Thursday, March 03, 2005

Before Going to Break

I'm on break now for the next two weeks, so I will be back in Mamaroneck by the weekend, and the kicking of it will begin. Not sure exactly what I'm going to do over this break, hopefully go to the Doves concert if I can get tickets, see Joss Whedon if I can get in, not sure what else, but I'm sure things will come up. I've got a bunch of movies on hold, some vintage, some foreign stuff and even some recent American films, so much variety.

It's been a really good half a semester, but more notably, a really fast one. The weeks go by really quickly, and then the weekends are just gone in a long indiscriminate period of leisure broken only by sleep. Reading Promethea was one of the highlights. The best movie I saw since getting back was Infernal Affairs, as well as its nearly equally brilliant sequel, Infernal Affairs II: The Legend. I'm taking the course on action movies, so I know a little something, and these two were phenomenal action films.

I'm looking forward to the Scorcese remake, called The Departed. I doubt it will top the original, but it's such a great premise, I'd love to see a master like Scorcese riff on it with a cast that includes Matt Damon, Leonardo Dicaprio and best of all, Jack Nicholson.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Promethea: Until The End of the World

Yesterday I finished reading the comic series Promethea, one of the best pieces of fiction ever created. Not since reading The Invisibles have I been so in awe of a work of fiction. If it weren't for the comparatively weak first nine issues, I would say this is Alan Moore's greatest work. As it is it's second only to Watchmen. What he does at the end of the series is a phenomenal fusion of character resolution and concept exploration. This is a series that redefines the storytelling potential of comics. It's an incredibly deep and powerful work, and is the only thing I've read since that comes close to touching the phenomenal experience of reading The Invisibles.

After finishing the journey up the tree of life storyline, Alan Moore brings us crushingly to Earth, with the extreme humanization of Sophie and Stacia, who are caught up in petty jealousy. First of all, I love the new look of Stacia after becoming Promethea, she's got awesome hair and cool sunglasses, and just carries herself in a different way. It's great that JH Williams is able to pull off giving her a completely new look, and yet we're still aware that it's the same person. This is even more notable in issue 31, when we see Stacia with a radically different look. The idea that Stacia and Grace are simultaneously lovers and inhabiting the same person is crazy, and Moore really pulls it off. The two of them have great chemistry, as we see in issue 25.

So, Stacia is now a master of the material realm, which brings her into conflict with Sophie, who wants to resume the role of Promethea. Their fight is pretty cool, and I love the visual of the original Promethea's scream cutting through their reality. It's a crushing return to petty humanity and individual stubbornness after the oneness that Sophie experienced in the Godhead. What makes this so powerful is that Moore is acknowledging the difficulty of maintaining an enlightened worldview in everyday life. That's something I've talked about a lot, and Jon focused on when we discussed. If you believe in a lot of this stuff, people are going to say you're nuts, and getting too lost in the meditation realm can make it tough to exist in the real world. There's a fear of going too far. What happens here is Sophie is brought back crushingly down to Earth, by Stacia's jealousy.

The next issue, the trial with Sophie vs. Stacia and Grace is pretty awesome as well. Here, Moore brings all the plot threads that were developing over the Kaballah journey to the fore. Lucille Ball and Karen Brueghel's investigation continues here and eventually they find who they're looking for. There's an incredible two page spread at the Limp concert, where we see the two of them snake through the crowd, trying to find out information about Promethea. It's perfectly executed, very readable, but also enjoyable as just a huge image of this concert. Williams drops something phenomenal in each issue, and that spread is what it is in this issue.

I really like the humor in this issue as well. Solomon's inept judging is great, and his constant desire to use that cutting the baby in half solution. And, we get some great thoughts from Weeping Gorilla. The book constantly makes me laugh out loud.

But, it's the end of this issue that leaves you reeling. It's so epic and perfect, watching the immaterial trial conclude, then seeing the FBI come around to pick everyone up. It reminds of the end of Becoming I on Buffy, where Drucilla kills Kendra, and you're reeling, then the police come in and arrest Buffy. Or perhaps even more, Seeing Red in Buffy, where Buffy defeats Warren in battle, only to have him come around with a gun and shoot Tara, bringing harsh reality into this mystical world. That's what the FBI agents do here. Seeing Jack Faust get taken into the car is tough, but the next page is brutal as we see Stacia going for her glasses, then getting shot. I literally said "Stacia!" out loud after seeing that, and had to pause the book for a minute to get back. I don't know why, but this book really got to me emotionally, in a way very few other things have ever done, and Stacia getting shot was just one such moment.

Then, the end of the issue with Trish saying goodbye to Sophie is really strong too, and we see her run off into an uncertain future. It's such a bold ending to the issue and book four. Everything's gone wrong, things are going to hell, and Sophie's got to leave. The genius of the issue is in the way it perfectly pays off everything that developed during the kaballah arc. All these threads were laid out and they culminate here in an absoultely brutal issue. Let me just say I'm glad I wasn't reading this in monthly format, because the wait would have been torturous.

