it needs to do here is get from each jaw-dropping image to the next: a planet in the shape of a curled-up man, a hall full of shattered crystal, a “living factory” surrounded by immense insects.

Wolk is the author of “Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean.”

PROPHET Vol. 1: Remission By Brandon Graham et al. Image Comics. 136 pp. Paperback, $9.99

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