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

31 March 2009

Promethea, Book 2

Collects: Promethea #7-12 (2000-1)

Released: February 2003 (DC / ABC)

Format: 176 pages / color / $14.99 / ISBN: 9781563899577

What is this?: In v. 2, Sophie learns more about Promethea and magic and strikes back at her tormentors.

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

As much as I thought Promethea, Book 1, was an underappreciated part of the Alan Moore canon, I’m not sure what to make of Promethea, Book 2.

Ideas, for most writers, are easy. For Moore, they seem effortless. But continuing and developing the idea is often more difficult, and although I won’t say Moore ran into difficulties with Book 2, it’s not as enjoyable or effortless. Book 1 introduced Sophie Bangs, a college student, and Promethea, a fictional character who pops up in different fictional creations over the years. Sophie discovers that although Promethea is fictional, she can exist in the real world, and Sophie becomes the host for the most current version of the heroine. She learns from her predecessor and resists her enemies.

Promethea, Book 2 coverIn Book 2, her training continues, and she strikes back at those who have attacked and threatened her — almost too quickly, too effectively. The idea of ubiquitous collections was new when Moore was writing, but this volume is paced oddly; the climax comes in the middle. I can’t complain about how that storyline plays out, which some might see as a letdown, but I thought the lack of a battle was a neat stroke by Moore, especially given Promethea’s fictional background.

The rest of Book 2 is more difficult. I’m not sure I can assume some parts of the book are brilliant just because of Moore’s reputation. Two of the final three issues deal directly with magic and as such are dialogues. One event takes up the first issue, and nothing happens in the second. The craftsmanship of these two issues are outstanding, both by Moore and artist J.H. Williams III (who I just noticed is co-creator of Promethea). Moore communicates his knowledge and passion for the subject. But the complexity of the discussion of an already recondite subject doesn’t make it easier for readers. I suspect that’s part of Moore’s point, that it’s not an easy subject and can’t be reduced to words — symbols and metaphors must be used. But sometimes that makes the writing come across as impenetrable or a waste of time, and all the Aleister Crowley jokes in the world aren’t going to change that. I may be alone with this opinion; Promethea #10, the first of these dialogues, won the 2001 Eisner Award for Best Single Issue.

Sophie has to deal with a death of someone close to her; I don’t want to give it away, but those who have read Book 1 can probably make a good guess. It’s interesting how quickly the sorority of Prometheas seem to become family to Sophie, especially given how little family seems to play in her life.

More difficult to deal with is how Promethea and Sophie share Sophie’s body, especially in matters carnal; I found myself a little squeamish about some parts of Book 2 because of that. Moore has no trouble with writing about human sexuality, of course, and my squeamishness is my failing. Still, he has to deal with the implications of that sharing more definitively; I have confidence he will (or has, since Promethea is complete), though.

Once again, I’m impressed with Williams’s art. The issues about magic call for a high degree of imagination and skill to make two conversations interesting (although the sex scenes in the first probably helped), and I’m astonished by how many art styles Williams has to ape over the course of Book 2. Issue #7 has digital art from Jose Villarrubia, which is supposed to be the view inside one of the Promethea’s memories; the effect nicely marks off the section, but it seems a little off in its photorealistic zeal.

The ambition of this book makes me want to recommend it; it’s a difficult read at times, though, and I hate to tell others to read it without knowing there’s a payoff. My confusion makes me rate this one in the middle of the road, with the reservation that however confused I am, I was confused by people who are doing an excellent job.

Rating: America’s Best Comics symbol America’s Best Comics symbol America’s Best Comics symbol (3 of 5)

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