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Fort: Prophet of the Unexplained

We can thank Alan Moore for the recent genre trend that has been making the late 19th/early 20th Century one of the more popular time periods for comics to be set in. It began with League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. From this excellent work was spawned many less than excellent imitations (and one just-shy-of-abysmal movie), in hopes of catching some of that Victorian fervor and concurrently grabbing sales. Mythstalkers, JLA: Age of Wonder, Necronauts and several other titles began to crop up, from various companies.

Dark Horse’s foray into the fin de siecle was something of a similar idea, but Fort: Prophet of the Unexplained features several aspects that set it apart from most of the pretenders who attempted to ride Moore’s success, and manages to stand fairly well on its own as a comic.

The story follows the exploits of actual paranormal investigator Charles Fort: world traveling New York denizen, Bronx native and adventurous librarian. Fort was a published author of fiction, as well as several books of non-fiction that detailed his investigation into the paranormal and the possibility of non-human life. For more on the man try The Charles Fort Institute. For more on the myth, continue reading.

Our tale follows Fort as he investigates a series of disappearances of New York City businessmen. Upon finding a fifth man torn to bits and pieces, Fort takes a sample of odd biological matter and finds that it replicates at an accelerated rate. Believing some unnatural creature is responsible, Fort goes hunting. What he finds is more assembly-required bodies and a creature unlike anything seen before by man. Barely escaping with his life and desperate for answers, Fort turns to the sky…and sees something fall out of it.

Fort makes contact with an extraterrestrial with a connection to the beasty killing NYC entrepreneurs and together they must stop the monster before it kills again, or manages to reproduce.

It’s not so much a period piece like LXG, but a good science fiction tale set in turn-of-the-century New York. The dialogue is basically modern and author Peter Lenkov seems to shy away from getting too trapped in dialectal and minute historical detail. But there is some historical name dropping: H.P. Lovecraft makes a rather obvious appearance as a child inspired by Fort’s ventures into the unimaginable, while then Governor Teddy Roosevelt and J.D. Rockefeller have small parts to play. While the lack of deep historical reference helps the reader focus on the sci-fi aspect and follow the story closer, it lacks the fun the reader experiences when trying to decipher some of the more obscure references that can be found. Books like Planetary, LXG and some of the more self-referential superhero material will drop allusions and characters that are fun to look up on the internet and this book just hands history to you. It doesn’t detract from the overall story, but that kind of research shows in a work and can elevate it to a higher lever of greatness.

There’s also little characterization for Fort, but that may be a product of his actual character. The real Charles Fort was an eccentric and obsessive in his research into the unknown, and Lenkov seems to convey that by not delving too deeply into Fort’s motivations or fears. Instead, Lenkov focuses on the drive the character has to discover, to learn, and to know what the world doesn’t want to know. Fort is completely accepting of his alien partner in the hunt for the creature, with little effort, but that was the kind of man Fort was and the kind of character Lenkov describes. In addition, the odd dynamic between the alien and Fort seems natural: an outcast willing to look at the world in an odd way, and an alien unfamiliar with the strange world before him. At times, their relationship borders on buddy-cop cliché, minus sarcasm, but never fully goes their and that aspect adds a bit more depth to the work.

The artwork is great and is some of the best black and white ink work I’ve ever seen. Fazer Irving handles all the art duties, and his style of inking is incredibly energetic. While he has a good grasp of negative space, which anyone working on black and white books should, Irving has a unique, almost windswept inking style. Instead of using gray tones to shade in areas of varying light, he uses rows of lines and their thickness to shade. The several renditions of the Statue of Liberty are gorgeous and his penchant for line use makes all of his lighting effects appear lively. Character movement is often accompanied by speed lines, but not like those of manga. Instead, Irving incorporates his speed lines into the background of the scene, making everything appear natural and flowing with the script. Irving is one of the best inkers I’ve ever come across.

All in all, it is an interesting read. With good science fiction elements to drive the story, the small amount of historical reference anchors the story to a time and place, but doesn’t trap it in too much time period detail. History buffs need not buy for referencing fun, but buy for the story. You can’t go wrong with a comic priced at $9.95, or a comic where a librarian gets to kick a some alien ass.

Fort: Prophet of the Unexplained


Robert Sparling

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