Thursday, 4 February 2016

Prophet Book 3: Empire (#32, #34-38)

"John lost so much.  His love died in that battle" - Narrator

This is the third volume of the recent reboot of the uninteresting Rob Liefeld created character John Prophet which has taken the character and entirely rewritten him before setting him loose in a weird sci-fi universe peopled with reimaginings of other Liefeld studio characters.  The main writer is Brandon Graham, with additional story and the main art duties supplied by Simon Roy and Giannis Milonogiannis. The main hero is a wild bearded man called "Old Man Prophet" who was reawakened when the Prophet that we followed in Book One (now known as "New Father Prophet") reactivated all the Prophet soldier clones seeded across the universe by the evil Empire. Telepathically controlled by "Brain Mothers" they are to re-establish the Earth Empire after the rebellion against it that Old Man Prophet led centuries ago virtually wiped them out. Old Man Prophet quickly put together a resistence band made up of a living treelike entity called Hiyanhoiagn, the android (and ex-Youngblood member) Diehard, the robot Jaxson and a female lizardlike humanoid called Rein-East who reminds Old Man Prophet of an old lover of his he spent his happiest years with.  They also have an intelligent starship called the Insula Tergum which Hiyanhoiagn bonds to.  In books one and two we were also introduced to a third Prophet with a tail who manages to break free of the Empire Mother's mind control.  After checking in with New Father Prophet and meeting a new Prophet reborn on Earth, we rejoin Old Man Prophet's motley band as they travel the galaxy looking for allies to battle against the resurgence of the Earth Empire.  This is a strange fantasy/science fiction story told mostly in narrative captions giving it an almost alienated feel which works very well with the tale being told. 

[If you're wondering where issue #33 is, the sequence of the story was rejigged slightly and #33 is covered in my look at Book Two]

The first chapter begins on what was once Earth, with a group of the creatures who now inhabit it discussing the possibility that some of the humans the hunt are sentient which would put people off from eating them.  So the beings, the Oiix set a bounty, "one aluminum ingot per feral, four per old type".
John Ka.
Watching the bounty hunters is Brother John Ka and her familiar a brain-fly.  John Ka's pod surfaced months ago and she has seen that "the Imperial homeworld no longer belongs to man."  The place she was programmed to reconnoitre at no longer exists.  But she is still driven to search out the Empire's enemies.

She comes across a camp of feral humans and is attacked by one.  Her brain-fly takes control of him and he points out she has been followed by some Oiix who she easily kills.  The human who attacked her is a fellow John whose pod surfaced "nine winters" earlier.  He has gone native, he attacked and killed the alpha male of the feral human pack and now leads it.  They make John Ka welcome and over the coming days with them her mind wanders to her past.
The feral humans and the John who leads them.
Her childhood, with the pain of the Brain Mothers programming contrasted with the patient teaching of her Brother.  Their casual closeness when her only intimacies were in battle.

Narrator: "She wonders which is deeper: the gulf between her and these creatures.. or between her and her masters."

One night an Empire Brain Mother contacts her to say they are in orbit.  She must return and tell them of her mission.  They want the rogue John to either return or be detroyed with the feral humans, "we cannot risk contamination".  John Ka asks John if he will return, "you know I cannot" he replies and they lunge at each other.

Daytime and John Ka is picked up from the rendevous point alone.  The Empire ship bombs the feral human's camp.  But the ferals are gone and "from a distant ridge John Ka's brother watches with satisfation.  For a little while longer at least, his band is free."  Brother John Ka is welcomed aboard by New Father Prophet and "above their forgotten homeworld, the Earth Empire gathers."

We are then introduced to "Magnus Johns".  Seigebreakers "planted to wipe out anything holding the tether."  Many pods containing them have opened and the Magnus Johns fought and ate each other until one was left and picked up by the Empire Wombship where he is taken back to the Empire's earth base which is steadily growing and retaking the planet.
New Father John and his Brothers.
New Father John (recognisable by his blue jelly-like replacement arm formed from something called a "Dolmantle") walks with his brothers, Long John and John Ka and the Magnus John "Big John". Big John grumbles that because he is bigger he should be Father.  They go further into the base passing Prophets of all kinds.

There is a council of war going on under the "eye womb", a collection of Brain Mothers acting as one, "their mind(s) stretched out in a great net across Empire space."  The latest plan debated by the Prophets is to take the towers New Father scaled in Book One.

The eye-womb reports that part of it was "witness to something new before we lost its sight" when the woman army was destroyed at the end of Book Two.  They have also seen a "mass of weak creatures grouped as one.  A power rides on the minds".  They have dispatched the Hammer-Deon fleet to investigate.  One of the John's says this is off-world stuff, they must take the towers here on earth.

