Prowler is a man looking to establish an identity of his own. “I’m not a good guy,” he tells one character while later telling another “I was never a bad guy.” Despite his history as a supporting character of Spider-Man, he insists he is no mere lackey. Yet, even he seems to question why he is so important as to fit into the Jackal’s plan. Prowler #1 finds the character trying to find himself.
Similarly, Prowler #1 has an identity struggle all its own. As a part of Marvel Now (2016 edition), this comic must serve as a hook for a new series with its own unique voice. Additionally, as a tie-in to “Dead No More: The Clone Conspiracy”, it must expand upon the subplots of that event and provide more insight into the goings-on of its various side characters, particularly Prowler himself. Writer Sean Ryan has the unenviable task to accomplish two very different tasks with one comic.
This results in a slowly paced book with very little action. There are two scenes featuring heavy exposition and both serve different purposes: the first to place Prowler within the larger story of Dead No More and the second to give readers a background to Prowler, including his origin story in Amazing Spider-Man #78. The plot itself is fairly straightforward: as Jackal’s chief of security, the Prowler must investigate a hacker who poses a security threat. The book mostly serves to introduce the audience to the main character of a new ongoing and to establish his role in the larger event. The need for the book to do both hampers the pacing of the book, although the dialog itself is enjoyable.
As far as the main character, there are traces of a thesis but no clear one has made itself apparent yet. Hope for one exists, however, as Ryan seamlessly carries over much of Dan Slott’s characterization of Hobie from his run on Amazing Spider-Man. Yet, I cannot help but feel that the book misses an opportunity to more fully realize Hobie in the light of the dramatic and murderous events of Amazing Spider-Man #18. Trauma such as his character endured there is exactly the kind of story that breaks down a character to its most basic elements to see what makes the character tick. That story thread is not exactly shrugged off, but the character never truly feels like one who had gone through death and rebirth, as compared to Slott’s recent backup featuring Gwen Stacy.
The result is a character that, while recognizable, is hard to get a handle on. The book seems more ready to tell us who the character is not – not a hero, not a bad guy, not a lackey – than to tell us who he is. At this point, giving readers a clear understanding of its protagonist is the book’s single most important job. The Prowler does not even have the history of Clint Barton or Jessica Drew in terms of reader familiarity, so Sean Ryan has a lot of work cut out for him. Fortunately, the foundation of a character is there; Ryan’s Hobie is coherent, just not developed.
In terms of Prowler’s role within the Spider-Man event, the book gives us a peek into the Jackal’s operation, including some unexpected cameos. The Prowler’s role within New U gives us a peek into the scope of the conspiracy but without revealing Jackal’s plan. It was fun to see many of the faces populating New U. This book does little to shed any new light on New U but it does give an interesting perspective within it.
Jamal Campbell’s artwork is detailed and dynamic. Matched up against Hobie’s interior monolog in the final scene, his art gives the feeling of motion to what could have been static and dull. His work invigorates a comic that often tells rather than shows. Campbell’s style particularly fits a book that will likely involve a lot of technology, as it does here.
The book is solid, not great. Yet, I have hope that once Ryan is free from having to tell Slott’s story, the book will be free to tell its own. There is precedent for this, as Dennis Hopeless’ Spider-Woman moved from being a good if unnecessary “Spiderverse” tie-in to one of the better books in the Marvel line. I have a reason to think that a more fully formed version of Hobie will arise once the book begins telling its own story. For the time being, Prowler dutifully expands Hobie Brown’s character arc within the event but without truly elevating the event.