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Promethea is a comic book series created by Alan Moore, J. H. Williams III and Mick Gray, published by America's Best Comics/WildStorm. It tells the story of Sophie Bangs, a college student from an alternate futuristic New York City in 1999, who embodies the powerful entity known as Promethea whose task it is to bring the Apocalypse. Originally published as 32 issues from 1999 to 2005, the series has now been re-published into five graphic novels and one hard-back issue. Moore weaves in elements of magic and mysticism along with superhero mythology and action, spirituality and the afterlife (in particular the Tree of Life) and science-fiction. Promethea is also notable for wide-ranging experimentation with visual styles and art.

Plot summary

One night, whilst hoping to interview a woman called Barbara Shelley for her Promethea college paper, Sophie is tracked and attacked by a creature known as the Smee. Sophie is rescued by Barbara who informs her the only reason she would be attacked if someone suspected her of becoming the next vessel for Promethea (Barbara is the current). As they hide from the pursuing Smee, the weakened and fatally injured Barbara instructs Sophie to write a poem about Promethea hoping Sophie is indeed the successor. The poem is a way to get Sophie in the correct state of mind to allow herself to become Promethea. Barbara's idea works and from that night Sophie, having defeated the Smee, officially becomes the next Promethea.

The story continues with Sophie/Promethea learning about Promethea and the previous individuals who themselves have in the past become the vessel for Promethea. In the days that follows the hospital where Barbara is in is attack by demons, an act that leads to Barbara's death. This motivates Sophie to learn more about magic, mysticism and the Tree of Life and its spheres in order to find Barbara and help her seeks Steve Shelly, Barbara's dead husband. Throughout their climb up the spheres of Tree of Life Sophie/Promethea and Barbara encounter difficulties such as imprisonment by the demon Asmodeus, as well as meeting figures such as Sophie's farther Juan (who died when she was little), Barbara's guardian angel Boo Boo and Promethea's father who she has not seen since his murder in 411 A.D. Eventually Barbara and Steve find each other and are re-incarnated as twins (who Sophie ends up looking after at the end of the book). Having taken a whole summer way, Sophie is unaware the FBI have been tracking Promethea, and want to take her into custody for the events Promethea has caused throughout the years. Moments before the FBI arrive Sophie's mother instructs her to run away (just as Promethea's father had centuries ago).

Three years pass and Sophie, having abandoned her duties as Promethea, hides in Millennium City under the alias Joey Estrada with new boyfriend Carl. However, after being found by the FBI and Tom Strong, Sophie reluctantly becomes Promethea and in turn carries out one final task; bringing about the end of the world.

References

Issues dealt with in this series include the occult, the tarot and Hermetic Qabalah. The comic is laden with mythological mystical symbolism, drawing in many religious and cultural references. Real people who appear in Promethea include Aleister Crowley, John Dee, Austin Osman Spare, and John Kendrick Bangs (who in the comic is distantly related to Sophie Bangs).

Promethea's End of the World sequence displays the influence on Moore of Shea and Wilson's ILLUMINATUS! Trilogy by repeating the She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain lyrics used in Vol. III of the Trilogy, when the Illuminati were bringing the world to an end and 'Eris' was becoming Transcendentally Illuminated.

References and allusions

The series has been both criticized for acting as a mouthpiece for Moore's religious beliefs and praised for the beauty of its artwork and innovation regarding the medium itself. Regarding the first claim, the series is, by Moore's own admission, didactic: "there are 1000 comic books on the shelves that don't contain a philosophy lecture and one that does. Isn't there room for that one?" While the Kabbalah story arc, and the positive explanations of Moore's philosophy, very explicitly explain, talking-head style, the symbolism behind the details of every plane of existence, Promethea also contains critiques of materialism which are much more subtle. The material world is, generally, portrayed as having become immersed in commercialism, materialism, fetishism of science, and trendy postmodernist-chic. Moore uses a recurring series of billboards, fictional celebrity references, and other advertisements and/or news similar to his seminal 1980s miniseries, Watchmen.

