Monday, 3 July 2017


Alan Moore, J.H. Williams III & Mick Gray etc. Promethea (2005)
There's a book called The Last War in Albion which I vaguely recall having seen pushed as an account of the magical war waged between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison for the soul of England - or something of that general thrust. I haven't bought the book, because I've read a few of the blog posts reproduced therein and have found myself irritated at the presumption of a writer - much younger than myself, fannish, and very obviously American - telling us what it was like growing up in Britishland and getting most of it wrong; nevertheless, although it causes me great pain to admit as much, it does sort of look like there may be something in the idea of Moore and Morrison having spent the last couple of decades taking potshots at each other. There were a couple of points in this one where it occurred to me that Promethea could be Moore's idea of The Unreadables done right, without all the rock star wank and recycled Moorcock; and as Andrew Hickey has pointed out, Morrison's Zatanna was his idea of Promethea done right - or something along those lines. Actually, I've just picked up the collected Multiversity and couldn't help but notice how one chapter - or issue, more accurately - looks a lot like Morrison stood in an upper floor window waving his tool at a passing Alan Moore through the medium of the Charlton comics superheroes which Moore recycled as Watchmen.

Where will it all end?

Did we learn nothing from that thing with 'Pac and Biggie?

On the other hand - momentarily leaving aside that none of it actually matters anyway - some of this may simply be my reading certain things into certain patterns, or things resembling patterns from a certain angle; which neatly and coincidentally brings us to Promethea, because that's mostly what Promethea is about. I never read it at the time so I've been catching up with the collected editions. I read the first two, with volumes three to five still to go, and so I've read the whole lot this time, start to finish, hoping that this concentration of my attention might allow me to make more sense of what is at times a fairly unorthodox narrative in comic book terms; and so as to avoid repeating myself here, churning out another three variations on a review I already wrote back in December.

As someone pointed out to me, Promethea goes on a bit, particularly the visionary journey along the various nodules of the tree of life, an interlude which goes on for something in the region of four million issues. Admittedly each of these issues has a page or two set back in the material world, someone telling a joke or punching a copper or something just to keep us grounded - or possibly interested - but the whole distended guitar solo at the half way point really is a slog, feeling a bit like Alan Moore has you by the shoulders and is shaking you, asking if you get it yet, and for a long, long, long, long time*. It reminded me of the story you always used to find in the Rupert Bear annual where Rupert travels to some improbable realm - fairyland, underground kingdom, floating metal city or whatever - and so we get several pages of the obligatory kindly wizard showing Rupert around, pointing at things and describing what they're for; except here, there's more of a page count and we keep bumping into Aleister bloody Crowley. Qué sorpresa.

Of course, in the context of the entire story, the magical interlude is arguably essential, carrying the main point of the enterprise; and in some respects it's nice how for once we get a version which takes its time to explain in full, and to explain what is meant clearly, at least allowing us to rule out the possibility of it simply being an author picking out which is the coolest t-shirt to be seen in down the sportsfield that evening; and it's a good explanation, well argued and readable with beautiful artwork.

On the other hand, just as I reached my limit for problem children with mutant powers back in about 1993, I'm now rapidly approaching saturation point for:

  •  Comic book characters who know they're comic book characters.
  • Authors turning up in their own comics.
  • Aleister Crowley.
  • Coincidences reliant upon numbers.
  • How quantum theory is a bit like what a traditional Shaman does.
  • Fiction is real.

Seriously, people - I love the Illuminatus! trilogy as much as the next man, providing the next man regards the Illuminatus! trilogy as quite good but a bit long; and I'm very happy for Huitzilopochtli to be real by all terms that make any sense; but a lot of this stuff was yellowing around the edges even by the time Porridge took to ripping it off and claiming it for his own work back in 1982. It's fun and it's diverting and I suppose it's probably of arguably greater moment than Spiderman in yet another sense-shattering punch up with the Juggerynut; but simply pointing out that pomegranates are mentioned in the Book of Kings, and that Pom is Australian slang for an English person, and that Australian aborigines believe in the Dreamtime, and that the Dreamtime is a bit like what Alice experienced in Wonderland, and that Lewis Carroll was a Pom - deep fuckin' breath - doesn't actually mean anything out here in the material realm, regardless of how many kiloblakes of poetry may be generated by the suggestion; and after a while it all starts to remind me of the wisdom of the Sphinx in Mystery Men.

When you doubt your powers, you give power to your doubts...

I get how fiction is as much entangled with the cause and effect of our reality as anything, but the relative value of that fiction is a different, possibly subjective matter; and whilst Promethea may blush, shuffle her feet and mumble well, I was just saying, in concession to the subjective nature of her experiences, it feels as though we're being told how it really is. This bothers me, it being the how it really is of a very specific perspective, and probably not one that ever had to hold down a job at fucking Burger King for fifteen long years. Similarly, the post-apocalyptic liberty at which the narrative eventually arrives is a very specific kind of utopia, namely the same old thing in which we all throw off our hang ups and shag the neighbours, and Albert Einstein and Timothy Leary were essentially the same kind of dude, y'know? It's more or less the same place to which all those pre-pubescent Gernsbackian supermen once aspired to lead us, just cooler and better read, with more pairs of those little round Lennon specs, and lesbians who don't get all freaked out and uptight when you ask if it's okay to watch. It all seems very familiar.

Promethea is a decent story, well told and well drawn, and with poetically philosophical truths coming out of its arsehole. I'm just not convinced it's inherently any more profound than the antics of Retarded Hitler in Johnny Ryan's Dry Gulch Follies 2005.

*: I think it may have been Blair Bidmead who made this observation.

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