Absolute Promethea 2: A Review

by Sarah J.

The last time I wrote about Promethea here I’d just gotten my hands on the first Absolute volume, and it had blown my mind.

“It’s less a narrative than a trip, fables layered on top of stories and characters’ identities shifting into dreams. If Watchmen is Moore’s Ulysses, then Promethea is Finnegans Wake and it demands the same experience–stop trying to make it make sense and just let it wash over you and enjoy the ride.”

The second volume arrived last week, and I’m just as thrilled with it. I drowned myself in it yesterday, spending hours with its glossy, gorgeous pages, and at the end of it found myself just as inspired as the last time.

Part two is part adventure narrative/vision quest, but mostly an explanation of a mythology–if it falters at all it’s the transition between expository characters whose voice-over is a little too clearly the voice of Moore explaining just what’s going on here. He’s pulled together a myth-world that’s based in systems that already exist–the Kabbalah, various pantheons of gods and goddesses–and sent his characters off on it, including a foul-mouthed teenage guardian angel and a green-haired college student turned superheroine (or, tellingly, Moore calls them “science heroines”).

Promethea is, aside from an explanation of a magical worldview, also an argument for the seriousness of comics. J.H. Williams’ art doesn’t so much toy with panel structure as explode it entirely, and as the journey goes on he shifts art styles so entirely, mimicking classics and classic comics so perfectly that the James Joyce analogy seems appropriate again–just as Ulysses went tripping through the entire history of literature, Promethea skips through the history of visual art and by doing so places itself squarely in the tradition, daring you to argue.

Moore’s expert at using the medium to play with space and time, and he understands the difference between comics and any other visual or narrative art better than anyone working in it. And there is a narrative here, though you’d be excused for just gaping at the visuals, a narrative and characters worth knowing and loving and following, and more than the first one this volume left me breathless for what comes next.

“I guess that telling stories with pictures is the first kind of written language,” one of the Prometheas notes, and it’s true. As Harvey Pekar said, comics are words and pictures and you can do anything with words and pictures, from Pekar’s working-class warts-and-all lifestyle to the lushly gorgeous dream-world of gods and goddesses and the blurred boundaries between mortal and divine that Moore and Williams set out here.

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