Later Big John challenges New Father for leadership.  But New Father easily flips him and puts a boot on his neck.  "Live or die?" he asks.  "L-live" stutters Big John.  New Father then goes to relax in a bathing area, the "pleasure cast Parabalani Johns" and exotic aliens serve their needs.
Introducing Greenknife.
One of the Parabalani Johns warns New Father that the aliens there are planning to kill him.  His Dolmantle has been drugged, but the Parabalani John gives New Father his knife.  New Father then fights and kills the aliens and the Parabalani John kills one as well.  When it is safe, New Father renames the Parabalani John "Greenknife" and takes him as his personal intimate companion.

Later that night he dreams of the mysterious entity known as "Troll" who is calling to him:

Troll: "Hello Johnn. You must ready yourself.  Something is coming".

And while Greenknife sleeps soundly beside him, New Father wakes up with a start.  We then cut to the Hammer Deon fleet being steered by an "arc mother".  She probes ahead and "suddenly she mind touches overwhelming pain".  This pain starts pulling the fleet into consume it.  The fleet launches "mind mortars" at the Red Pain.  A pilot John "reaches the core of the Red and sees...." Then we return to New Father who again wakes with a start having had a vision of the fleet under attack.
Bad dreams for New Father John.
Greenknife comforts him while Big John and Long John spy on them.  Big John wonders what New Father sees in this small John.  John Ka says they are "grown smaller for pleasure".  Then a large assembly of Prophets are directed to take the towers back from the aliens.

We now return to Old Man Prophet and his companions.  Their ship is now housing the "cerebral body of the Young Trust".  A sentient flesh blob picked up after the events at the end of Book Two. It has bonded to Hiyonhoiagn who says it's "just a seed and has been alone far too long".  Diehard watches Old Man Prophet and Rein-East questioning Hiyonhoiagn.  Jaxson notes the way Diehard regards Rein-East, "she's in your eye" it says.  Diehard says nothing.

The battle of the towers rages on with both sides taking heavy losses.  On the moon of Phobos which belongs to Troll, Old Man Prophet, Rein-East, Jaxson and Diehard are joined by a shipskin version of Hiyonhoiagn which he created so he could come along with them.  A spherical creature approaches them.  Diehard tells Old Man Prophet to touch his head and connect his thoughts to it.  The being used to be Radar, the dalmation superdog owned by Supreme many thousands of years ago.
The being known as Radar links with Old Man Prophet and Diehard.
As the battle of the towers starts to go in the Empire's favour, Radar leads Old Man Prophet and the others across the moon to the old man's old spaceship.  He goes inside and remembers its last battle which they won but lost the ship.  His lover was also killed in the battle and he regards her remains sadly.

On Earth the Prophet army attack the inside of the towers and finally free them from alien control.

Narrator: "Thauilu Vah.  Earth's junction on the Cyclops rail awakened after centuries of polycrystalline suppression.  The tower's energy threads space like a needle.  From the other side, a single ship.  Lone survivor of the Empire's Hammer Deon fleet."

The Empire's earth base, The Great Domus, takes in the surviving fleet member although his mind is fractured.  The All-Mothers probe it delicately to find out what he saw.

Narrator: "They see the centre.  A creature at the living nebula's core.  Burning pain pulling for red COntrol of the minds of every thinking thing in its path."

The visions of the Pilot-John are also picked up by Troll who passes them on to Old Man Prophet and to New Father Prophet.  Troll says to New Father that this is why "I need your help".
Troll enacts his plan.
Distracted New Father is summoned to the War-Womb.  The three armed "World Raper" is wanting to track down Old Man Prophet.  Troll whispers in New Father's mind that he should disregard this "petty revenge".  The Sisters of the Pure watch him and think New Father has been touched by an outside mind.  So they secretly load an Imperial Brain Mother called "Megaera" onto his ship.

Back on Phobos with Troll and Old Man Prophet, Troll says he didn't join in the old man's war because he felt the humanity he knew was gone and he mourned its loss.

Troll: "The Earth Empire that grew you, a broken tool left over from the humanity I knew".

They are like Diehard, who was once a man melded with tools "now just tools that think they are a man".  Old Man Prophet says Diehard is still his brother.  He says Troll has identified a new threat that can control many minds with one, and "you think we can aid in its destruction."  Troll agrees and says Old Man Prophet needs to go and speak with the old ones of earth "whose ears I no longer have".  They need to find Badrock. 

Inside Old Man Prophet's old ship, Diehard talks with Rein-East.  He reminisces about his time there, how he liked to listen to music for hours.  Rein-East says he must be as old as Old Man Prophet.  Diehard says he is much older.  He remembers the first of his kind.  "You're so sad" says Rein-East.  Diehard says he looks at her and thinks of what he has lost, no longer being alive. "You seem as alive as myself" she says.
Diehard and Rein-East have a moment.
Hiyonhoiagn appears, breaking the sudden tension between them.  He says Jaxson has found two "egg brothers" he thinks he can revive.  Diehard and Jaxson zap the dormant units and bring back to life "Garte and Franxis".

