Promethea Book 5
Written by Alan Moore
Art by J. H. Williams III
Barbican Comic Forum
00000000 / Kraken
And so it ends with the end of the world. Because of course.
Promethea Book 5 is kinda funny in how it sneaks up on you. With the shocking ending of Book 4 with FBI agents and all the shootings and Sophie Bangs on the run it feels like the book has switched gears from all of it’s metaphysical wanderings into something a lot more gritty and real you know? Almost as if the trajectory of the series is supposed to be like a rise and fall kinda thing- that takes you from this future New York comic book land up to the heights of the Time of Life all the way to the pinnacle of the Godhead and then after that it’s all about sliding down into the the bitter taste of real life. I mean – Alan Moore can be a pretty political kinda guy at some points right (anyone else see the thing about his contribution to the 24 Panels Grenfell Tower comic project thing? ‘Disgrace and shame’: Alan Moore points to Boris Johnson in Grenfell fire comic) – so it wouldn’t be too outlandish to think that oh maybe he’s going to do something “grim and gritty” maybe? (Cut to: Promethea in a trench coat dishing out some vigilante justice to those most in need of it “This is going to hurt more than you can possibly imagine.” or whatever).
But ha – no of course not. Instead it kinda wraps around itself and takes all of the elements of the first 4 books and sticks them in a blender. So you get mystical musings mixed with family dramas mixed with criminal intrigue mixed with a whole bunch of superhero shenanigans so that the overall effect is that (for this reader anyway) it feels like one of those big epic summer cross-over events in the pages of DC and/or Marvel where the whole universe is under attack from somekind of thing beyond the limits of any single superhero. So you know – something like The Final Night or Secret Wars or Crisis on Infinite Earths or Cataclysm whatever – you know? Only instead of just being somekind of fake out where it’s only about “killing off” a main character for a little bit (or bringing back one that you thought was dead or whatever): this time the end of the world is for real (or wait – is it?).
Like: yeah – I will admit that I’m not sure that I entirely “get” everything that happens in Promethea Book 5 (but maybe that’s the point?). If anyone else would like to try to explain what that glass of water that so freaked out Dhalua Strong (is it because it’s like a “real object” and it’s about the change of perception that’s coming down the line? Like a 2D character seeing something in 3D and not being able to handle it? Or am I barking up the wrong tree?). And also erm – why is Promethea doing this whole end of the world stuff in the first place? Like it was something she was told when she was doing all of her astral travelling right? Or like – is that the only reason why? And well you know – if the end of the world is just about a change in perception – then isn’t the end of the world slowly happening to all of us everyday? You know – if we’re doing life right – maybe we’re always learning to see things new and putting away the old and bringing out the new… (fingers crossed).
Also yeah wow – issue 32. I mean – obviously that’s a whole lot to take in. And I have no idea how to even begin to start talking about it. Lol. So maybe I’ll leave it you.
What did you think?
Islington Comic Forum
It’s some of Alan Moore’s best and most personal writing. One thing I really admire about ‘issue 32’ which awkwardly makes up the final pages of this collection is that it’s something that ONLY really works in floppy comic format (since I’m guessing not many readers are going to cut up their books to see it as it was meant to be). In these days when most comics seem to be written with the focus on the eventual trade paperback, it’s always a pleasure to encounter floppy comics that does things that can only be done in that specific medium.
By the way, the final chapters of Moore’s Tom Strong run give another perspective on the events in this volume and are also well worth a read
I was really struggling by book five, honestly – like yeah Promethea is this whole mystical epic work of high comics art but book five just didn’t pull me in, I felt like I was slogging through to the end just to say I had. The pull-out-and-assemble poster idea was pretty cool, I thought about making copies of the pages to piece together, but… Well, I didn’t care enough honestly. Feels like the series deserves more enthusiasm, but it’s similar to how I feel after going round a fine art show – yeah, this is all very cool and Really Makes Me Think, but it leaves me dying for a good solid plot to get my teeth into.
And uh, off-brand superman shows up, I guess? I felt like a good chunk of this book was lost on me because I haven’t read Tom Strong, so I had no idea who this big important character who just drops in out of nowhere came from, and it felt like a really awkward forced crossover. Tam, could you expand on what you said about Moore’s Tom Strong run for those of us too lazy to read it? How does it effect your reading of Promethea?
