Promethea by Alan Moore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Confession time: I'm not a huge fan of superheroes. Yes, I grew up reading comics and even collected some titles (Metal Men, Defenders, Thor, Star Wars, ROM, Silver Surfer, Doctor Strange, Conan ), but when I discovered Dungeons & Dragons at age 10, I sort of went sour on the whole superhero thing. Not completely. but mostly. I even tried to get back into things by playing some superhero RPGs with friends, but it just wasn't my thing any more. That's not to say I completely abhor them - I like the Marvel movies just fine. DC, not so much. I never was much of a DC fan. I did pick up Grimjack (possibly the best comic of all time, at least for me) in the '90s, and still have those, as well as Albedo Anthropomorphics.
But notice something about my comic book taste: It's mostly scifi and fantasy (or an admixture of the two). I'm just not that big on straight-up superheroes. Call me jaded.
But I am big on magic. Interpret that however you like. I like magic. I believe in magic, though I might call it any number of things besides "magic".
And here, with Promethea, we have something that tries to tow the line between the two. If I had to pick a comic precursor, Doctor Strange is the obvious choice. But Promethea is smarter than the good doctor and far more "hip". I'm not talking about the characters themselves, I mean the comic as an idea and an act of art and writing. I'm sure Stan Lee was a smart guy, but could he even compare to Alan Moore in terms of sheer genius. Nope. 'nuff said.
And while I do love Jack Kirby's artwork and am very fond of John Buscema's Conan (et al.), J.H. Williams III has some serious drawing and, even more so, design chops. The layout itself, in all its variation, is stunning, framing the story perfectly almost the entire way through, threading together what can be a meandering narrative, holding it all together with pictures and a flow that is . . . magical.
I really like the main character, Sophie, as she grows in knowledge both about who she is and about who Promethea is (and was). There is a lot here to learn, and seeing her go through her "Chapel Perilous" endears her to the reader.
My only problem here is that there is so much for her to learn that reading about it can be tedious. This is a magic for beginners book. If you have any knowledge of esoterica, the tarot, chakras, the hermetic tradition, etc., you'll find a lot of lessons here you already know. It can feel a little pedantic, at times.
However, I have to concede: Moore's intent here was to teach. At least that's how it seems. At first, I was disappointed. But then, I thought, this book wasn't just written for me. It was written for a lot of people. So, if you don't have a whole lot of knowledge about the subjects I've mentioned, this will be a great education for you. And if you happen to like superheroes, I suppose this thing might be your bag, too. I can see this series going much deeper from here, or I can see it getting more shallow (and more stock-superhero-story-ish), possibly. But I don't think Moore will go there. We'll see. So far, so good.
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