Justin du Coeur (jducoeur) wrote,
Justin du Coeur

TRoOB: Promethea

It's the latest edition of The Review of Obscure Books. The topic du jour is one of the most intriguingly strange comics being published today: Promethea, by Alan Moore.

So a few years back, Alan Moore went and got a comic imprint of his very own: America's Best Comics. This is currently owned by DC, but is quite separate from the rest of DC's universe; really, the ABC universe is scarcely even in the same world as itself. It's all interesting: I may well cover Tom Strong (a delightfully innocent pastiche of older comics) or Top Ten (think Hill Street Blues with Superheroes) at a later date. But the most unusual of the bunch is definitely Promethea.

The heroine of our story is fictional. I don't just mean that the story is fictional: I mean that in the story, she's fictional. She's basically a sort of primordial heroine who occasionally gets channeled by individuals who concentrate on the character strongly enough. But since the people doing the imagining are quite different, the heroine who comes out are quite different. The current incarnation, Sophie, is a fairly straightforward Wonder Woman type, but some of her dead predecessors (who are also major characters) range from the flamboyantly gay man who wrote her stories decades ago, to the terribly down-to-earth immediate predecessor, Barbara.

But mostly, this book is a complex exploration of the subject of magic. Every issue is full of assorted strangeness -- Alan Moore is a great devotee of ritual magic of all sorts, and the story goes into a lot of thought about what it is about. And the past dozen issues have been particularly esoteric, as Sophie and Barbara go on the long walk up the planes, visiting the spheres of the Tree of Life at a rate of one per issue. The entire storyline is an extended collection of metaphors, tying together all the major Qabalistic disciplines and literally exploring each sphere in considerable depth.

This story is not for every taste -- if Qabala isn't your thing, you'll probably find the whole thing terribly overstretched. On the other hand, if you're into modern ritual magic, and especially if you're into its philosophical underpinnings, you may want to check this out. The art is lush, and the writing, while sometimes a tad distant, does a fine job of expressing the underlying flavor of magic and the quest for it. The whole story is worth reading, although I especially recommend reading from around issues 24-37, which IIRC are roughly the Tree of Life story. I'll warn you that this isn't a quick read: if you care about it at all, you'll care enough to read it slowly and think about it.

Overall grade: B+ if you like funky magic, B otherwise. Not Alan Moore's best work, but that's praising with faint damnation -- this is the man who wrote V For Vendetta, IMO the best graphic novel of all time...

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