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Promethea: Between Two Worlds

Promethea: Between Two Worlds

By Matt Ross Wednesday, January 24th, 2018

This week's JLA #23 features a surprise appearance by a character with a rich, complex history in the realm of comics—Promethea. To prepare for it, one writer finally opens up her Eisner-winning series from Alan Moore and J.H. Williams III.

As fans of the comic book medium, we’re really lucky to have (and have had) so many great writers and artists over the years—men and women who have created, built and shaped the characters and stories we love and are inspired by.

In 1999, I was 14 years old and didn’t know a thing about comics. Well, I was always interested in them and knew the “big” name characters, watched the cartoons and picked up quarter bin books for the art and heroes that I thought were really cool looking. But I didn’t have an in-depth knowledge of their origins, story arcs or the creators who gave all these characters life. That would come years later through the natural progression of reading.

This is important to know, because in 1999, Alan Moore and J.H. Williams III debuted their mind-bending story PROMETHEA to the comic book world and there would have been no way I could have appreciated it back then. Over the years, I would see it on the shelves of comic shops and say, “I’m going to read that one day,” but I was always in the middle of other books and hadn’t gotten around to it quite yet.

“One day” finally came for me at the age of 32…and it was perfect timing because I was more prepared to take in everything the book has to offer.

At the risk of sounding like a dork, Promethea isn’t just a great read; it’s an experience—legitimately. As the reader, Moore takes you on an adventure through space and time, challenging you to look and think differently about language, religion, magic, perception vs. reality, imagination, dreams, life, the universe and existence as a whole and how we all fit into it. It floats between the science-dominated city of an alternate present-day New York and the worlds outside of what we perceive to be “reality.”

The story revolves around Sophie Banks—an open-minded and likable college student—and her journey of self-discovery after becoming the God-like Promthea. I think what draws you in initially is Moore’s handling of Sophie, who is just as curious as you are as to what’s going on. She acts and reacts how you would, rather than as a cliché hero character who knows more than anyone else her age would.

Helping guide Moore’s dialogue is the beautiful art of J.H. Williams III, who works in a wide array of styles and unconventional page layouts in order to draw you into the emotion of the book. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen so many double-page spreads done so beautifully as I have in Promethea. I found myself studying countless pages—looking at all the visual eye candy produced by the dream-like and fantastical imagery. If you’re physically turning the book every-which-way to get a better look at this and that, the creative team have done their job.

Of course, the foundation of the book lies in the character whose name also shares the series title: Promethea.

How does one describer her? She’s such a unique and unconventional character—certainly one I have never read before.

It’s hard to explain, so here it goes…

Promethea was a little girl from 5th Century Roman Egypt whose father—a magician of sorts—was killed by a religious mob. The Gods saved her from the same fate and hid her away in the Immateria—a world of myth, magic, fiction and dreams. Living in this space allowed her to become a “living story,” and as such, she could enter the dreams of mortals. Promethea walks between the lines of imagination and reality—she’s an idea. This allows some people to channel her and some to even be taken over by her and become Promethea. Her identity can even be projected onto loved ones and they, too, can become her. Many people have held the Promethea mantle throughout the years. She’s also Amazonian in appearance and very beautiful, with great powers of magic and fiction, far beyond our comprehension. When it comes to temperament, Promethea can be a wide-variety of personalities—this can depend on the host whose body she is overtaking, but the constant is her fiction. 

I’m not sure I have ever been left with the feeling I had after finishing Promethea. Alan Moore and J.H. Williams III weaved together such a magical tale, one that I didn’t want to end. In a strange way, I wanted Promethea to be real. One of the strengths of her and her story is that it’s open to interpretation. People talk about this comic long after reading it. It’s undeniably interesting that a character that is considered a living story on the page of her comic, is one who is so constantly discussed off the page. Maybe, in that way, Promethea really did break the plane of what we perceive as reality.

Hope to see her around again someday…


Matt Ross covers the DC Universe for DCComics.com and Arrow for the #DCTV Couch Club

Promethea makes a key appearance in today's JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #23 by Steve Orlando, Neil Edwards, Daniel Henriques, Andy Owens and Hi-Fi. For much more, be sure to check out her acclaimed series by Alan Moore and J.H. Williams III, which is available in stores and as a digital download.