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Promethea Volume 1 TPB, copyright DC Comics
Publication information
Publisher America's Best Comics
First appearance Promethea #1 (1999)
Created by Alan Moore
In-story information
Alter ego Sophie Bangs
Abilities Various, derived from magick

Promethea is a comic book series created by Alan Moore and J.H. Williams III with Mick Gray, published by America's Best Comics/Wildstorm. Serialized in 32 issues on an irregular schedule from 1999 to 2005, the series explores Moore's ideas about art and magic, combining elements of superhero action, metaphysical theorizing, and psychedelic revelation, all focused on the adventures of Promethea, a metafictional character that possesses magical power over the real world. Promethea is also notable for wide-ranging experimentation in visual style and storytelling technique on the part of Williams and Moore.


[edit] Plot summary

Promethea has been organized into five books. Books 1 and 2 mainly deal with Sophie Bangs becoming Promethea, while Books 3 and 4 show Promethea/Sophie working her way through all the Sephiroth of the Qabbalistic Tree of Life, passing beyond death and the Immateria before returning to earth for a confrontation with Stacia. In Book 5, Promethea brought on the Apocalypse, the end of the world - or the entire ABC universe, to be precise - not by destroying it physically, but by tenderly introducing its inhabitants to a new world of imagination, wonder, beauty, belief, and acceptance. Here Promethea truly delves deep into metafiction - the title character addresses the reader directly in her explanation of the Apocalypse, and points out that she is fiction, and fiction can be magic and be believed.

[edit] References

Issues dealt with in this series include occult tarot and Hermetic Qabalah, and the comic is laden with and studies mythological and archetypal symbolism. Real people who appear in Promethea include Aleister Crowley, John Dee, Austin Osman Spare, and John Kendrick Bangs (who in the comic is distantly related to Sophie Bangs). The semi-fictional character Jack Faust is also a character who helps teach Sophie how to use magic.

Promethea's End of the World sequence displays the influence on Moore of Shea and Wilson's ILLUMINATUS! Trilogy by repeating the She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain lyrics used in Vol. III of the Trilogy, when the Illuminati were bringing the world to an end and 'Eris' was becoming Transcendentally Illuminated.

[edit] Cover references

Promethea features countless visual references as well as textual ones. For the majority of the series, each issue's cover features an imitation of a particular artist or style. These imitations were often explicitly credited by Williams next to his signature.

  1. "The Radiant Heavenly City" - no specific reference (this issue also featured a variant cover painted by Alex Ross)
  2. "The Judgement of Solomon" - film noir posters from the mid-20th century
  3. "Misty Magic Land" - intimates Winsor McCay's Little Nemo in Slumberland
  4. "A Faerie Romance" - credited to William Morris
  5. "No Man's Land" - credited to World War I poster artist J. C. Leyendecker
  6. "A Warrior Princess" - credited to The Magic Carpet magazine artist Margaret Brundage
  7. "Rocks and Hard Places" - romance comics from the mid-20th century
  8. "Guys and Dolls" - credited to Monty Python animator Terry Gilliam
  9. "Bringing Down the Temple" - stained glass window
  10. "Sex, Stars and Serpents" - cover to The Beatles' album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, by Peter Blake
  11. "Pseunami" - posters for 1950s sci-fi horror B-movies
  12. "Metaphore" - credited to 1960s psychedelic rock concert poster artist Bonnie MacLean
  13. "The Fields We Know" - credited to Maxfield Parrish
  14. "Moon River" - credited to Virgil Finlay
  15. "Mercury Rising" - credited to M. C. Escher
  16. "Love and the Law" - credited to Peter Max
  17. "Gold" - credited to Salvador Dalí
  18. "Life on Mars" - credited to Frank Frazetta
  19. "Fatherland" - credited to Vincent van Gogh, specifically The Starry Night
  20. "The Stars are But Thistles" - credited to Richard Upton Pickman, a fictional painter created by H. P. Lovecraft
  21. "The Wine of Her Fornications"
  22. "Et in Arcadia Ego..."
  23. "The Serpent and the Dove" - credited to Alfons Mucha
  24. "Cross, Moon, Star, Shapes in the Sand (Everything Goes Wrong)"
  25. "A Higher Court" - credited to Winsor McCay
  26. "Later..."
  27. "When It Blows Its Stacks" - credited to Ross Andru, specifically the 1976 comic Superman vs. the Amazing Spider-Man
  28. "Don't They Know It's the End of the World? (It Ended When You Said Goodbye)" - collage art
  29. "Valley of the Dolls" - credited to Andy Warhol
  30. "Everything Must Go!" / "Sun"
  31. "The Radiant Heavenly City" - according to Williams, "an imitation of the tarot card 'The Judgement/The Aeon'" [1]
  32. "Wrap Party" / "Universe" - credited "after the end"

