When the April 2017 solicitations rolled out this past week, Prowler’s absence in the listing implied the book’s cancellation, something writer Sean Ryan confirmed in a Twitter response to a fan the Tuesday before Prowler #4’s release. Prowler had until this point struggled to assert itself as an ongoing while fulfilling its mandate as an event tie-in. It is difficult to know if it is only because I read this issue so close to discovering the series had no future, but Prowler #4 certainly reads like a book that has abandoned all pretense of building to a future beyond this opening arc. Prowler #4 merely serves the purposes of Dead No More: The Clone Conspiracy and does little to advance either its own story or its protagonist.
The first casualty of this move is the book’s narrative structure. The book must both pick up the story it left off at the end of Prowler #3 and the dramatic turn of events in The Clone Conspiracy #4. It is telling that the story begins by first picking up the threads of Clone Conspiracy, not its own story. The Prowler’s first line of internal monolog says it all: “What’s even going on?” The book does immediately flash back to continue from the ending of issue three, but it is clear that the narrative of Clone Conspiracy has taken priority over that of Prowler.
In fact, this story is arguably more about Julia Carpenter than Hobie. It is her actions more than Hobie’s that propel the narrative forward and she comes out of the story looking more heroic. Hobie is, in the context of The Clone Conspiracy narrative, still a bad guy. He’s a conflicted bad guy, to be sure, but in the end, he still throws his proverbial hat in with the Jackal. One could certainly understand why someone in his position, someone who literally owes his life to the Jackal, would feel sympathetic to the Jackal’s work, but by the time Jackal finally and completely loses his marbles at the end of Clone Conspiracy #4, it becomes more difficult to understand a character who sides with such flagrant villainy.
The bulk of Sean Ryan’s character development of Hobie happens through his dialog and internal monologue, where there is much to commend. The conversations between Julia and Hobie feel like those between two people who know each other. Ryan also repeats many lines under differing circumstances, giving the lines new meaning. However, the frequent variations of “I’ve been a good guy and I’ve been a bad guy” have grown tiresome. None of it ever really amounts to anything. There is a kernel of a character here, but it still hasn’t fully developed into something substantial, it only repeats itself. There is still a foundation for a character here and Sean Ryan deserves credit for developing what was basically a cipher at the beginning into more of a character, but Hobie still needs more.
The art team has been the consistent strength of this book since its launch and that trend continues here. This issue finally delivers on the fight scene between Julia Carpenter and Prowler that was cut short in the second issue and Jamal Campbell’s rendering of the action makes the hits look as if they have an impact that actually hurts. All of the action is enjoyable, even if the Prowler once again gets whooped in his own book. In addition, the lighting and detail in the scene between the original and the new Madam Web work particularly well. These last couple of issues have seen Sean Ryan make more room in his script for Campbell to play to his strengths and that’s to everyone’s benefit.
It’s probably a moot point, but the comic once again comes short of making the case for Prowler as a solo character. This issue does not manage to build on any of the narrative momentum built in the last issue. Four issues in, we’ve seen some improvement, but still no clear grasp of who this character is, what sets him apart from other characters, and what motivates him. It may be too late for this particular volume of Prowler, but any hope of a relaunch or a second chance at an ongoing would rest on readers becoming invested in this character. Still, secrets remain as this book heads into its final two issues, hinted at in Julia’s conversation with the previous Madam Web. I want to see the resolution of that mystery and that for now is enough to make me want to come back.