A literary recommendation: Promethea


published by America’s Best Comics/Wildstorm Comics 1999-2005
story and script by Alan Moore
pencil art by J.H. Williams III
ink art by Mick Gray
color art by various
calligraphy by Todd Klein

Like H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine and Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations, most of Alan Moore’s great works have been serialized.  Promethea was originally released in 32 pamphlets.  It was not presented as a limited series but it’s beginning, middle and end were clearly determined before the first issue was released.  The series has been collected into five books but there are no self-contained story arcs.  In other words, Promethea is a comprehensive work and should be read as such.

I’m not going to talk a whole lot about the premise.  Go to Wikipedia for that.  I would prefer to talk about what I think makes Promethea so great.  First, I’ve never seen a comic that is so successfully experimental.  Moore and Williams constantly seem to search for new ways to present their story.  The layouts are excellent, clearly the best I’ve ever seen.  That’s a tough concession for me to make as a Ninja Turtles comics fan, as I always felt the classic Mirage comics had the most creative layouts I’ve seen.  However, Promethea‘s pages are gorgeous and often contain elaborate border designs.

The story usually moves forward well, although there are sequences that maybe could have moved along a bit more briskly.  Moore peppers the narrative with famous magicians and cultists from real life, including Aleister Crowley.  Also present are elements of practically every major religion and famous cult.  Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Pagans, and especially Kabbala Jews are welcome.  Moore clearly loves the supernatural.

There are many light but sensitively-portrayed sexual themes and the various incarnations of Promethea are statuesque and gorgeous. Promethea is never presented in a salacious manner and, while attractive, she seems almost motherly and untouchable. There is also some violence in the story but none of it feels as immediate or gritty as the bone-crunching action in Watchmen or V for Vendetta. Most of the real adult material comes in the form of conversations, sometimes deep with many layers and sometimes drowning in silly occultism.

There is a maturity and depth to the entire story that fans of Moore are likely familiar with. On the other hand, there is complete mayhem and nonsense, like the entire character of the Painted Clown. In most Moore stories that I’ve read, everything makes sense in the end but there are several characters and situations in Promethea that are resolved in ridiculous but enjoyable manners.

But in the end the real star of the whole thing is the art, the layouts, and the presentation, which I’m sure Moore and Williams planned together. So do yourself a flavor and chuck it out.

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