Saturday, March 21, 2009

Out of the Vault - Prowler

Prowler #1Timothy Truman first made a splash as the artist on First's Grimjack, with writer John Ostrander. His next hit was Scout, from Eclipse, which he wrote as well as drew. And then, in 1987, he debuted a new character, this time as a writer only.

Prowler was a four-issue miniseries reminiscent of Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, with a retired man of mystery coming out of retirement to take on a new protege. In Truman's story, old man Leo Kragg takes an intense interest in young college student Scott Kida, whom he first sees practicing martial arts in the park, learning from a book.

Kragg apparently sees a kindred spirit in the boy's isolation and intensity, so he fakes a mugging to see if the kid has got the stuff. Scott proves worthy, and Kragg takes him under his wing, to train him in the skills necessary to fight for good.

Prowler was an odd series that never quite gelled. I loved the pulpy, Saturday-afternoon-serial feel of that first cover (a sensation heightened in the series itself by the idea that Kragg had produced a serial in the 30's based on his own adventures). The concept of the old mentor taking on a new apprentice was good; look how far Batman Beyond was able to take that idea. But Kragg was a really creepy character, and his relationship with Scott was sometimes painfully icky.

Scary Stalker Man
Plus, there was a haphazard, kitchen-sink feel to the whole thing. Kragg was once rich, but now has trouble paying his bills; however, that doesn't really come into play in the miniseries. Likewise with Scott's supporting cast of college friends; they appear and then disappear and play absolutely no meaningful role in the story. In issue two, we learn of the return of the Blood Cult, a vampire street gang, so Kragg recruits his old friend Van Helsing. In issue three, we learn that the leader of the cult is another public domain character, Murder Legendre (the zombie maker played by Bela Lugosi in the cult classic, "White Zombie").

The art was by John K. Snyder III. Unlike Truman's detailed, finicky renderings, Snyder's art was loose and sketchy. A little too sketchy for my tastes.

Prowler also carried a back-up feature, a recounting of the Prowler's origin, written by Michael H. Price (a film critic who has collaborated with my friend John Wooley on a few books).

Blazing 45'sThe art for the back-up was by Graham Nolan, whose clean lines really helped sell the 30's timeframe. The story itself was goofy, with Leo Kragg as a young stockbroker who loses his parents' life savings in the crash of '29. Ashamed that his greed has hurt his family, Kragg decides to become a secret agent for his best friend, a union organizer. Adopting a mask to protect his identity, Kragg stumbles across a company importing zombie scabs from Haiti to break a strike, thus beginning the Prowler's feud with Murder Legendre.

The feud ended in the main feature with Prowler shooting Legendre and knocking him off the end of a dock. Kragg walks away, realizing that he never heard Legendre's body hit the water below.

It's not over.

Next week: Revenge of the Prowler.

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