From there, it's a leap into the future, where we find Sophie working at a video store in Millenium City, home of Tom Strong, fellow Alan Moore creation. Issue 26 is really jarring because it's so different from the usual Promethea style. Alan and JH work with a nine panel grid, mutely colored, wiith none of JH's trademark double page spreads. It feels so constricting and I think that's the point. Sophie's life isn't epic any more, it's almost suffocatingly normal.

Just look at the cover to get an idea of the colors.

But, the thing I love about this issue is the fact that Moore isn't condemning her new life. Sophie is happy, and maybe that's enough. I love her relationship with Carl, and the dialogue there is hilarious, particularly the Sopranos stuff. And who knew Alan Moore could do 'Your Mom' humor. There's some hilarious stuff here, and you get the sense that Carl and Sophie really care about each other. Moore creates a fully rounded character in a matter of pages, such that we can see why Sophie doesn't want to become Promethea later in the issue. The other thing that really gets me is Sophie crying as she calls her mom from the pay phone. After the step their relationship took, it's painful for her not to be able to be with Trish.

However, the new life can't last, and Tom Strong turns up in pursuit of Sophie. I'll admit I found it a bit jarring to all of a sudden have Tom Strong in Promethea's world, but it pretty much works. I'm really glad I read two trades of his series, since it helps you to get what's going on. I think Tom Strong is being used to represent an outmoded moral paradigm, but more on that later.

The return of Promethea in issue 27 is a phenomenal moment, in a really cool spilling cup two page spread. The next chunk of issues all sort of run together, culminating in the revelations in 31, but I'll try to give a bit of what I liked in each one. In 27, I love the scene between Carl and Promethea as she's saying good bye. Carl reminds me a lot of her father, and it seems to be implied that the love she missed out on with him, she has found with Carl. A little Elektra, but it makes sense.

So, Promethea goes to New York, and over the final four issue arc, she gradually breaks down the barriers between imagination and reality. Issue 28 touches on a lot themes similar to The Invisibles, most notably the two page spread where Karen Brueghel is taken outside of time, and we get to see all of time existing at once. This is basically the same thing as the time worm back in Invisibles 3.2. Here, Promethea goes into the prison and breaks out Dennis Drucker, Stacia and Jack Faust. I love the fluctuations in time and space in this sequence. Sophie is basically pulling a John a Dreams and moving through time and space fluidly. She has become powerful enough to recognize the essential fallacy of a linear time continuum, and is thus able to stop playing by its rules. Everything builds up to the moment where Trish places the swizzles the stick in the glass of water, the wand in the cup, the male in the female, another big bang, and the beginning of the end of the world. The thing I love about this stuff at the end of the series is it makes us see in action a lot of the concepts discussed in the Kaballah journey, and also gives us a better understanding of those concepts. I sort of got the male/female thing, but this shows it really concretely, and it's even clarified a bit more in issue 32.

What the merging of the male and female/cup and wand does is create a wave of hyperreality that seems to make people aware of the essential fallacy that is the division between thought and the material world. It makes people recognize that we're all one thing, we're all connected. As Promethea says, "She's always been there in us all, but she's everything is revealed." It seems to make people hyper-aware of their lives and the moment, basically knocking you out of your apathetic trudge through daily live and begin to recognize the majesty of existence. Trish says, "Sophie, I'm real...My life is real. It's really happening to me. This...this is now."

A really funny gag in issue 29 is the painted dolls killing each other. It's a beautifully drawn sequence, and I love the idea that people are going to the doll as an angel of death, so much so that he's swamped and destroyed. He's programmed to kill, but he can't kill fast enough to satisfy them. I love the little sequence where Stacia and Dennis Drucker reuinte with their Prometheas. The Dennis Drucker story was something I really wasn't expecting to see again after issue seven, so seeing it return back in the kaballah thing, and then be resolved here is very cool. "Now we can be together. Now everyone can be together" is such a cool sentiment, it's the idea that with time and reality breaking down, these people who loved each other a time past can be together again.

One of the coolest things about the end of the book is the incorporation of stuff from the real world. Before I read the book I thought nothing good came out of the Iraq war, but this book's depiction of George Bush and the events of Iraq is so cool, it's at least one good byproduct. Moore is basically playing off the disinformation of Bush, and the constant fluctuations. As time changes, people think the war's over, right, mission accomplished, but wasn't this last March? It's a great depiction of time breaking down and blending together. Later, there's a really great scene which perfectly captures the way Bush talks. I think it's notable that even though this stuff was written in 2003, the points are even more valid now. You'd think being so topical would quickly become dated, but this Iraq war really has just stretched on for years now, and I'm glad to see Alan becoming increasingly political in his work, in a way that he hasn't been since Watchmen or V For Vendetta.

