Great Chain of Being

Promethea Book 3, written by Alan Moore, illustrated by J.H. Williams III and Mick Gray (2001-2002; collected 2003): Longtime comic-writing great Alan Moore (Watchmen, From Hell) now believes in Magic, and thinks you should too. The five collected volumes of Promethea lay out the structure and content of Moore’s belief system with what’s often very thin veneer of metafictional superheroics laid on top.

It’s didactic, sure, but the material is so interesting — and J.H. Williams’ art so lush and engaging — that the whole enterprise is terrifically entertaining regardless of how one feels about, well, Magic.

College student Sophie Bangs’ research into the recurring mythological/fictional/comic-book character Promethea, who’s been popping up in different incarnations in fiction and in the real world for centuries, caused her to become the current avatar of Promethea back in Volume 1. Now Bangs and Promethea seek to discover how magic works — and, more importantly, why Promethea is slated to bring about the end of the world.

So we get a magical mystery tour through the levels of magical reality stretching from ‘our’ world all the way up towards the godhead from which all existence flows. Along the way, the Kabbalah, the Tarot Deck, Aleister Crowley and various other occult sources and forces help to shape Promethea’s understanding of how things work, and how she works within this immanent, numinous cosmos.

It may sound a bit tedious and self important, but Moore and Williams keep things light at points and wring a certain amount of humour from the spectacle of human beings confronted by living symbols. There’s enough stuff going on in the writing and the art to reward multiple readings both hermeneutically and erotically. Highly recommended, but not for everybody.

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