Thee Comic Column #120: Re-reading Alan Moore’s Promethea

sophie 5 largeIf you have by chance encountered the new column I recently began to post here on Joup you’ll know that Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham’s new series Nameless has reawakened an old passion in me. The column, Beneath the Panels, is an attempt to investigate the Occult underpinnings of Nameless, and it’s really got me on my toes. Reading it you will no doubt see me illustrate how, when dealing with the Occult, it is very easy to get lost amid the hundreds of invisible wires that run between scores of disparate concepts and even seemingly conflicting ideologies. Many of these ideas end up connecting in ways that are not always obvious or even intuitive, however, getting to that point takes quite a bit of work! This is because contrary to what conventional wisdom would have you believe, the Occult is at its best a tributary of science; Magick is not sleight of hand or elaborate stage antics but an attempt to craft a unified theory of everything. This is why both in modern and medieval times Occult study draws from every world view possible – the early alchemists were as much scientists as philosophers, and the Chaos Magicians of the 80s and 90s were as influenced by Quantum Mechanics and Chaos Mathematics as they were by Austin Osman Spare or *ahem* Aleister Crowley. In diving back into this type of research – which I had taken a hiatus from for almost ten years – I found that there was no better place to go for a streamlined cram session than Alan Moore and JH Williams III’s Promethea, a comic book that not only features appearances by pretty much everybody and everything I’ve just gone on about above, but that for all intensive purposes is a primer on Magickal study and Occult theology.

Although I don’t know that any of us realized it at the time of its monthly publication, Promethea was also essentially the cornerstone of Moore’s America’s Best Comics line*. What? you say – The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is the most popular and clearly Moore’s post-DC flagship book! Yes, however while League continues under the Top Shelf banner to this day the rest of ABC’s series ended shortly before the turn of the previous century. This happened because the hero of Promethea, college student Sophie Bangs-turned Science Heroine Promethea, fulfilled her ultimate role as the ABC Universe’s Scarlet Woman and ushered in the Apocalypse.

Wow. Yeah. Talk about a finite story.

This event was the final outcome of a series that took us as readers through Sophie’s own journey into the many aspects of the Occult. And props to Moore, because the series is written in such a way as everything Sophie learns, so do we. It’s a massive undertaking and with the talent of Mr. Williams, colorist Mick Gray and letterer Todd Klein pulls it off without ever losing the edge of an awesome comic that plays perfectly with the line between information and action. In fact, a lot of the action is informative as well, and awesome as hell to boot. My favorite example of this is the fact that one of the main adversarial forces in the book is the Goetia, or rather the demons outlined in the Grimoire that traces its origins back to King Solomon.

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Another great example of how the creators marry Occult practice to comic book adventure is the eight or so issues in the series where Sophie and Barbara – the previous woman to host Promethea – walk through each Sephiroth of the Qabballastic Tree of Life. This is simply stunning, with JH Williams’ art tailored to the specific correspondences of each individual level. It’s an amazing experience to read, and an equally amazing one to behold visually. And in the relatability and extremely human approach Moore takes with his characters, coupled with how well the art and words go together, Sophie’s journey of discovery plants an enormous amount of information in your brain while you follow the plot, whether you are trying to retain it or not.  The one drawback here is I’ve found binge-reading the book can be a completely exhausting experience. However, it is one you come out the other side of all the better for, like a sweat lodge, psychedelic trip or particularly harsh curriculum of learning.

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At least two decades before he penned Promethea Alan Moore’s unique and scholarly approach to what comics could be put him at the forefront of the industry. He did his time in the realm of the legacy characters for the big two – hell he even did a very readable run in the otherwise unreadable Spawn series – and during that time he always seemed to be able to effortlessly reinvent both himself and the Superhero genre. Moore did this by finding social, scientific and mythological juxtapositions for the archetypes within the genre. Watchmen explored all of these themes. With Swamp Thing it was environmental paradigms Moore used to extrapolate his hero. With ABC is was Science; in the ABC Universe Moore coined the term “Science Heroes” instead of Superheroes. And finally with Promethea he performed the Occultician’s ultimate goal and bridged the Science of that world with the Occult. Sophie Bangs’s journey lasts 32 issues; 32 issues in which Moore tells a remarkable story with the help of a truly amazing artistic team, while simultaneously penning a pop culture grimoire the likes of which no one else has come close to mastering. If you’ve not read it, Promethea gets my highest possible recommendation. Regardless of how you feel about Alan Moore, he is one of the most important writers to ever work within the medium and this is one of his greatest achievements in a career filled with great achievements.

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Can’t find a comic shop? You can always use old reliable Comic Shop Locator at 1-800-COMIC-BOOK. Or you can take some of my recommendations. If you live in the greater Chicagoland area I recommend any of the wonderful four locations of Amazing Fantasy Books. In Los Angeles it’s The Comic Bug. Las Vegas it’s Alternate Reality Comics. San Francisco? Try the Isotope Comic Lounge and if you happen to venture a little further North I’d say you have to visit The Escapist Comic Book Store in Berkley (with the wonderful Dark Carnival Books next door and owned by the same folks). Read on!!!

 

 

 

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* Although The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was at first published under the ABC imprint it apparently never shared the same “Universal space” as the other ABC books. League continues in sporadic series and graphic novels; the rest of the ABC line ended with Promethea’s apocalypse.

 

Shawn C Baker

Shawn C Baker

Shawn lives in Los Angeles where he co-hosts Drinking w/ Comics, writes screenplays and fiction and has been known to drink quite a bit of beer. Good beer.

2 Responses to Thee Comic Column #120: Re-reading Alan Moore’s Promethea
  1. […] III’s Promethea. Amelia’s story is not as hardcore literary as Promethea, which as I tal... joup.co/thee-comic-column-123-meeting-amelia-cole
  2. […] gotten around to Paul Darius and the Billionauts this is a good place for a quick tangent. In this w... joup.co/beneath-panels-3-nameless

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