New Father's ship is travelling away from earth.  Onboard, Megaera speaks into Big John's mind saying his "Arch Father" has been corrupted and he must kill him.  New Father is in the control room listening to Troll who is instructing him to go and find one of Badrock's children which is in orbit around Ixpolinioux (the dead giant that is mined for its blood and bone which Old Man Prophet visited in book two).

Big John and New Father fight.  Big John's power is being boosted by Megaera but Troll is supporting New Father and psychically blasts Big John's head to bits through New Father's eyes, the psychic backlash also killing Megaera.  New Father then fills the others, Long John, John Ka and Greenknife, in on the plan and they agree to follow where he takes them.
New Father destroys Big John.
We're then taken to Kutra-Thal, an abandoned "war station" orbiting the "Onco Sine star since the last war."  Another Prophet, Brother John Atum has awakened.  He is drawn deeper into the rotting war machine.  He battles with a giant pink insectoid creature called a "Modan-Bug".  Defeating it he meets a transparent construct brother called John Agro.

He is guided further and deeper into Kutra-Thal.  When he sleeps he comes under neural attack.  He runs and finally he makes it to the system's core.  Brother John Agro is waiting and psychically unlocks the door.  Inside John Atum struggles to the top of a great machine and activates John Agro's physical container.
John Atum and John Agro.
This makes John Agro's "existence complete" and in the form of a huge robotic suit it flies away to "open the way for the Empire's fleets".  John Atum has just enough of a drug that will make his heart burst.  He doses himself and dies, his mission complete.

Back with Old Man Prophet and his companions, they have travelled to visit the being made of "thought and light" that was once Sally Crane - Suprema.  She invites Old Man Prophet to partake of an elaborate tea ceremony. Hiyonhoiagn on board the ship is reading the crystal memory to find out how to do it and broadcasting it into Old Man Prophet's mind.

His mind unshielded he sees a world once teeming with life, now virtually empty.  He sees Suprema as she once was and as she still sees herself.  "He sees himself.  He looks so old, now.  Tired."  Suprema suddenly rages at him because her child, The Lady Probable was killed by the Red Pain (see the end of book two), yet Old Man Prophet and his crew escaped. She will not help him, but he probes her mind and touches on a name.

Old Man Prophet: "I am sorry I could not help her."
Meeting with Suprema.
He returns to the ship and thinks about the name he picked up, "The Venerable Wake".  An information page tells us he was grown in the Golden Emperors mind vats.  He was an integral part of creating the network of wormholes, the Cyclops Rail.  He raised an army and defeated the Golden Emperors grandchild, expanding his realm and conquering worlds for hundreds of years until he was defeated by the "revolutionary army 7thumb".  He has more recently been thought to be behind the genocide in Koktok and the resurrection of the Black Bloom.

We return to New Father Prophet and his crew.  He's been grown a new arm, they have also grown a bombshell, insect-like exoskeleton containing a "Life bomb" that Long John is going to deliver inside the torso of the dead giant Ixpoliniox that will blow Moorrock, one of Badrock's children, free of the gravity well of the nearby neutron star.  After a tussle with some alien guards that prevent Long John from digging into the body, he sends the bomb into a volcano and the wombship picks him up just before it explodes and blows Moorrock free of the stars gravity.
The Life Bomb is sent to do its work by Long John.
And that brings volume three to an end.  Like the preceeding volumes this doesn't hold your hand.  It throws all kind of weird names and creatures at you and expects you to reread several times to start making sense of it all.  It's a fantastically imaginative series still, with yet another Extreme studios knockoff given new life thousands of years into the future.  The introduction of an enemy that has forced New Father and Old Man Prophets into working towards the same ends through the machinations of Troll is an interesting idea especially as so far, Old Man Prophet hasn't really registered as a threat on the Earth Empire's radar, they are more concerned about retaking all of earth and setting up their travel and communications networks.  The art is wonderfully "ugly" which suits the subject matter perfectly and the world building is expertly teased out with even minor details coming together to create a universe that is incredibly alien. Unfortunately it might have been a little too alien as the next volume is the last, so join me in a couple of months as we look at how satisfactorily such an epic is wrapped up in the remaining few issues.


  1. ok i enjoyed reading this post, but the plot has got abit hard to follow. i'm not a big scifi fan though so maybe that is the reason why. sorry!

  2. No need to apologise, I did realise about halfway through that this was going to be a tough post because every frame of the art is telling the story as much as the words. And it is VERY sci-fi. Only one more post on Prophet to go ;)

  3. Sci-fi is the best! Do either of you like Iain M. Banks?

    Ooh, feral humans! They look like people from the internet, only less horrible.

    Greenknife's arms are well skinny.

    Megaera is one of the three Furies. Her name means something like "the grudging one" or "the grudge-bearer."

  4. I'm more of an old skool Asimov fan but I also like Philip K. Dick and Ray Bradbury. Shamefully I haven't read any Iain M. Banks.

    Hah, love the description of the feral humans. They're a pretty nice bunch.

    I did not know Megaera was a name with history. I just thought it was made up. This is why your comments are so sought after, you add to my wisdom :)