Magic and Loss

Promethea Volume 1, written by Alan Moore, illustrated by J.H. Williams III and Mick Gray (1999): Alan Moore’s loopy, gorgeously illustrated meditation on the nature of stories and myth, told through the vehicle of a comic-book character whose roots extend back to the 5th century AD, when she was a real girl fleeing the early Christians who killed her magician father in Egypt.

Taken bodily by the amalgam god(s) Thoth-Hermes into the Immateria, the vast realm of human thought, dreams and stories, Promethea would show up in various forms over the centuries. Now, because of the interest of a young college essay writer, Promethea has a new avatar — and apparently a mandate to end the world.

Moore has his mojo working here. Promethea has, at various points, been a (rough) analogue for such real-world creations as La Belle Dame Sans Merci, Wonder Woman, and Little Nemo in Slumberland. The protean nature of her/its appearances is part of the point, as Moore plays with the concept of archetypes, which may have different attributes to different people formed around a solid ‘core’ of universality. And of gods, which also change shape or bond together over time (Thoth-Hermes being the first example in this particular book).

The closest thing to this series is Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, and I’d imagine if you liked one, you’d like the other. The art of J.H. Williams III and Mick Gray is astonishingly beautiful — Williams really is one of the three or four best fantasy cartoonists to show up on the scene in the last 15 years, and he’s equal to the often herculean drawing tasks Moore has created for him.

There are action sequences and deft characterization and wild and wooly fantasy creatures (including an oddly disturbing owl-headed demon), but the major attraction here is Moore’s interest in the nature of stories themselves, how they grow into myths and legends and religions; how myths and legends and religions fall back into story over time; how everything thought-related works itself out with the spectre of armageddon hanging over both the Immateria and the Material World alike. Highest recommendation.

The Light-Darkness War, written by Tom Veitch, illustrated by Cam Kennedy (1987-88): Solid, offbeat science-fantasy adventure from Marvel’s long defunct Epic Comics line, which offered at least marginally more adult, creator-owned fare during the 1980’s and early 90’s.

Veitch spins a tale of Viet Nam veterans dropped into another war in a galaxy far away, where the forces of darkness seek to overwhelm the forces of light. Or is this galaxy in our universe at all? Because the soldiers are, for the most part, already dead. So are Nicola Tesla and Leonardo da Vinci, who do weapons design for the forces of light. Cam Kennedy’s painted art is solid and effective without being flashy. Recommended.

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