Barbican Comic Forum
00000000 / Kraken
I’m actually a massive Tom Strong fan from like way back in the day… Like: when Alan Moore first launched America’s Best Comics there were 4 main titles: Promethea, Tom Strong, Top 10 and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen… I could be wrong but I have a memory of my friend buying the original single issues and my eyes growing wide at the sight of them. NEW ALAN MOORE COMICS!! And not his crazy wild out there experimental stuff – but straight-down-the-line easy to digest fun stuff! From first glance Promethea looked like a Wonder Woman thing, Tom Strong a Superman one, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen a Justice League thingie and Top 10 was… well… Hill Street Blues but everyone’s a superhero.
But yeah Tom Strong – I mean Rat if you’re looking for a good solid plot to get your teeth into then I would super-recommend starting with Tom Strong Book One and then taking it from there. I mean – in terms of pure, fun, chewy light-weight, enjoyable comics I don’t think anyone has ever done better. Like: I think I remember reading an interview at the time of Alan Moore saying that he regretted the damage that Watchmen had done to the superhero genre and how ever since the only two colours allowed for a superhero comic was either “dark” and/or “gritty.” So Tom Strong was his attempt to make superhero comics fun and bright again and well yeah: I mean – reading it is like eating bubblegum for the brain: every bit of it is just – completely rainbowtastic. I mean – it’s a bit of shame that people didn’t try to emulate it in the same way they did with Watchmen – but well… I guess that’s humans for you. LOL
But yeah whoops (I could be wrong about this?) but I think Tom Strong Book 5 is where Alan Moore outsourced the strip to a bunch of outside writers and the results were… not good (with the sole exception of the – and I can’t believe I’m saying this: but I think Ed Brubaker actually wrote a cool story for once?!). So I don’t know if I ever made it to Tom Strong Book 6… but now I think I need to give it a go before this thread closes off so erm yeah: WATCH THIS SPACE.
I guess the reason people didn’t copy Tom Strong was that ‘gritty grimdark’ is a really low-effort gimmick, and doing a bubblegum superhero and making it original takes a lot better writer. I guess it’s gone full-circle to some extent now, with grimdark being the default, and bubblegum being the ‘alternative’?
So is Tom Strong a superman clone? Promethea mentioned he’s a science-hero, but I wasn’t sure if that was just how people from that setting understood him. I’m not sure what science-hero means, anyway, aside from ‘my powers come out of gadgets and/or I wear goggles’. Also, from that image you linked, I love that he’d have to loosen his goggles to sling them round his neck like that. That’s a proper muscleman-hero neck. 🙂
Barbican Comic Forum
When we did Promethea Book 1 I wrote some stuff about the series being a meta-comic, a comic about (the magic of) comics. At the time, I was maybe just finishing Book 2. I wasn’t sure the meta-comic hypothesis would come through, but for the most part* I felt pretty jazzed about how the rest of the series might unfold whether it was accurate or not.
But fatigue with the story (crucially, not the art, which is always a treat, but the ‘plot‘) set in during book 3, followed by and mixed with confusion. My journey through the last three books went something like this:
– Oh okay cool, we get a new Promethea and an adventure in the immateria. Let’s go!
– And here’s… Aleister Crowley? Okay, whatever. Let’s push on and see some more cool panels and find this lady’s husband.
– Yeah yeah Alan Moore, I get it already. Everything is joined by ~~mystic connections~~ and you’re perhaps just a tad pretentious. That’s nice for an essay, but maybe we can have some story?
– Madonna/whore zzzz I’m just going to skim this now and look at the art because I’m bored.
– Well, I guess an out-of-nowhere apocalypse is story. Kind of. Maybe. Why is this happening, exactly?**
– At least the mystic mumbo jumbo seems to have wrapped up. Maybe now I can find out what it was all for.
– Er, maybe not.
I feel conflicted about the series as a whole. There’s a lot to recommend it and the mystic/magic/occult stuff is interesting, but only up to a point for me. I needed it to translate into more of a (legible) plot to feel satisfied.
As for my original ‘comic about comics’ hypothesis… after finishing Book 5 I didn’t see it holding up, but I was also too burnt out on the series to think about it very deeply, and I don’t have much desire to re-read it now.
*I missed the Book 2 discussion deadline, but would’ve talked about how much I liked the issues featuring Bill and the rhyming snakes, and how much I disliked the issue where Jack requests/gets wacky god sex from Promethea. Frankie’s comment from the Book 2 thread nails it – here it is for convenience and because it’s such a wonderful quip it deserves to be amplified: “This sex scene is a perfect metaphor for the entire book. Some weird old guy with halitosis who stinks of patchouli and B.O. pawing at you and trying to get you into his crusty unwashed bed with a bunch of pseudo-spiritual guru bullshit about wands and cups and worshiping women.”
