Promethea, Vol. III
by Alan Moore, J.H. Williams
(America's Best, 2002)

If there's one thing Alan Moore believes in -- perhaps even lives for -- it's that comics are a perfect medium in which to explore ideas concerning the nature of the world we live in and how we relate to it.

It's important to keep Moore's philosophy in mind as you read this rather pedantic but nonetheless engaging arc in his Promethea series. The story, shoe-horned in around the very edges of this idea-soaked segment of what is rapidly becoming a long epic cycle about a heroine gaining godlike powers and a short treatise on the nature of the mysterious realm known as the Immateria, is actually the weakest part of Moore's dissertation about humanity's relationship to ancient mysticism and modern-day magic. Although Moore's real-world heroes are battling the nemesis of the Painted Clown and dealing with a Science Heroes band that's fallen on hard times, it's the odyssey through the Immateria that takes center stage in this section of America's Best Comics frontrunner.

Moore's words depict a world more strange and wonderful than our own; yet, because it is, more or less, our own world, there is an eerie familiarity to the work. It's a tough read, one that may leave you feeling that your brains have been banged repeatedly against the wall, but if you're into that kind of Kaballah stuff in the first place, you'll find it an informative joyride through metaphysics that might leave tears of gratitude in your eyes. Moore really earned his Eisners with this one.

Modern-day Promethea and college art student Sophie Bangs continues her quest through the Immateria and the afterlife, in search of the previous and now-deceased Promethea, Barbara. She finds Barbara early in her journey, but Barbara won't leave the Immateria until she makes contact with the husband she emotionally abandoned in the world of the living. Racked with guilt over having literally left him to die alone while she did battle with an enemy, Sophie's predecessor wants desperately to make peace with Stephen, the only man she ever loved and the one who helped Barbara don the mantle of Promethea by illustrating stories about her in his comic strips. Sophie agrees to walk the path through the after life with Barbara in search of Stephen, and so begins what has to be one of the most intellectually challenging stories Moore has offered since From Hell and The Watchmen.

Brimming with mysticism, feminist philosophy and ancient folklore, and seasoned with healthy dollops of unstinting reality, this story tackles the world of magic with both reverence and an insider's view of the human soul. It's not a groupie's pseudo-science fiction fervor, but a genuine backstage pass to the intricate nature of signs and symbols, death and life. The story, which at this particular juncture is admittedly less concerned with the progress of the Science Heroes and the Painted Doll (who is still at large), is pushed to the literal margins of the story in order to give room for Moore's tour through the multiverse. It's too bad: it's one of the more intriguing parts of the Promethea epic, and deserves more space than it receives. But Moore's exposition, destined to becomes a comic-book classic, can be forgiven for taking up more of the spotlight during this arc. If you can get past Moore's lengthy but highly intelligent and very absorbing exposition, you'll be rewarded: the real world and all it problems come crashing back in the next part of the ongoing story.

Moore's highly descriptive world is beautifully captured in J.H. Williams' absolutely stunning artwork. It's a perfect companion to Moore's challenging subject. He has a feel for dreamy landscapes and small, well-places visual aids that ease the reader past Moore's trickier spots. Definitely one of the best comics around.

- Rambles
written by Mary Harvey
published 20 September 2003

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