Promethea Book 3
Written by Alan Moore
Art by J. H. Williams III
Barbican Comic Forum
00000000 / Kraken
Ok. Right. Promethea Book 3.
I am acutely aware that this is probably the part where we start to lose people… This being the part where Promethea leaves the material world behind and starts her journey into the Kabbalah / Tree of Life aka when things get all trippy and weird and the “proper story” stops and Alan Moore goes jumping off into the deep end. It’s like Book 1 and 2 are The Bends and OK Computer and Book 3 is when things go all Kid A you know? From the people I’ve spoken to at various Comic Forums over the years the reactions tend to go one of two ways: it’s either:
Oh my god. How self-indulgent! This is terrible. What happened to all the fun superhero stuff? I don’t want to read a thing about magic. Oh god – it’s like being trapped in the house of a hippy while they lecture you for hours on end about how “everything is connected man” and blow funny-smelling smoke in your face. WORST COMIC EVER.
Oh my god. This is the most beautiful and mind-expanding comic I’ve ever read in my whole life. Its started off as one cool thing and now I’ve inside it’s blossomed into this completely different even cooler thing. I thought I was getting sci-fi superheroes and now I’m getting all frigging the secrets of the universe! BEST COMIC EVER.
Full disclosure: of the two approaches I’m way closer to the second than the first (but then that must be pretty obvious seeing how I’m the one who thought it would be a good idea to do all five books right? LOL): but there’s a part of me that can understand where the BOOOO school of thought is coming from… I mean: it’s always a little disconcerting when something changes from one thing to another right? (One of my favourite private jokes is that I’m not afraid of anything apart from change – but of course: change is all there is). And I always get disappointed / don’t think it ever really works when a film does the whole switcheroo thing… Starts off as one kind of thing and then becomes another (I’m not sure that this is the right place to go into this: but that’s basically why I always find Terminator 2 such a let down…).
Like: there are a lot of comics out there that are big multiple-volume series but this is only the third time we’ve tried to actually go through the whole series. The first one was The Sandman right back when we started: which you know seemed like a pretty good idea because even tho it’s ten books (oh wow) – each book is its own self contained thing with it’s own spin and trajectory: it’s own little kinda self-contained planet. So visiting each one in turn seemed like something that could be pretty fruitful and fun and interesting. And Scott Pilgrim well… in case it’s not already completely obvious – I just love Scott Pilgrim and I thought that it would let me get all of that love off of my chest (so to speak).
But yeah: I’m not sure if that kinda book-by-book analysis is something that would work with everything… I mean we did do Saga Book 1 and Saga Book 2 but then it kinda seemed that we were probably gonna run out of steam and that most of the possible things that could be said had been said already. I mean: I do think Saga is a cool book (altho I’m not currently up to date so no spoilers please) but it seems like one of those things that once it gets rolling just kinda keeps on rolling in the same kinda way and barring a few big twists and OH-MY-GOD moments the basic shape of it doesn’t really change – no? (Was also tempted to go book by book on Preacher too: but again – maybe there’s not really enough there to sustain that kind of thing? I don’t know….).
But yeah: point being – Promethea is one of the few comic series out there (that I can think of anyway – maybe you think different?) that actively twists and changes as it moves along. Which yeah: is something I very much dig and actually – now I think about it is actually a uniquely kinda Alan Moore thing to do you know? (If you’ve read all of his six Swamp Thing books then you know what I’m talking about – and if you haven’t: OMG what the hell is wrong with you??! GO AWAY AND READ THEM NOW and thank me later….).
Altho I guess the shock of the “oh my god what the hell is happening?” only really works the first time you read it… I mean: once you know the whole book has it’s eye set on going down the rabbit-hole the cold water splash of it is nowhere near as bracing. I mean: the first Book is kinda introducing you to the world and the main characters – Book 2 does the sex and the 4 weapons and lays the ground for the type of thing its going to do (and also does that whole thing with #12 that I don’t think we ever really got into – what with the snakes and the anagrams and everything….). So yeah you know: it’s not like it was some kitchen sink realism thing and then out of nowhere it’s all aliens from the 17th dimension making your granny into a lawnmower or whatever. There’s a purpose and a structure.
In fact – it’s almost embarrassing how straight forward it all is. Sophie goes to look for Barbara and then both of them go to look for Steve. I mean yeah maybe I’m a sucker for a quest narrative: but for me it feels almost like the most basic story-type there can be and well yeah obviously: basically it’s such a forwards and onwards type of thing: it’s absolutely perfect for hanging whatever sort of crazy stuff you can think on top of it (cut to: Dante and Tolkien nodding their heads in agreement). And you know – what more could you want? Crazy worlds and landscapes full of heady ideas and concepts and (maybe will come back to this in a bit): very much full-on complete and total comics-ness (you can almost hear Alan Moore on every page scratching his beard and going – “Oooh. Here’s a cool thing you can do.” “And oooooh – what if you do this?” “And ooooh hang about: how about we try this?”
And yeah the first time I finished reading it I looked up with eyes that felt brand new looking out into a world that felt deeper and more meaningful – which come on: is all you could ever hope for from a comic no?
(Already rereading it yesterday I’ll admit that the more jaded part of me did roll it’s eyes a little at the repetitive nature of each sphere. You know: let’s tick off the Hebrew name. Let’s do the flower. The planet. The number. Etc. But shit – I don’t know if that’s really a part of me that I want to encourage you know?)
Especially because even tho this is like the fifth or sixth time I’ve read it: J H Williams III’s artwork still stuns like a cattleprod to the temples: every issues changing it’s tone and colours and style and mood and effect. To the point where the whole thing is so beguiling and transporting and effective that I can’t escape the obviously nonsense thought that – fuck: maybe this is what comics were made for? Maybe this is the best possible story you can tell with it? Using it in the most fullest and deepest and most complete way you know? Like a song that uses every single instrument and plays every note possible. That’s what reading this comic feels like. A full and complete and mind-expanding meal that – in a sense – gives me everything that I’ve ever wanted from a comic book simply in virtue of the fact that it does so much so far so deeply.
I kind of drifted out of Promethea. First couple of books were pretty cool, a sort of magic-based Transmet (I know it was written before, but I read Transmet first). Then it sorta drifts. It’s like talking to someone who’s absolutely wasted, after a while you realise the weird tangent isn’t actually going anywhere, and it won’t ever end, and you just switch off.
The inner journey stuff isn’t bad, but it feels directionless despite the slow working up the chain of colours.
I think maybe if the book had been about weird inner journeys from the start I’d have been more receptive, but the way it changed direction is what put me off. Don’t get me in the mood for science-heroes and posessed presidents and then switch to a Crowley book.