5 out of 5
To be clear: I still have a very strong dislike for Promethea. I’m forcing myself through these books because I own them, but in the trades leading up to this point (and for most of volume 4 as well…), I haven’t enjoyed them. I have no doubt that Alan Moore planned out the flow such that the title would start as a more traditional comic book before going off into lessons on kaballah and tarot, but it hasn’t quite read that way to me; instead, the set up of characters and the world of “science heroes” and a realm called the Immateria which has allowed for the birth of an era-spanning symbol of something-or-other called Promethea – now possessing lead teen Sophie Bangs… all of it reads like an aside, hurried through so that we can start reading long, winding essays on magic and the like. The much celebrated art of J.H. Williams III is similarly un-comic booky, betraying reading flow for immaculate layouts, with pretty much any pretense of this being anything except for an illustrated text book tossed out in volume 3.
I have tried to balance my reviews with the understanding that you’re either buying into the subject matter or not – and I am not – while acknowledging the skillful presentation of that subject matter, in both art and words, with what I feel are the valid criticisms mentioned above: that, essentially, the transition from comic to book isn’t done well.
Volume 4, though, is rather masterful. I still had to shove my way through explorations of heavens and hells and higher meanings because I don’t really care for the ethereal, and slightly judgmental nature of the whole thing (that is: this is the right way to think), but I think volume 4 is when we’re past all of the lessons and back into sort of reconstructing meaning from this journey. Sophie and Barbara are in the upper echelons of their travels and meet their maker; Barbara is reunited with Steve; we come crashing back to Earth. There’s momentum back. Even the art takes on a bit more of a structured feel, with each issue a tribute to a particular art style in a very overt way that removes any need for it to look or act like a comic book any more. And then when we finally reemerge on the other side of this, and some more formal comic bookery takes place – a battle between Prometheas! – it feels rather earned and grand, with the court case that follows to determine who’s the “real” Promethea carrying a sense of weight that nothing in the book has to this point. I was legitimately invested in the last couple of chapters.
…And could sense the progress and purpose of the lead-in chapters, even if, again, I still wasn’t necessarily a fan. So whereas before, my admission of Alan’s and J.H.’s skills came with a caveat, here, the caveat is on me: I may not find the subject matter interesting, but I think this is an excellently done comic, and a wholly unique experience. If this were the only Promethea volume I was handed, I would be interested to start fresh, to see if it gave further shape to the beginning of the trade. So to get a Promethea-hating bastard like me to acknowledge how potentially impactful these collected issues are… well, I’d say that earns five stars.