As suggested by the title Promethea, which implies the feminine version or inversion of the mythological Prometheus, the title also participates in the sub-genre of feminism in superhero comics. In making his lead character an aspiring poet whose words conjure the malleable form of a literary goddess—as well as the non-linear narratives and references to literary theory and alternative philosophies—Moore's thematics are closely aligned with the countercultural theory and politics of Écriture féminine.

Experimental media

Moore's characteristic deconstruction of the comics medium, combined with the visual experimentation of J.H. Williams III, give the book a visual style that is unique in the medium and have won it several awards. Williams' layouts are generally symbolic, featuring ornate designs that accentuate either the emotional experiences of the characters or the themes of the passage at hand. Many Promethea covers consisted of pastiches of famous images or styles, such as the cover to Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. José Villarrubia also contributed sequences partially illustrated with photographs. Furthermore, Promethea often experiments with the fundamental element of comics storytelling—the panel. Sideways issues, Möbius strip layouts, completely panelless issues, backwards or circular flow and other experiments occur on a regular basis. The final issue, "Universe" (#32), is a complex document which can be read in a number of different sequences, including a double-sided poster when the pages are detached and placed together, and summarizes Moore's view on magic and fiction.

Main characters

Promethea

Promethea was a young girl whose father was killed by a Christian mob in Alexandriamarker in AD 411. After escaping the mob, alone in the desert she is taken in hand by the God, Thoth-Hermes, who tells her that if she goes with him/them into the Immateria, a plane of existence home to the imagination, she will no longer be just a little girl but a story living eternally. "Promethea" thereafter manifests through a series of individuals or vessels who through the power or imagination have channeled her energy.

Since the incident with the little girl in Alexandria, there have been eight known Promethea vessels. Six are characters in the story, the other two are told as two individuals, one Christian and one Muslim, who lived during the Crusades and fought each other. As there should only ever be one active Promethea at any one moment in history, the fight caused Promethea great pain, something that was repeated when Stacia/Grace fought Sophie/Promethea. It could be argued that there is a ninth Promethea vessel; Stacia Vanderveer. However, Stacia was only a vessel for Grace Brannagh, a dead woman who once herself was Promethea and not the original little girl.

Sophie Bangs/Joey Estrada

The protagonist of the series, Sophie becomes Promethea after tracing the character's history in literature for a college paper. Her personality as Sophie is initially somewhat timid, however, by the end of the book she becomes a adept magician and confident young woman. She is the most powerful Promethea to date, and the only one not to have been killed during her time as Promethea. She changes her name to Joey after running away to Millennium city to escape the FBI and her duties as Promethea.

Barbara Shelley/Boo-Boo Ramirez

The wife of comic book writer Steven Shelley, Barbara became Promethea when her husband began projecting Barbara's characteristics onto the Promethea character in his comics. After Steven's death, Barbara maintained the mantle of Promethea, but had difficulty keeping her image alive, as it was fueled by Steven's imagination rather than her own. During her passage in the afterlife, Barbara meets her guardian angel Boo-Boo (Barbara's old nickname) who is in fact the younger, beautiful and independent young woman she used to be. By the time she finds her husband, she and Boo-Boo become one person.

Stacia Vanderveer

Sophie's best friend, Stacia is an extremely cynical, sarcastic, and at first homophobic college student. During an attack at the hospital she was visiting Sophie in, Sophie uses Stacia as a vessel to merged her body with Grace Brannagh to help the fight. While Sophie journeyed to find Barbara in the afterlife, Stacia/Grace were re-instated to temporarily serve as acting Promethea, leading Stacia and Grace to fall in love. After Sophie's return, Stacia and Grace refused to relinquish the Promethea title, but were forced to by a court hearing in the Immateria. After the Apocalypse, Stacia and former FBI Agent Ball become lovers, while Stacia still has sexual liaisons with Grace in the Immateria.

Grace Brannagh

An illustrator who created a series of covers for pulp magazine fantasy stories about Promethea, which were written by several writers under the pseudonym "Marto Neptura". Brannagh was the most proficient fighter of all the Prometheas. She held the Promethea mantle from 1920–1939. In a text article in Promethea #1, Brannagh's style is compared to that of Weird Tales illustrator Margaret Brundage.

Jack Faust

Jack Faust is a magician who first approaches Sophie in order to confuse her during her first days as Promethea. Jack is first seen as a handsome young man, however, this was a glamour. He is actually older, balding and over weight. Jack promises to teach Sophie magic if she (in her Promethea form) agrees to have sex with him. At first Sophie declines, but later agrees knowing this knowledge will help her travel in the afterlife and help Barbara. Jack is also the one who informed Dennis Drucker that the Bill Woolcott Promethea was male, an act with lead to Bill's death and Dennis' mental illness.

Recurring characters

William 'Bill' Woolcott

The only man to assume the role of Promethea, Bill Woolcott was a gay comic artist who became Promethea by drawing her. He was the longest-lasting Promethea, from 1939–1969, and acted as a "science-hero" in the ABC universe with Tom Strong during that period. Bill/Promethea most resembles a 1960s version of Wonder Woman. Bill was shot in the head by Promethea's lover, FBI Agent Dennis Drucker, who reacted violently when he discovered that his lover was (in a manner of speaking) transgendered. Drucker spent several decades in an insane asylum tortured by guilt for having killed Promethea, while Bill/Promethea spent similar time in the Immateria blaming herself for not having told him the truth. The two are reunited during the Apocalypse.

Anna

The poet Charlton Sennet, in the 1770s, projected Promethea's likeness onto his housemaid Anna, transforming her into his dream lover. This Promethea bore him a child, but the baby evaporated on birth, since in a sense it was only "half-real," an amalgamation of the physical nature of Charlton Sennet and the metaphysical nature of Promethea. Anna died in childbirth, leaving Charlton alone (his wife deserted him after finding him in bed with Anna/Promethea).

Margaret Taylor Case

The writer of a William Randolph Hearst-syndicated comic strip titled Little Margie in Misty Magic Land, Case wrote Promethea into her comic book as a helpful spirit to the titular young adventurer, and ended up personifying Promethea to help soldiers on the battlefield from 1900–1920, in a manner similar to the legendary Angels of Mons. Little Margie also dwells in the Immateria alongside Case and the other past Prometheas, where she is regarded as little more than a pest who interrupts "serious" conversation with her childlike observations, styled after the remarks of the character Nemo in the early 20th-century newspaper strip Little Nemo in Slumberland. Margaret committed suicided during her role at Promethea.

Five Swell Guys

The Five Swell Guys are a team of "science-heroes," and the only such team in New York City. There is similarity between them and The Fantastic Four, with their floating platform and their specialised members. The team meet Sophie Bangs in the first issue, and then meet Promethea in the third issue, after one is badly hurt.

Weeping Gorilla Comix

The Weeping Gorilla from Promethea #1
Probably the most exemplary of Moore's concept of modern disillusionment is "Weeping Gorilla Comix", a neverending series of one-panel comics featuring a weeping gorilla, with a thought bubble pronouncing some thoughtful phrase, usually cynical and self-pitying in nature: "Why do good things happen to bad people?", "Who remaindered the book of Love?", "She gets the kids and the house. I get the car.", etc. It is also a reference to the anomalous tendency for comics to get increased sales from a picture of a gorilla, a weeping character, or the color purple on the cover. Occasionally Moore shows snippets of the gorilla's foil, the Chucklin' Duck, who is happy-go-lucky and naively optimistic, with smug saying such as "Heh heh! I got out of internet trading just in time!". Both the Weeping Gorilla and Chucklin' Duck motif were used in the Greyshirt: Indigo Sunset series by Rick Veitch, and a Weeping Gorilla Comix panel makes a cameo appearance in the story "King Solomon Pines" in Tom Strong's Terrific Tales #5 (scripted by Leah Moore and illustrated by Sergio Aragones). The Tesla Strong miniseries included, amongst various versions of Solomon, one who resembled the Weeping Gorilla.

