It was probably inevitable that the opening arc of Sean Ryan’s Prowler would need to choose between either furthering the story of “Dead No More: The Clone Conspiracy”, the latest Spider-Man event, and developing its own hook as an ongoing series, or else risk a stalemate in which neither advance. Something had to give. In Prowler #2, it is clear that the need to further flesh out the event has, for now, won over the need to develop Hobie Brown the character. The result is a book that succeeds better as an event tie-in than as an issue in an ongoing series. While not ideal for the long-term life of the book, for the moment this approach succeeds in giving the book forward momentum.
Prowler #2 follows some of the plot threads that have already been established while adding a few more of its own. The book brings into play Julia Carpenter, a character last seen in the Spider-books at the end of “Spider-Verse”. Since then, we saw her briefly in Daredevil but with no word on whether or not the precognition afforded to her by the mystical web returned. We get very little of a look at New U, though we do see a fight between the resurrected villains that appears nearly identical to the fight in the last issue, this time with Prowler present to break it up. Of course, the scene conveys that New U feels Prowler’s absence, but nevertheless the fight feels redundant. More importantly, the ending gestures toward one of the deeper mysteries of this conspiracy: the nature of the pills the reanimated characters must regularly ingest.
Unfortunately, the focus on advancing the plot minimizes the opportunity to build Prowler as his own character. In fact, if Hobie Brown has developed one character thread, it is precisely that he is rudderless, often at the service of other people or forces. Prowler laments his lack of agency in what borders on meta-commentary. Prowler has yet to become his own person – he has merely gone from being Spider-Man’s right-hand man to being Jackal’s. Similarly, Prowler has launched as a solo character only to remain trapped in the gravitational pull of Amazing Spider-Man. Perhaps Hobie’s recognition of his own individuality will lead to character development down the road, but as of now, it is difficult to imagine a character whose primary trait is his lack of identity remaining interesting. Still, it is a start.
In contrast, Francine Frye, the new Electro, appears in this book a fully realized character. She works because of her simplicity: her new abilities awakened in her a pure maliciousness. She is motivated by any opportunity to inflict her power on anyone she can. New U’s ability to restore life causes her to treat life more flippantly, since she believes Jackal can just resurrect anyone whenever he wishes. She is a wholly distinct character from Max Dillon and she works for the story because she elevates the threat level of the story, but is so straightforward as to not require too much explanation.
The artwork, by artist Jamal Campbell and layout artist Javier Saltares, continues to be a highlight of the book. The apparently digital art works especially well for a technology-based character like Prowler. Any panel featuring a screen or bright light appears to glow on the page. Unfortunately, the artwork is mostly reduced to talking heads by the heavy dialog. There is even an awkward transition between two related scenes in which one scene is bookended by the beginning and ending of a fight so that the reader does not see any of the fight itself. The two scenes could have intercut in a way so as to include more of the action and therefore better capitalize on Campbell’s artwork.
To be clear, the problem with Ryan’s dialog is one more of quantity more than quality; it is good, there is only too much of it. Julia and Hobie’s conversation feels like two characters who are familiar with one another. Yet, sometimes it becomes characters explaining the plot to one another. To Ryan’s credit, he restrains this tendency in his writing more this time around compared to the first issue.
In its function as a side adventure within a larger narrative, Prowler #2 works. It thickens the plot by introducing new players onto the stage and by picking up and further developing threads. However, the series kicks the can of Hobie’s character development down the road at the risk of its long-term health. Readers will need a hook that is character-driven, not plot-driven, to give a reason for them to stick around after “Dead No More: The Clone Conspiracy” concludes.