The opening of issue thirty contains what is basically a microcosm of the whole series. We first see through the eyes of Peter Hansard, an FBI agent who wearing artificial retinas, and as a result sees just what is material, his vision is objective, uninfluenced from his perception of the world, like a camera. Thing is, the world is so much more than just the material, and that fact has been made even more apparent in the new world that Promethea has created in New York. People exist in a purely idea based world, and the concrete worldview of science seems woefully inadaquete in perceiving that world. This parallels what Alan is talking about in issue 32, the idea that scince isn't enough to understand everything, and our next step forward intellectually will involve the fusion of what we've learned with science combined with the flexibility of magical systems. It's about replacing a strict scientific paradigm, that is based on an uncompromising belief in the material world. Hansard's powers of perception are woefully inadaquete here, and he has to change, just as all people with a restrictive worldview have to change.

One of the things I found sort of tough to figure out was the role of the traditional superheroes in the story. I think Moore is basically pointing out the inadaquecy of the manichean wordivew held by people like Tom Strong in this new world. Tom Strong in particular is a conservative figure, trying to keep things as they are, while Promethea is a force of change. So, Strong is woefully inadaquete in dealing with this new threat, because it's not a concrete villain you can fight, it's not even something bad.

Another important scene, and one that clarifies some of the concepts in the Male/Female Kaballah issues is Sunny and Uvula having sex. This ties into the image of the whore of babalon having sex with the beast, the same as Pan and Selene. So, she is both destruction and creation. This ties in with the idea of the big bang and the big crunch being one thing that just echoes through time. She simultaneously the end of the world and the beginning of a new one. It's an absolutely phenomenal spread too, with all the heads justting out around her.

I really liked the way that each character got a nice closure for themselves. At the end, Trish finally finds Juan again, and she's happy again. I mentioned it before, but the scene where we first meet Juan back in 'Fatherland' was one of the best in the whole series. He is the void in Trish, thinking that her one true love abandoned her, her life sort of fell apart. So, when he returns, and she finds out he's been there the whole time, still in love with her, she moves from recovery to happiness.

The two page spread at the end of 32 is awe inspiring, and does a good job of conveying the basic ideas that Alan talks about extensively in the next issue. The basic thesis of the series is that because all time is one, every moment, everything is connected. Even though Promethea may be fictional, she's still a part of the world, and as an idea, she's just as important, if not more than those things in material reality. Even though Promethea isn't real, she's talking to you, the reader, and in reading the book you're spending time in the world.

You could argue that we are in fact talking to Alan Moore, through the work of JH Williams, but part of the beauty of the comic book is the unique collaboration of it. In books, we hear things in the author's words exactly, in films, we hear things through the voices of actors, but in comics we see the characters, and they speak the writer's words, but there's not as strict an interpretation. We bring more to it. One of the beauties of the medium, an aspect that plays into what Moore is talking about, is the removal of the time element. Film is linear, even if there's flashbacks, it's not up to you when they happen, but in comics, you control the speed, and you can easily time travel to stuff that happened before just by flipping the page. That's the brilliance of using comics as a medium for discussing the nature of time, because examining the book itself will let you understand it. Even if someone dies at the end of the book, the moments that they lived are still there and equally valid. It all exists simultaneously within the cover, and we move through in a linear way. Comics exist outside of time, but in moving into the universe, we become subject to the rules of 3D time.

I'd imagine that if we were to time travel, it would feel like flipping through a comic book and seeing all these moments existing right next to each other. When you're outside the book, the simultaneity is apparent, but when you're in it, you don't know what happens next, it's like living life in our world, where even though on some level it's happened already, we're blissfully unaware of the future.

And, this all brings us to issue 31. While it's been touched on before, this is the most explicit acknowledgement of the reader in the book. Promethea talks to you, and you talk to Promethea. I love the idea of Promethea sitting by the fire, telling you this story about the universe. It ties in to cave people sitting telling stories around the fire, and Promethea ties in with Prometheus, the fire bringer. But, Promethea doesn't bring fire, she brings light.

There's a speech from promethea after the double spreads in which she talks about how she has ended the world, by opening 'your' eyes to the nature of time and the universe. While on the one hand, Promethea is talking to everyone in her world, she's also talking to the reader, and this is one sequence that I can appreciate but didn't hit me in perhaps the way it could have, because all of her revelations are very similar to those in The Invisibles. After The Invisibles, I really did feel like my world had ended and I had made a huge jump forward in understanding the universe. The book was a spell to change people, and it changed me. Promethea would have probably done the same, except The Invisibles got there first, so my world had already ended, and this was just a further exploration of it. Still, it's really powerful, and her final worlds, 'Stay Awake' say a lot. This Promethea is dead now, and a new world has begun.