[edit] Common themes

The series has been both criticized for acting as a mouthpiece for Moore's religious beliefs 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?"[1] While the Kabbalah story arc, and the positive explanations of Moore's philosophy, very explicitly explain, talking-head style, the symbolism behind the details of every plane of existence, Promethea also contains critiques of materialism which are much more subtle. The material world is, generally, portrayed as having become immersed in commercialism, materialism, fetishism of science, and trendy postmodernist-chic. Moore uses a recurring series of billboards, fictional celebrity references, and other advertisements and/or news similar to his seminal 1980s miniseries, Watchmen.

As suggested by the title Promethea, which implies the feminine version or inversion of the mythological Prometheus, the title also participates in the sub-genre of feminism in superhero comics. In making his lead character an aspiring poet whose words conjure the malleable form of a literary goddess—as well as the non-linear narratives and references to literary theory and alternative philosophies—Moore's thematics are closely aligned with the countercultural theory and politics of Écriture féminine.

[edit] Weeping Gorilla Comix

The Weeping Gorilla from Promethea #1

Probably the most exemplary of Moore's concept of modern disillusionment is "Weeping Gorilla Comix", a neverending series of one-panel comics featuring a weeping gorilla, with a thought bubble pronouncing some thoughtful phrase, usually cynical and self-pitying in nature: "Why do good things happen to bad people?", "Who remaindered the book of Love?", "She gets the kids and the house. I get the car.", etc. It is also a reference to the anomalous tendency for comics to get increased sales from a picture of a gorilla, a weeping character, or the color purple on the cover.[2] Occasionally Moore shows snippets of the gorilla's foil, the Chucklin' Duck, who is happy-go-lucky and naively optimistic, with smug saying such as "Heh heh! I got out of internet trading just in time!". Both the Weeping Gorilla and Chucklin' Duck motifs were used in the Greyshirt: Indigo Sunset series by Rick Veitch, and a Weeping Gorilla Comix panel makes a cameo appearance in the story "King Solomon Pines" in Tom Strong's Terrific Tales #5 (scripted by Leah Moore and illustrated by Sergio Aragones). The Tesla Strong miniseries included, amongst various versions of Solomon, one who resembled the Weeping Gorilla.

[edit] Experimental media

Moore's characteristic deconstruction of the comics medium, combined with the visual experimentation of J.H. Williams III, give the book a visual style that is unique in the medium and have won it several awards. Williams' layouts are generally symbolic, featuring ornate designs that accentuate either the emotional experiences of the characters or the themes of the passage at hand. Many Promethea covers consisted of pastiches of famous images or styles, such as the cover to Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. José Villarrubia also contributed sequences partially illustrated with photographs. Furthermore, Promethea often experiments with the fundamental element of comics storytelling—the panel. Sideways issues, Möbius strip layouts, completely panelless issues, backwards or circular flow and other experiments occur on a regular basis. The final issue, "Universe" (#32), is a complex document which can be read in a number of different sequences, including a double-sided poster when the pages are detached and placed together, and summarizes Moore's view on magic and fiction.

[edit] Characters

[edit] Promethea

Promethea is a young girl whose father is killed by a Christian mob in Alexandria in AD 411. She is taken in hand by the double-god, Thoth-Hermes, who tells her that if she goes with him/them into the Immateria, a plane of existence home to the imagination, she will no longer be just a little girl but a story living eternally. "Promethea" thereafter manifests in a series of avatars over the centuries. Sophie Bangs (below) is the current and most powerful host of Promethea.

People become incarnations of Promethea when they or someone close to them projects a strong vision of Promethea onto either themselves or an object of their affection/admiration. This could theoretically happen to anyone, but during the Crusades, there were two Prometheas, one Christian and one Muslim, who fought each other and in the process, caused Promethea herself great pain. The trauma of the fight caused Promethea to forget the battle, but from then on, only one human at a time could host her. All of Promethea's avatars live on forever in the Immateria after they die, but in the guise of the Prometheas that they respectively became, retaining their memories and contributing to the consciousness of the active Promethea.

[edit] Anna

The poet Charlton Sennet, in the 1770s, projected Promethea's likeness onto his housemaid Anna, transforming her into his dream lover. This Promethea bore him a child, but the baby evaporated on birth, since in a sense it was only "half-real," an amalgamation of the physical nature of Charlton Sennet and the metaphysical nature of Promethea. Anna died in childbirth, leaving Charlton alone (his wife deserted him after finding him in bed with Anna/Promethea) with his almost-literal demons.

