If there was a book that isn’t Sandman more deserving of oversized, supersaturated Absolute edition, Promethea is it. It’s a sometimes-skipping, sometimes-running, sometimes-strolling journey through a dream world as wild and beautiful as Neil Gaiman’s but ruled by a warrior-queen who’s everything Wonder Woman ought to be.
Promethea is a living story, and she’s just taken over a new human host. The previous incarnations, like something out of Joseph Campbell, have all left their mark on her, and they each have something to teach young Sophie Bangs, a college student whose research has led her to Promethea’s tale.
I love Alan Moore (which should almost go without saying) and yet I’d never read these stories, which are probably the most like me of any of his works. Promethea is in one sense the wealth of woman-knowledge and magic passed down from generation to generation, and that’s an idea I can certainly get behind. But the story is less about ideas than about feelings; less a story than an experience.
Imagination-scapes unfurl across double-page spreads full of symbols that evoke a visceral reaction and yet are things you’ve never seen or heard of. It makes me want to write, or dream, or write about dreams. Hell, it makes me want to draw, and I’m no good at that.
Layered into the story are thoughtful critiques of power, hierarchy, patriarchy, as well as pokes and gibes at mainstream comic storytelling. The tale gets stranger as it goes on, spinning off into splashy explanations of Moore’s thoughts on magic and myth within the myth he’s created.
It’s less a narrative than a trip, fables layered on top of stories and characters’ identities shifting into dreams. If Watchmen is Moore’s Ulysses, then Promethea is Finnegans Wake and it demands the same experience—stop trying to make it make sense and just let it wash over you and enjoy the ride.