Tuesday, February 22, 2005


"Any form of art is propaganda. It is propaganda for a state of mind rather than a nation-state but it is propaganda nonetheless, and it's best if you accept that and understand what you're doing and be honest about it: you are trying to change the mind of your target audience. You are trying to change their perceptions, you are trying to stop them from seeing things how they see things and start them seeing things the way you see things." - Alan Moore

That quote basically sums up the motivation behind Alan Moore's Promethea, the comic book series/magic textbook that released its last issue last week. I read the first 18 issues, and am now rereading those, and will move on to read the last issues as soon as I can. The first nine issues of the book are pretty good, interesting superhero work, with some cool concepts at the center. However, after issue nine, Moore begins to use the series as a way to convey to the audience his worldview, doing exactly what he talks about in the quote above.

The second year of the title begins a story about Promethea journey up the tree of life, according to the Kaballah. The already great JH Williams kicks his art up a notch and does phenomenal color themed issues that each touch on a different element. There's the dark blue moon issue about imagination and the yellow sun issue about intellect.

The intellect issue features a mind blowing page that's a mobius strip. As you read it, you flip the book around, going over and under the strip, gradually reaching the beginning, at which point you can continue seamlessly. The page goes on forever. It's also got great horizontal and vertical symmetry.

The series is basically an ode to fiction. Promethea is a fictional character that select people can transform into by writing about her. It's a symbolic version of the character inhabitation that every writer does. Eventually, the characters take on a life of their own. Promethea is the physical manifestation of this.

More than that, with the series, Moore strives to break down the walls between the material world and the world of ideas. He stresses that each of these worlds is equally real. In the intellect issue, he posits that since language defines reality, the material world is in fact subject to the particularities of language. Without language, we would have no material world.

Is the work therefore just a justification for the years of work spent creating fictional characters? Possibly, but it's also notable because it puts forth the very credible idea of the writer as magician, keeping the old gods alive in a modern world that values logic and science over emotion and spirituality. Promethea would not exist without the exploration Moore did in From Hell. From Hell puts forth the idea that William Gull (aka Jack the Ripper) is ushering in a new age with his killings, bringing the world from the feminine spiritual age into a masculine scientific world. When he kills Mary Kelly, he imagines himself in the present day, in an office building, profoundly aware that the mystical knowledge he carries is gone.

So, Moore is bringing it back with this book. He puts forth the idea that gods exist as ideas, so as long as the idea exists, the god remains. By writing this book, he is creating a concrete record of the sort of spiritual beliefs that were destroyed by the scientific revolution. It's an admirable goal, and I defnitely sympathize with it. I agree with the vast majority of what he's saying, becuase I also think that ideas are the most real thing. The most powerful ideas are older than any human, and will last longer than anything material will.

I'm really psyched to get to the rest of the series, and find out what happens at the end. Moore has done so many brilliant books, it's difficult to assess the highlights of his career, but I would say Promethea is probably his second best work, behind Watchmen. But, Watchmen, V for Vendetta, From Hell and now Promethea are the works of his that nobody other than Grant Morrison has touched, in any medium.

Probably the thing that makes Promethea so much more than just a magick textbook is the art by JH Williams III. I'm frequently prone to hyperbole when it comes to comic book art, but this is arguably the best art ever done in comics. Williams work is very pretty on its own, but it's the way he constructs the page that makes it so special. His double spreads are dazzling, and every layout seems to have meaning behind it. Williams and Moore are possibly the first people to fully actualize the potential of the medium. This is a story that couldn't be done anywhere other than comics.

Related Posts
Promethea: 17-19 (2/24/2005)
Promethea: 20-23 (2/25/2005)
Promethea: Until the End of the World (24-32) (2/27/2005)

No comments: