Thursday, February 4, 2010

Review - Absolute Promethea

Absolute Promethea Volume 1
Written by Alan Moore; Art by J.H. Williams III and Mick Gray
2000, 2001 Eisner Winner for Best Writer
2001 Eisner Winner for Best Single Issue (#10)

I've rarely been as conflicted about a series as much as I am about Promethea. There's a fine line between using beliefs in a story and proselytizing. Moore not only falls on the wrong of it often, he's completely off the deep end. He'll tell an engrossing story for several issues worth of material and then slam it to a halt with thirty pages of psuedo-philosophical babel. It goes from interesting to frustrating in the a blink of an eye.

Promethea is a goddess of imagination who manifests through a woman associated with those inspired by her. She's different in each incarnation and her most recent ones have been superheroes. Sophie is a college student researching the chain of fictional Promethea and the real-world sightings when she becomes the newest incarnation. Evil magic is set against her and she is determined to learn magic to fight back.

When Moore sticks to an actual narrative thread then Promethea is brilliant. Moore uses the same larger-than-life world he used in Tom Strong and Top 10 which is at the end of the twenty century, but it's an end of the twentieth century as envisioned in the science fiction of the 1930's. While Tom Strong gets lost in that setting and Top 10 uses it to play with homages Promethea has it as a contrast to its mysticism and history. The story jumps back and forth between previous incarnations of Promethea and each of them inevitably has a tragic story that needs to be told.

A lot of time is spent in this volume trying to define who the new Promethea is. As a superhero she's ambiguous and does whatever is necessary to move the story along. On the other hand this is used as part of being tied directly to the imagination. So instead of focusing on a character who can do anything and lacks a solid personality Moore plays up the human part and explores what Promethea could be. That made me interested in what she would become.

The problems start when the lectures begin. Moore is a devotee of a new age belief system and he often uses Promethea as a platform for his beliefs. Initially these are awkwardly bolted onto the story but later he spends whole issues on just preaching at the reader. It's not simply a lesson in what the characters believe; that's something that could be summed up in a few word balloons with having no impact on the story. This is a full assault by a new age guru. As someone who can easily spot the logical fallacies and arbitrary nature of the statements it was incredibly unpleasant to read.

Issue ten was one of those issues that I hated. Beside my annoyance with the magic lessons Moore brings in one of my least favorite concept in SF: sexual liberation resulting in hot women throwing themselves at dumpy men. In this case it's a full issue of sex between Promethea and a magician who is roughly Alan Moore's age. And while they're having sex they're explaining the metaphysical implications of screwing while the visuals are taking an LSD trip. It's a throw back to the worst parts of SF from the 70's. Instead of just getting a full issue of new age magick lessons (you've got to spell it with a "k" or you're not being obnoxious enough) you also get Moore's sexual fantasies.

In my complaints about Promethea J. H. Williams III is faultless. He was given the task of illustrating hallucinogenic playgrounds of the mind and tackles with gusto. This is a visually lush book with some of the most exotic visuals I can recall and Williams does a terrific job with it.

While I'm interested in where the story in Promethea goes from this point my tolerance for new age babel was worn away a long time ago. So I have no intention of going any further with the series. On the other hand if you have a higher tolerance for that kind of thing then there is a lot to like in Promethea.