Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

13 March 2009

Promethea, Book 1

Collects: Promethea #1-6 (1999-2000)

Released: July 2001 (ABC / DC)

Format: 160 pages / color / $14.99 / ISBN: 9781563896675

What is this?: Sophie Bangs becomes Promethea, the spirit of a fictional character who merges with people in the real world for some ostensibly good goal.

The culprits: Writer Alan Moore and penciler J.H. Williams III

When it comes to writer Alan Moore’s body of work, Promethea is an overlooked title. It certainly isn’t mentioned as the same breath as Watchmen or V for Vendetta, nor should it, really. But it also doesn’t get as much attention as the titles Moore was creating for America’s Best Comics at the same time: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Top Ten, or Tom Strong. And as much as I adore Top Ten and League, that’s just not fair.

Promethea, Book 1, is, like many Moore narratives, a story that works on many levels. On the surface, you have Sophie Bangs, a college student who is researching the odd tales surrounding the fictional character Promethea. While interviewing a former model for a comic-book version of the character, Sophie sees the model become a “science hero” version of Promethea, albeit one who is middle-aged and out of shape. Promethea thrusts the mantle of the character onto Sophie, who becomes the new Promethea. From there, Sophie-merged-with-Promethea meets her predecessors, who teach her in the Land of Immateria about her powers and legacy.

Promethea, Collected Edition: Book 1 cover All very much the common comics theme of growing up, passing the torch, etc. But Moore loves to play with the nature of fiction and ideas, and Promethea is very much a character of the imagination, a fictional character who can interact with the material and immaterial worlds. Sophie has to learn what the imagination means, how to use it in the material world, and who wants Promethea to stay in the land of imagination.

The temptation is to take everything Moore writes and label it a work of genius. I’m not sure about “genius,” but Promethea is often fascinating. There’s a very definite sense that Moore wants to concentrate on the value and world-shattering power of art. Moore uses the material / immaterial split to focus on how ideas and fiction affect the real world. He’s mostly setting up the idea in v. 1, but the groundwork is laid well. Moore also has some very definite things to say about magic, I think, but he wisely keeps most of them in the background for v. 1.

There’s also the idea of how different creators can use the same character to make vastly different points; the different Prometheas were all created for different purposes, so their embodiments have very different characters. Given the collaborative nature of writing comic books, with legacy characters who have been written by dozens of writers, this is an interesting issue. (And that’s not even considering Moore’s use of Victorian characters in a completely different way than they were conceived in Extraordinary Gentlemen.)

Moore even throws in a strange recurring theme of the Weeping Gorilla, a teary-eyed simian who thinks banal, maudlin thoughts and is the star of Weeping Gorilla Comix. Among Sophie’s young friends, Weeping Gorilla is the height of ironic hipster humor, although it’s pretty clearly an inherently unfunny character.

I have no idea whether Moore has the most discerning eye for artists in the comics industry or if he inspires the artists who work with him to raise their game. Dave Gibbons, Gene Ha, Kevin O’Neill … the list goes on. J.H. Williams III is no exception. He gives an earthiness for scenes set in the “material” world, and he has a more whimsical and imaginative touch he gets to use when Sophie is in Immateria.

Moore has a lot of intriguing ideas here, and it will be interesting to see where it goes, especially with an excellent artist like Williams working with him.

Rating: America's Best Comics symbol America's Best Comics symbol America's Best Comics symbol America's Best Comics symbol Half ABC symbol (4.5 of 5)

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