Great Graphic Novels: Promethea, by Alan Moore

GreatgraphicnovelsLast month I asked my friends to write about books they loved (you can read all the essays here). This month, I invited them to write about their favorite graphic novels, and they selected some excellent titles. I hope you enjoy them! (Read all the Great Graphic Novel essays here.) — Mark

Promethea, by Alan Moore (and others)

Alan Moore is a literary titan whose medium happens to be comic books: deal with it. The fact is, Moore is positively Joycean in the way he packs layers of meaning into words and, unlike Joyce—or Pynchon, or Wallace—he has the whole playground of image to play with as well.

The substantial success Moore attained with his scripts for Watchmen, From Hell, V for Vendetta, and other titles—and the substantial disappointments he suffered as those graphic masterpieces were translated to the screen—both allowed him and drove him to focus on more insular, idiosyncratic work… one can almost hear him muttering, ‘make a movie of this you effing bastards,’ as he completed his pornographic masterwork Lost Girls, or the swirl of Cabala, sex magick, metaphysics, and superhero mythology comprising the work I extol here, Promethea.

Available in five volumes that collect the original comics, the spine of Promethea is conventional for the costumed vigilante genre: a young lady, Sophia Bangs (payattention to those names, reader) finds herself blessed/cursed with the ability to transform herself into the curvaceous superheroine Promethea, who is able to fly, shoot beams of force from her caduceus, and so forth. In coming to terms with her new powers, she meets and beats assorted villains, and ushers in the end of the world.

Wait; what was that last part? End of the world? It’s hardly a spoiler to tell you so—from early on in Book One it’s clear that Promethea’s world faces the end of history.

But not by nuclear annihilation, as in Watchmen, but by Armageddon, Kali Yuga, Ragnarök, or some other name drawn from the end time theologies so often found in human spiritual systems. In her quest to understand her role as Destroyer, Sophie/Promethea thoroughly explores the Western esoteric tradition.

In his personal life, Moore is an accomplished ceremonial magickian and here, like Philip Pullman in His Dark Materials, he uses an exciting, bawdy, page-turning tale to sugarcoat serious philosophical instruction. The attentive reader will come away from Promethea with a useful grounding in tarot, cabala and the tree of life, Crowleyan ritual, and will even get an intriguing and accurate glimpse of Goetic demonology.

More importantly, by reading this book and letting its glorious graphics seduce you, you will imbibe a certain mindset and realize at gut level that what we are pleased to call reality is merely an insubstantial scrim imperfectly concealing the actual nature of existence. And as Sophie—and her entire world—are forced to acknowledge, confronting an unveiled all-that-is is both terrifying… and thrilling.