**Maybe I missed the ‘why’ because I skimmed so many of the later issues…
What an amazing critique!!
I am in total agreement with Amanda
Yeah, agreed (though I still reckon the sex scene was well done).
What it needed imo was a good editor to scrape Moore off the ceiling, gently bring him down and make him explain himself a bit. I think lots of fiction, you’ll get a Big Name who ends up with basically free reign, and a lot of the time that seems to result in them vanishing up their own asses. (Has anyone read the Buffy comics where Joss Whedon isn’t constrained by budget or reality anymore? Not pretty.)
But then, part of me likes that there’s this huge inscrutable monument to a comic-wizard’s ego. There’s tons of comics with plots you can understand, and Promethea might not be so special if it was saner. I’ll never give it the serious study it needs, but it’s like Stonehenge, just nice to know it’s there.
And damn, it’s pretty. Can’t say that too much.
Barbican Comic Forum
00000000 / Kraken
Part of me thinks that maybe it would be better if I just keep my mouth closed. But then part of me always thinks that. And my lifetime so far is pretty much defined by all the ways I choose to ignore it. So…
I get where Amanda is coming from – like yeah Promethea smells of patchouli and something that I’m pretty sure isn’t a normal cigarette and there is probably another version of it that exists somewhere out in the Immateria that’s way more streamlined and disposed to give you all the hits that you want and expect… I mean it’s funny – but the Promethea wikipedia page kinda sums it the whole general reaction to it perfectly:
The series has been both criticized for acting as a mouthpiece for Moore’s philosophical views and praised for the beauty of its artwork and innovation regarding the medium itself. Regarding the first claim, the series is, by Moore’s own admission, didactic: “there are 1000 comic books on the shelves that don’t contain a philosophy lecture and one that does. Isn’t there room for that one?”
And hell yeah – I mean I’ll confess that doing it for the Book Club I got a little bit burnt out myself. Like I guess to be totally honest – I kinda hoped / expected that people would start out skeptical but then by the end of it everyone would be filled with interstellar wonder and looking around at the world anew “Oh my god – this book totally changed my life” and stuff like that. Because well – not to put it too fine of a point on it – but I honestly think that it changed mine: just in terms of the concepts that it introduced me to (the whole Book 3 / Book 4 Tree of Life stuff) and how I think about the stuff I think about; which you know is why the book holds such a special place in my heart and why I wanted to share it with you guys in the hope that I don’t know – someone else would have a spiritual / mind-expanding experience too (isn’t that what life is all about?). But yeah I should admit tho – that reading it over for the Book Club this year – the power wasn’t hitting it as much as it did the first few times I read it.. which I don’t know: maybe that’s what growing old is all about or something? Going back to the thing that seemed to crack with electricity on first contact and finding out that – oh – it was only Rice Krispies. Altho – well; I’m not sure that’s the whole story… (and you know: maybe it’s just the obvious thing of the student taking what they need from the teacher? And once you’ve sucked all of the juice out of the orange – you need to find other fruits… or something…).
Like actually I think my experience with the very last issue of the last book is probably what gets closest to it: like omg when I first read it it was like discovering a whole new landscape – a whole new way to understand the world and see the connections of everything: the way our ideas connect to how we see ourselves which connect to how we see the world which connect to how we see our ideas which connect to how we see ourselves and etc. And you know – having that kinda insight I think helped to make my world a richer place and was a great way to help me understand how I saw myself and other people and – ha – the nature of reality and stuff man: and well yeah – it just kinda helped make me a better person I think?
(I keep using the word “help” and I was kinda tempted to swap it out for a synonym or something: but well yeah – I don’t know – it’s actually pretty accurate in terms of the kinda feeling you know? Maybe it’s not quite a cold glass of water when you’re about to die of thirst – but more a cold glass of water on a very hot day).
And yeah: I don’t want to fall into the trap of being sneery or whatever. Like if Promethea wasn’t your bag and you found it kinda droney / off-putting or whatever I don’t think that you’re wrong and you should just try harder or anything like that – you know everyone has different tastes and etc. I just wanted to write this to say that even tho it’s a bit all over-the-place and has a glassy look in its eyes and maybe rambles on a bit too much about the interconnectiveness of everything: it was you know – a really special book for me that made life cooler and not despite of it’s excesses but because of them (you know?).
Or in other words: it’s not only pretty because of how it looks – but it’s pretty in what it says and how it says it and I’m very glad it exists.
Promethea forever. 🙂