[edit] Margaret Taylor Case

The writer of a William Randolph Hearst-syndicated comic strip titled Little Margie in Misty Magic Land, Case wrote Promethea into her comic book as a helpful spirit to the titular young adventurer, and ended up personifying Promethea to help soldiers on the battlefield from 1900–1920, in a manner similar to the legendary Angels of Mons. Because she is a "fictional" creation (a story), Little Margie also dwells in the Immateria alongside Case and the other past Prometheas, where she is regarded as little more than a pest who interrupts "serious" conversation with her childlike observations. Although the central figure of her comic strip, in the Immateria almost everything she says is met with a variation of "just shut up." Little Margie is, of course, a reference to Little Nemo in Slumberland, Windsor McCay's famous dream-like comic strip from turn-of-the-century (19th) America.

[edit] Grace Brannagh

An illustrator who created a series of covers for pulp magazine fantasy stories about Promethea, which were written by several writers under the pseudonym "Marto Neptura". Brannagh was the most proficient fighter of all the Prometheas. Grace inhabits the "Trancipality of Hy Brasil". She held the Promethea mantle from 1920–1939. Grace eventually merges with Stacia to fill in as Promethea while Sophie explores the higher planes, and the two (Grace and Stacia) eventually fall in love (see below). In a text article in Promethea #1, Brannagh's style is compared to that of Weird Tales illustrator Margaret Brundage.

[edit] William Woolcott

The only man to assume the role of Promethea (or at least, the only one who appears in the series), Bill Woolcott was a gay comics artist who became Promethea by drawing her. He was the longest-lasting Promethea, from 1939–1969, and acted as a "science-hero" in the ABC universe during that period. Bill/Promethea most resembles a 1960s version of Wonder Woman. However, Bill was shot in the head by Promethea's lover, FBI Agent Dennis Drucker, who reacted violently when he discovered that his lover was transgendered. Drucker spent several decades in an insane asylum tortured by guilt for having killed Promethea, while Bill/Promethea spent similar time in the Immateria blaming herself for not having told him the truth.

[edit] Barbara Shelley

The wife of comic book writer Steven Shelley, Barbara became Promethea when her husband began projecting her characteristics onto the Promethea character in his comics. After Steven's death, Barbara maintained the mantle of Promethea, but had difficulty keeping her image alive, as it was fueled by Steven's imagination rather than her own.

[edit] Sophie Bangs

The protagonist of the series, Sophie becomes Promethea after tracing the character's history in literature for a college paper. Though her personality as Sophie is initially somewhat timid, she quickly learns Promethea's abilities and becomes a highly adept magician. She is the most powerful of the Prometheas because of her inquisitive and sophisticated mind. "Sophie," as a modern name, derives from "sophos," meaning knowledge or wisdom in Greek.

[edit] Stacia Vanderveer

Sophie's best friend, Stacia is an extremely cynical, sarcastic, and homophobic college student. During an attack, Sophie was forced to turn civilians into Promethea and Stacia was "merged" with Grace to help the fight. While Sophie went on a trip to the Immateria with Barbara to find Stephen Shelley, Stacia/Grace served as the acting Promethea, and Stacia and Grace then fell in love. Afterwards, Stacia and Grace refused to relinquish the Promethea title, in no small part because they did not want to be broken up, and the merged Stacia/Grace battled Sophie/Promethea until the other Prometheas reached into the real world from the Immateria and halted the fight. Sophie eventually won the mantle back through a ruling in an Immateria court, and Stacia and Grace were separated. Upon returning to the Earthly plane, Stacia was shot and put in a coma. She later awakened and was held captive by the FBI and force-fed anti-psychotic drugs.[3] After the Apocalypse, Stacia and former FBI Agent Ball become lovers, while Stacia still has sexual liasons with Grace in the Immateria.

[edit] Five Swell Guys

The Five Swell Guys is a team of "science-heroes," and the only such team in New York City. They strongly reference in The Fantastic Four, with their floating platform and their specialised members. The team meet Sophie Bangs in the first issue, and then meet Promethea in the third issue, after one is badly hurt.

[edit] Collections

The trade paperbacks for Promethea were first released in hardcover, a then-rare occurrence for collections of regularly issued comic books.

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ Campbell, Eddie: "Alan Moore Interviewed by Eddie Campbell" Egomaina #2, December 2002: pp1-32.
  2. ^ as described by Mark Waid in an editorial in Secret Origins Volume 2, number 40
  3. ^ as stated in Promethea #28, p.14, bottom right panel.

[edit] References

[edit] External links

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