Stillanerd Reviews: Prowler #1

Spider-Man’s go-to stand-in, the Prowler, gets his own monthly comic book series. Unfortunately, it’s also too much of a tie-in with “The Clone Conspiracy.”

Imagine you’re Sean Ryan, and Marvel has contracted you from DC Comics to write for them. Your first regular assignment is the new Nova series, which goes well enough that you’re given an opportunity to work on a second title. You decide your new series will be about The Prowler. You know this won’t be an easy task, as the character is, let’s be honest, an obscure superhero created by Stan Lee, John Buscema and Jim Mooney (based off an idea by a very young John Romita Jr., no less) in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man. Still, you see that the character of Hobie Brown (the Prowler’s true identity) has plenty of room for potential. He has a backstory that’s both topical and relevant; he’s someone who, because he lacks super powers, relies on his ingenuity, technical skills, and gadgetry in his suit just like Tony Stark; and, given the times he’s made a convincing stand-in for Spider-Man, he’s the wall-crawler’s natural successor. In short, the Prowler has all the ingredients to become Marvel’s “blue-collar Batman.”

But then, perhaps during one of Marvel’s clandestine story-planning sessions, you get hit with a surprise one-two combo. First, you’re told the first five issues of Prowler  will tie-in directly with Dead No More: The Clone Conspiracy, the latest big Spider-Man event. That, as you well know, isn’t a great way to start-off a new comic book series. You barely recover from the shock when your colleague, Dan Slott, then reveals he’s killing off Hobie Brown in Amazing Spider-Man, then bringing him back as his own clone. Bad enough Marvel’s bringing clones back into Spider-Man comics, but this? You planned on writing a comic about the Prowler, not the Prowler’s clone. What’s more, you’re now under contract to write this series. Faced with this daunting challenge, what would you do if you were Sean Ryan?

Well, with Prowler #1, the real Sean Ryan uses Hobie Brown current status to explore the question of identity. Not, as most stories involving cloning do, by asking questions about whether having the same DNA and memories as someone else makes them that person; rather, Prowler #1 explores the questions about whether the roles assigned to us, or those we choose for ourselves, are accurate representations of who we really are. Especially if we also perform tasks associated with those roles.

Credit: Jamal Campbell (Marvel Comics); from Prowler #1
Unfortunately, much of [The Prowler’s] internal conflict and interaction is still entirely dependent upon his current situation within Clone Conspiracy’s larger framework.

Hobie Brown’s internal conflict is he doesn’t know what his role is, though he’s insistent on what it isn’t. He claims he’s “not a hero,” despite the fact he’s just thwarted a bank robbery and is working with a cloned Madame Web in preventing crimes (and in doing so, one-ups all of Civil War II with a similar premise). When he’s later accused of being “Spider-Man’s lackey,” Hobie retorts by saying he’s “no one’s lackey,” only to then obey direct orders from the Jackal. He says he was “never a bad guy,” but, as New U’s head of security, he works for a bad guy, and is in charge of a group of bad guys. Thus Ryan postulates that Hobie, even before his death and resurrection as a clone, is someone who wants to act of his own accord, but is either always being told what to do or being challenged about what he does.  When Hobie narrates at both the beginning and end of the comic “All I know is I have no idea what I’m doing,” it’s because he hasn’t figured out his real purpose in life.

Unfortunately, much of Hobie’s internal conflict and interaction is still entirely dependent upon his current situation within Clone Conspiracy‘s larger framework. Even though Hobie, as a clone, doesn’t (strangely enough) question whether he’s the real Hobie or not, he certainly wouldn’t be questioning his purpose in life if he wasn’t a clone. Complicating matters further is there’s still no explanation given for why Hobie’s convinced the Jackal’s plans will benefit the world. Especially as their conversation makes it clear the Jackal isn’t the least bit trustworthy, and that’s he obviously manipulating Hobie into doing his bidding. Not revealing Clone Conspiracy’s major twists is one thing, but it becomes a serious problem when defining character motivations.

It’s also a very short read, about ten-to-fifteen minutes at most. Despite the comic’s admittedly well-written dialogue, almost nothing happens from a plot-development standpoint save for the Jackal sending Hobie on his mission. Basically, Ryan is engaged in standard first-act storytelling, where establishing motivation and providing backstory for the main protagonist takes a backseat to almost everything else. It even ends on an obligatory cliffhanger, but just like the finale for season 6 of The Walking Dead, it ends before it should and thus feels incomplete.

Credit: Jamal Campbell (Marvel Comics); from Prowler #1
Jamal Campbell’s art [is] excellent. [He] uses just the right amount of coloring and lighting effects so that his panels could almost pass for cell-shaded animation stills.

