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Review time! with <i>The Prospector</i> volume 1

"I'm a low-meg rapper, fertile futuristic flapper; regenerating cells and sending out spells"

I picked up The Prospector in Portland when I stopped by Darren Neely's table - he was kicking it old-school, putting out his self-published comic and getting a trade together, which is very cool. Neely writes the book (he handles the coloring and lettering, too), while Chad Kaberlein and Philip Burnette are credited with breakdowns, with Burnette listed as the penciller.

I wish I could tell you how much it costs, but there's no price tag on the book and I can't remember how much it is. I think it's $15? That seems about right, as it collects issues #1-5. Neely's web site (which I linked to above) is nice-looking, but it doesn't have much information about prices. It does have his email, though, and he was a very friendly dude, so I imagine if you're interested in this, you can email him and ask him about it!

The Prospector is a wild adventure, and its wildness makes up for some of the few technical issues that are in the book. Neely teams up Betsy Dunn, an anthropologist (although she often acts more like an archaeologist) working at the Rocky Mountain Institute of Science, with Jeremiah Tally, the Institute's benefactor, who likes to blow shit up with dynamite. She's trying to investigate cave paintings, but Tally seems to be working at cross purposes to that, although there's nothing she can really explain. Early on, we discover that Tally is up to something very strange in his basement (oh, come on, nothing icky like that!), and soon enough, Dunn finds out the problem is ... well, aliens. There's really no way not to spoil it, because it's so integral to the plot. Yes, there are aliens in this comic. But what are they doing here?

Well, suffice it to say that Tally knows about them, and he's helping the more human-looking one fight against the ones that are basically parasitic squids. That's not all that's going on, but it's enough of a plot review that you're going to get!

Neely does some interesting things with the alien presence in the book. It's always a smart idea to make an alien presence part of the landscape already rather than showing them "invading" (and the one Tally befriends didn't really invade), because it allows Neely to explore what happens after initial contact. And because Tally knows about the alien but Dunn doesn't, it allows us to discover its existence along with her but we can skip the "Holy crap, it's an alien!" business, as Neely knows that we're pretty well equipped in fiction to deal with aliens. So he does explain why the aliens are on Earth, but he does it in flashback, where he can just get to the highlights and not worry about the reactions, because we've seen those before. Naturally, the aliens aren't the only problem Dunn and Tally have to deal with, but that's going to be something the plot gets to going forward, as it's only hinted about in this volume.

One way Neely makes the book interesting is the way he tells the story. The book is not straight-forward at all, as Neely jumps back and forth through time, not only from the present to the Old West, when Tally's ancestor (or is he?) first encountered the alien, but even in the present, when he shows scenes at a certain time, jumps ahead, and then later goes back and explains what we saw.

This gets him into a bit of trouble - there's a sequence where Neely jumps back a century with absolutely no warning, and it's very jarring - but for the most part, it's a clever way to tell the story. He can end scenes on a cliffhanger where we think one thing is going to happen, and then when that confounds us, he goes back and explains what really happened. He can also shows scenes from different points of view, which is always nice. The final issue in this arc is told in a more straight-forward manner, as Neely has built up to a big confrontation, but that's also clever, as everything has led us to that point, and there's no reason to lose focus on the fight. The shifting in time is handled well, and it makes the book a bit more mysterious than it would be had Neely told it straight from the beginning to the end. It's pretty clever.

Burnette's pencils are solid, if nothing amazing. The layouts work well - the storytelling is very clear - and while some of the panels are a bit wonky, perspective-wise, Burnette does a nice job getting a lot into the book, and his inking is particularly well done. The thick blacks throughout the book add some weight to the book, make Tally look a bit older, and add a good element of creepiness to the aliens. Burnette doesn't do a great job with the backgrounds, as the town of Skylar, Colorado, looks mostly generic, although he does a better job with the mountains where a good deal of the action occurs.

The battle in issue #5 is done nicely, as we get a good sense of what's happening and where everyone is, although I still don't buy Amy dropping her phone the way she does. Oh well. Neely colors the book, and I imagine he did it digitally, but he keeps the hues flat, using shadows sparingly, so that Burnette's inking isn't wiped away and the colors work in good concert with the spot blacks. Like the line work, the colors are a bit crude, but that's to be expected from people who aren't long-term professionals working on a tight budget. The crudeness of the art actually works with the book, to a degree, as Tally is a rough-and-tumble kind of guy, and the book takes place in a rugged landscape, after all.

As usual, I love reading seriously indie comics, and while The Prospector has some marks of amateurism, it's a nifty adventure story that's entertaining throughout. Neely takes some interesting chances that mostly pay off, and he tells a satisfying story in five issues while still making sure there's enough unresolved for later arcs. It's a pretty clever idea, and Neely does a good job with it. I encourage you to visit Neely's web site and send him an email asking about The Prospector. I don't know which conventions he'll be attending over the next few months, but if you see him, say hello and check out his comic. It's pretty neat!

[I apologize for the poor quality of the "scans." For some reason my scanner didn't work today. I really, really, really wanted to take it out to the freeway and throw it into traffic, but I resisted. So I took photographs of some of the artwork and posted it. It doesn't look great, but it gives you an idea of what the art looks like. Sorry!]

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

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