Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #325: Promethea, Book 1 by Moore, Williams & Gray

Alan Moore famously has a love-hate relationship with superhero comics. Well, I mean, a lot of people love or hate superhero comics, and plenty do both. The difference is that superhero comics hates and loves Moore back.

In the late '90s, after he'd cast a magic incantation cursing DC Comics and all of its wares, swearing never to work for them again under any circumstances, Moore started his own line of superhero comics, under the not-at-all-self-aggrandizing label of America's Best Comics. And then his publisher sold the entire company to DC anyway, pretty much simultaneously with the launch of the ABC line.

(It's almost enough to make one believe that deep Northamptonian magic doesn't actually do anything!)

One of those ABC books was Promethea, with art by J.H. Williams II and Mick Gray. I read the first collection sometime in the early Aughts, and didn't remember a whole lot about it. (I do remember that nothing I saw of America's Best Comics, then or later, impressed me all that much. But I can be hard to impress when it comes to superhero stuff.) Since I'm reading giant stacks of comics-format books this year to feed the maw of Book-A-Day, I figured I might as well try Promethea, Book 1 again.

(I'm still not that impressed. This is not a surprise.)

Promethea the character is a legacy hero, one of many in Moore's work -- he's been very fond of having his main character be one of a million versions of the same thing, from the Captain Britain multiverse to the Parliament of Trees. This time, the original of Promethea is a fourth-century girl in Egyptian Alexandria bodily transported to the realm of story by the god Thoth-Hermes, and somehow because of that gets to be the template for a series of mystically-powered superwomen starting at the end of the 19th century in the US. Since Moore always has miles of notes, I'm not going to ask what Promethea was doing for the intervening thirteen centuries, because he'd probably tell me in great detail in some tedious end-of-book text feature.

Our brand-new Promethea is Sophie Bangs -- that name sounds much more like a camgirl than a superheroine, but OK -- in a mildly science-utopian 1999, a slightly alternate comic-book-universey version of the real world her story was published into. She's a college student researching the legend of Promethea, providing both the natural opportunity for a lot of infodumping and the reason why she gets saddled with the glowy caduceus staff and form-fitting bronze armor.

There are, of course, equally mystical evil people who want to snuff out this new Promethea before she comes into her full powers, and they try to do so. But most of the story here, from the first six issues of the Promethea comic, is an extended tour of the Immateria, the lands of story and myth, in the company of each of the recent dead Prometheas in turn.

That tour is not over at the end of this book; nothing is actually resolved by the last page here and Sophie/Promethea is heading out into a promised two more sections of the Immateria to learn more lessons from more dead predecessors. Why this is where the vast and cool intelligences of DC chose to end this particular book is beyond me; I suspect they believe that their target audience doesn't understand the idea of stories "ending" anyway, and so don't bother wasting time with such things.

But I am a well-known cynic.

Promethea is a perfectly adequate superhero comic, with powers and characters that make more sense than many of its competitors. Williams and Gray draw well, and get some inventive page designs out of it. You could certainly do worse than this.

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