Cover references

Promethea features countless visual references as well as textual ones. For the majority of the series, each issue's cover features an imitation of a particular artist or style. These imitations were often explicitly credited by Williams next to his signature.
  1. "The Radiant Heavenly City" - no specific reference (this issue also featured a variant cover painted by Alex Ross)
  2. "The Judgement of Solomon" - film noir posters from the mid-20th century
  3. "Misty Magic Land" - intimates Winsor McCay's Little Nemo in Slumberland
  4. "A Faerie Romance" - credited to William Morris
  5. "No Man's Land" - credited to World War I poster artist J. C. Leyendecker
  6. "A Warrior Princess" - credited to The Magic Carpet magazine artist Margaret Brundage
  7. "Rocks and Hard Places" - romance comics from the mid-20th century
  8. "Guys and Dolls" - credited to Monty Python animator Terry Gilliam
  9. "Bringing Down the Temple" - stained glass window
  10. "Sex, Stars and Serpents" - cover to The Beatles' album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, by Peter Blake
  11. "Pseunami" - posters for 1950s sci-fi horror B-movies
  12. "Metaphore" - credited to 1960s psychedelic rock concert poster artist Bonnie MacLean
  13. "The Fields We Know" - credited to Maxfield Parrish
  14. "Moon River" - credited to Virgil Finlay
  15. "Mercury Rising" - credited to M. C. Escher
  16. "Love and the Law" - credited to Peter Max
  17. "Gold" - credited to Salvador Dalí
  18. "Life on Mars" - credited to Frank Frazetta
  19. "Fatherland" - credited to Vincent van Gogh, specifically The Starry Night
  20. "The Stars are But Thistles" - credited to Richard Upton Pickman, a fictional painter created by H. P. Lovecraft
  21. "The Wine of Her Fornications"
  22. "Et in Arcadia Ego..."
  23. "The Serpent and the Dove" - credited to Alfons Mucha
  24. "Cross, Moon, Star, Shapes in the Sand (Everything Goes Wrong)"
  25. "A Higher Court" - credited to Winsor McCay
  26. "Later..."
  27. "When It Blows Its Stacks" - credited to Ross Andru, specifically the 1976 comic Superman vs. the Amazing Spider-Man
  28. "Don't They Know It's the End of the World? (It Ended When You Said Goodbye)" - collage art
  29. "Valley of the Dolls" - credited to Andy Warhol
  30. "Everything Must Go!" / "Sun"
  31. "The Radiant Heavenly City" - according to Williams, "an imitation of the tarot card 'The Judgement/The Aeon'" [21962]
  32. "Wrap Party" / "Universe" - credited "after the end"


Collections

The trade paperback for Promethea were first released in hardcover, a then-rare occurrence for collections of regularly issued comic books.
  • Promethea Book 1, issues 1-6
    • hardcover: ISBN 1-56389-655-9
    • paperback: ISBN 1-56389-667-2
  • Promethea Book 2, issues 7-12
    • hardcover: ISBN 1-56389-784-9
    • paperback: ISBN 1-56389-957-4
  • Promethea Book 3, issues 13-18
    • hardcover: ISBN 1-84023-550-0
    • paperback: ISBN 1-4012-0094-X
  • Promethea Book 4, issues 19-25
    • hardcover: ISBN 1-4012-0032-X
    • paperback: ISBN 1-4012-0031-1
  • Promethea Book 5, issues 26-32
    • hardcover: ISBN 1-4012-0619-0
    • paperback: ISBN 1-4012-0620-4
In October 2009, An Absolute Edition was released.
  • Absolute Promethea Book 1, issues 1-12
    • hardcover: ISBN 978-1-4012-2372-4


Notes

References



External links




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