Alan Moore, J.H. Williams III, Mick Gray, and others – Promethea – Book 1 (2000)
Alan Moore, who I’ve written about in previous reviews (Watchmen, in particular, but he comes up in JMR Higgs’ book about The KLF, as well), is a brilliant writer, as well as a practicing magician. Though I don’t personally believe that magic exists as a supernatural force with the ability to affect the world in a direct way, hearing Moore discuss magic is fascinating. (I’ve listened to numerous interviews and radio appearances where he explains his theories.) Moore seems to couch magic in terms of the psychological effects that the practice has on the practitioner, and some of these effects, apparently, are increased productivity and extraordinary creativity (if we look at Moore, himself, as an example of the process.) Promethea, a comic Moore wrote about a semi-mythological female warrior, is an interesting work to look at, not only because it’s a great comic, but also because it deals directly with his conceptions of magic and how they intersect with creativity and the imagination.
For those who have never read this work, and this was my first time reading it, here’s what the story is about. In the early days of Christianity, a magician who follows the older gods is slaughtered by religious fanatics, but not before his daughter escapes into the desert and is saved by two of her father’s gods, Thoth and Hermes. These gods claim that the best way to protect the girl is to take her from the physical world and bring her into the world of stories, or Immateria, as they call it. (This realm corresponds with Moore’s idea of the “Ideaspace,” which he’s talked about in several interviews, as well as the documentary, The Mindscape of Alan Moore, which is worth watching!) Promethea goes with them, despite being afraid, and slips into the world of stories. Over the next several centuries, Promethea appears, again and again, in numerous tales, written by people who are completely unaware of the previous works that she has been in.
Flash forward to 1999, and we (as readers) find ourselves in a slightly Blade Runner-esque, science-fiction-saturated New York, where “science heroes” do battle with super villains of various stripes, and a young woman, Sophie Bangs, is writing a college thesis on the Promethea stories. As part of her research, Sophie goes to interview the widow of one of the more recent writers who told Promethea tales, and is rejected by the writer’s widow. Instead of being able to finish her thesis as she’d hoped, Sophie is instead attacked by a strange creature on her way back to the college. She is then saved by Promethea, who Sophie thought was fictional. Promethea is wounded in the fight, and transforms back into the writer’s widow, who she had tried to interview. The creature returns, and instead of the widow, Barbara, becoming Promethea, Sophie is transformed into the warrior and destroys the beast.
The book is fascinating, funny and exciting, and it combines superheroes, magic, science fiction, and a direct examination of creativity, all in one complex tale. (I’m definitely going to look for the next volume to see where the story goes!) The “monsters” in the book are also interesting, demons and evil magicians and scary ideas, all the fun stuff you’d expect from Alan Moore, and when set against a female hero who kicks some serious rear-end (seventeen years BEFORE Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman) the overall story is pretty dang cool. And, of course, the story also has a healthy dose of Moore’s magical philosophy explored in the tale as part of Sophie’s initiation into the world of Promethea and the Immateria.
So if you’re a fan of intriguing ideas AND superheroes, I’d say give this book a try. If you’ve never read anything by Alan Moore, I might recommend starting with something like Watchmen or Miracleman—another book I’ll have to review pretty soon—but this tale is still good, even if it’s maybe not the masterpiece that some of his other works have been, (YET! As I mentioned above, this is my first time reading through this series. Perhaps it ramps up in the later volumes and shines just as brightly as Moore’s more famous tales. Here’s hoping!!!)
—Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Supreme Bunny Lord of The P.E.W.)