As for Jamal Campbell’s art, it’s excellent. Normally, when comic book artists make attempts at realistic shading as opposed to traditional inking, it tends to make figures and object appear flat, or almost blend with the scenery. Not so here, as Campbell uses just the right amount of coloring and lighting effects so that his panels could almost pass for cell-shaded animation stills. He also employs some “cinematic” techniques like rack-focusing, and uses more intense color in his illustration of people to make stand out more against the less intense backgrounds. A real highlight is a beautiful double-page spread showing Prowler leaping past a high-rise building as he reminiscences on his past. Not only are Prowler’s origin and career reflected in high-rise windows, but Cambpell uses the window panes itself to act as panel borders, while still taking the time to draw Prowler’s mirror image. And this is not just done for aesthetics, but perfectly serves Hobie’s narration. Quite simply, it’s a perfect spread in an imperfect book.

Prowler #1 is decent first issue, but it’s clear it’s also far too hamstrung by The Clone Conspiracy. That Ryan could come up with a workable scenario in spite of these restrictions place upon the title is commendable, but one wonders what he would’ve done with the character of Hobie Brown if Marvel gave him more creative leeway. It also makes me wonder about the longevity of Prowler as a series once Clone Conspiracy is over. After all, even after this current Spider-Man event ends, Prowler will still be a comic book series about the clone of a dead person. That alone makes me doubt it will survive past, much less make to, twelve issues. Then again, there have been other comics which began life as part of an event, and their creators managed to make their comics have a purpose beyond those events. Perhaps Sean Ryan can do the same.

Stillanerd’s Nerdy Nitpicks (spoilers ahead)

Credit: Jamal Campbell (Marvel Comics); from Prowler #1
  • Wait a minute? Who’s “Jamal Campbelll?” And is he related to “Jamal Campbell“? Oh wait, I see someone in Marvel editorial forgot to use spellcheck again.
  • I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to see the blatant symbolism involved in seeing Prowler taking down bank robbers wearing masks of Iron Man, Black Panther, and especially Spider-Man.
  • “Are you San Francisco’s newest superhero?” I imagine your first reaction is “San Francisco has superheroes?” However, Scott Lang, a.k.a. Ant-Man lives there. Other former residents include Daredevil, Black Widow, the X-Men, and the original Venom, Eddie Brock.
  • We can now add the following characters brought back as clones by the Jackal: the original Jack O’Lantern, the original Tarantula, the original Kangaroo, the original Madame Web, the not-so original Massacre, the one-of-a-kind Montana, and Mirage, who, as fans of the Superior Foes of Spider-Man well know, has a long (and hilarious) history of frequently getting killed and brought back to life. Question is, will Clone Conspiracy kill them (and Mirage) off again?
  • Okay, we’ve been told in both Amazing Spider-Man and Clone Conspiracy that the Jackal’s new cloning process removes all injuries, diseases, and genetic abnormalities the originals had in life. But if that’s the case, why does Massacre’s clone still bear the scars and metallic plate from the traumatic brain injury which turned him into a homicidal sociopath? And even better question: why is the clone of the original Madame Web still blind and paralyzed from the waist down?
  • So the clone of Francine Frye, a.k.a. the new Electro, wears green lipstick? At least it matches her outfit, I guess. Also, why is “Francine” jealous of Hobie at all? It’s pretty obvious the Jackal has given her a lot more freedom and latitude than he has Hobie. So what does she care about why Jackal brought Hobie back as a clone?
  • In case you’re curious, “the mercenary group of other reformed criminals” the Prowler once belonged to were ironically called “The Outlaws,” which was lead by Silver Sable. Spider-Man fans will recognize the Sandman in that group shot, and the other former bad guys of this team are Will O’ The Wisp, Rocket Racer, and the Puma.
  • Don’t feel bad about your wife, Mindy, leaving you, Hobie. At least, unlike Peter Parker, you still remember being married.
  • If you’re thinking, “That guy Prowler’s fighting in that flashback looks a lot like the Vulture,” that’s because it is the Vulture. That’s because once upon a time, Adrian Toomes stole a device which allowed him to absorb people’s youth. Which, because he now had a full head of hair, made him look less like a vulture. Hey, it was the 1990s, okay?
  • All right, I’m guessing the identity of the hacker and the person who captures Hobie is the second Madame Web and former Spider-Woman, Julia Carpenter. Hence the psychic feedback the Madame Web clone received, and how Hobie’s caught in a literal web. Not to mention previews for the next issue show Julia Carpenter confronting Hobie.