4 out of 5
And so, over 31 issues, Alan Moore tricksied us with comic book dressings and impressive J.H. Williams III art into being learned on magic, and life, and sex, and tarot, and numerology, and how it all taps into a simultaneous top-down and bottom-up worldview, and… I never found the trick too convincing or compelling. Until we neared the climax of things, and Moore made like his poor sleight of hand was purposeful, slamming all of the teachings back in to his ABC comic worlds and building toward the last arc of the title, in which the reappearance of our titular Promethea invites apocalypse.
…Or maybe just a soft reboot?
While prior arcs found Moore and Williams moving us through different states of being visualized in the styles of various artistic influences or concepts-made-into-pictures, with Tom Strong and his science heroes teaming up to stop whatever Promethea is doing to the world, and with the local Four Swell Guys accidentally triggering more Painted Doll killings, volume 5 mashes together all the various looks and letterings (thanks, Todd Klein!) of the ABC characters’ worlds. The Doll is committing frenzied killings; people are freaking out as the world around them transforms due to the coming apocalypse.
But there’s no apocalypse. We know there’s not. Directly around Promethea, it’s calm; she and her mates are experiencing a higher reality – again a different art style, a painted one – and Moore ropes the reader into things as well. Everyone emerges on the other end, safe and sound and brightly comic booky, excepting those that didn’t, because they weren’t enlightened enough to accept change. Which slams this whole things back into a rather pedantic exercise, lampshaded with some statements about how the big event is neither a bang or a whimper, just rather, y’know, how it is. The mismatch in tone between all the frantic apocalyptic worrying and the peace and love chatter offered by Promethea is similar to how the series started – faked comic book urgency while Moore’s real focus is explained at length – and I’m not sure that the reality and fiction mash-up is effected well.
So why the good rating?
Well, I’d be a fool at this point to have expected something other than what we got. I was highly impressed by the buildup to this in volume 4, but I suspected we might be heading for something along these lines, because it matched with everything that had led us here. That’s why it’s a good rating, despite my dislike: I think that Moore followed through with his teachings, and every step of this turns out to be in line with that. I might not have enjoyed the process, but I respect the construction. And in respecting that, where previous arcs were heavily focused on teaching and I didn’t feel that they were presented in the best way for doing that – thus heavily affecting the rating – the only thing that I felt didn’t sync here was the aforementioned ‘meshing’ of the readers’ world with that of Promethea’s. I wanted to feel sucked in; I wanted to feel like I was part of the spell the book had been casting, but it didn’t quite connect. Though this is a large part of the ‘apocalypse,’ the concept of the reboot works without it; just viewing this as a cycle of a fictional world still makes sense.
The hardcover collection – and perhaps the softcover offers the same – is quite nice. An embossed cover under the dustjacket, and a wholly reconstructed 32nd issue (which was to my understanding, a foldout poster, front and back, explaining the tarot and summarizing the series’ themes), along with some backmatter explaining the efforts behind that. The presentation gives the impression of creators who cared to put their best foot forward with this set, and if you enjoyed your readthrough, I’d agree that it’s quite a piece to have on your bookshelf.