This last chunk of issue 31 is probably my favorite part of the series because it presents Alan Moore's view of something I'd always wondered about. The Invisibles, not to mention a ton of other works, talk about this huge jump in consciousness that's going to occur in 2012, but they basically stop at 2012, and we don't get to see what the new world would be like. How would the world change if everyone was enlightened? That's what the end of this issue tells us.

First, I love the art style here, it looks very Frank Quitely, and that's one of the best compliments comic book art can get from me. Williams is a god of comic book art, and I am just in awe of the different visual styles he brings to the comic. He pulls off the ultra-real stuff earlier in the issue, then this more stylized stuff at the end. The pages where he has all the different superheroes and draws them all in their trademark style are amazing, it literally looks like five different artists drawing the page in their own unique style. Williams is the sort of person who can seemingly do anything, and I'm really excited to see where he goes from here.

The basic gist of the 'post-apocalyptic' world is that everyone's much nicer to each other, and there's a much greater tolerance for exploration of ideas, an integration of magickal ideas into everyday life. I liked te fact that there's still problems, and crime and poverty, but people approach things in a different way. It's not a utopia, but it's a much more open, more loving world. Hansard has chosen to go blind rather than wearing the artificial eyes. This is probably because he recognized that those artificial eyes limited his perception of the world, and, while he may not be able to see the material world, there's a lot more to see than just that.

Stacia gets a happy ending too, as she becomes part of a threeway relationship with herself, Lucille Ball and Grace. The thing is, people just seem to much more tolerant of this thing in the new world, and there's an emphasis on exploring new ideas, and synthesizing things together that don't necessarily fit. The main thing seems to be that rather than just going around like ants, as they say in Waking Life, people are open adn thing about things. Ideas aren't something to be ashamed of, there's no pressure to conform to acceptable societal ideas. That's what everyone being enlightened is all about, the freedom to explore new ideas and destroy the boundaries we place on ourselves.

Using the Texture news service, Moore gives closure to a lot of the B characters from the series. Clearly, he had a lot of sub-arcs in mind and they all get really nice wrap ups. I love the image of The Painted Doll driving around with The Four Swell Guys, though I've got to say that it looks like Kenneth and Roger have become King Mob and Ragged Robin. Trish also gets a really nice closure.

One of the coolest things for me was realizing who the twins that Carl is with are. It took a minute, but then it hit me and I saw Barbara and Stephen Shelley. He doesn't have to say anything, you just know, and it's amazing. Barbara and Stephen have reunited with Sophie now, and she's also got Carl now. I really liked Carl from back in issue 26 and 27 and seeing him return is great. Sophie gets a happy ending after all, and everything looks good for the future.

I think that whole second half of 31 is perfect, and feels a lot like those final moments of The Invisibles. It's like, the reason we fight, the reason we try to make humanity better is so we can be happy, and ultimately that happiness comes from other people, and just being together. In the new world, everyone is less alone, and that's what Promethea is about. Through the spreading of ideas, she unites people. The entire Kaballah journey was about finding the commonality, the one space that all humans are, the Godhead. We're all one, and that's what's reaffirmed by the end of the series. Positively dazzling, I love the new world, and I hope that one day we're living there. Like the fictional character Promethea, this book, Promethea, is helping move us into that world, and I'd place it alongside The Invisibles as a work that is brilliant becuase it makes you think in new, different ways, and gives you a greater appreciation for the world around you. I've been so happy since I finished this book, and that's the power of great fiction, of a great idea, a great discussion.

The last issue is basically a summation of everything that's come before, but it has a brilliant device that makes it completely unique among comics. The entire point of the series is that we're all one, there's no time, no linearity, you have to move beyond that. So, with the last issue, you first read it in linear order, then you literally break it apart, and assemble it into something bigger. You move from looking at the comic in linear time, to observing the whole at once. It moves you from the third dimension to the fourth dimension. The content of the issue itself isn't as mind blowing, but it does a great job of clarifying some questions I had from earlier.

So, Promethea is finished, but it's also just begun. I don't know how the ideas I absorbed reading it will affect me, but judging from The Invisibles, it's not something I'll soon forget. The greatest works of art rewrite the reality of the reader/viewer, and in this case, that is completely true. And, that is the reality of Promethea. She may be a fictional character, but she's rewriting reality. This is the kind of book that makes me want to tell stories for a living, to create a world, and a character that transcends fiction is magic, and amidst everything, that's the point that stands out most to me from this book. So thank you Alan Moore. Thank you JH Williams. And, thank you Promethea.

Related Posts
Promethea: 1-16 (2/22/2005)
Promethea: 17-19 (2/24/2005)
Promethea: 20-23 (2/25/2005)