“I bring you fire…”

So yesterday I mentioned how two books were responsible for launching me into a worldview that embraces the transmundane.  I talked about the first of those books: Ask Your Guides, by Sonia Choquette.  That blog entry is still fresh — still cooling off, even! — so I don’t want to repeat any of it again here so soon, but I figured I’d follow through and mention the other book that was so instrumental in essentially handing me both the red pill and the blue pill, along with a veritable rainbow of other pills as well: that book was/is Promethea, a graphic novel by a brilliant British writer/artist/musician/magician named Alan Moore.

You might know of Mr. Moore, even indirectly, as several of his original works have been scooped up by the forces of Hollywood and turned into big feature films: V for Vendetta, about a disfigured superhuman in a near-future, Fascistic England…From Hell, a look at the case of Jack the Ripper, starring Johnny Depp…Watchmen, considered by many to be the greatest graphic novel of all time…The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (the movie was pretty different from the comic version, neither of which was my favorite from the Moore catalog, but the premise is interesting)…

Oh, and a “graphic novel,” if you’re not familiar with the term, is more or less a comic book with higher literary aspirations.  Like the phrase implies, it’s a novel, but instead of being presented in pure prose/textual format — the form to which we’re most accustomed — it’s given an additional visual component.  Alan Moore has had great success in this format, in no small part due to his practice of doing things with it that can only be done in the comic book format — attempts at replicating some of his techniques in either text or on film would be impossible.  More on that below.  But first!!  Here’s Promethea making her splashy debut appearance:

Promethea appears, to bring us all Fire!
Promethea appears, to bring us all Fire!

This is a difficult work to summarize quickly, and I have a tendency toward being a total windbag as it is, but I’ll see what I can do here…

Promethea is the story of a how a young girl named Promethea is given over by her sorcerer father to a pair of fading gods, so they can spirit her away to the land of the imagination, thus saving her from the growing and intolerant local forces of Christianity on Earth.  These same forces are set to descend upon the witchcraft-y old man any minute, and he definitely sees the writing on the wall (and not to give too much away here, but since this happens on, like, page 4 or so, I figure I’m not spoiling much: the old man is killed by a lynch mob almost immediately after securing Promethea’s safety, so he’s probably onto something regarding at least his neighborhood’s social evolution…).

In the centuries that follow, Promethea emerges periodically from that land of fiction and imagination — a realm that Moore calls The Immateria — to bond with a human host, thus forming a sort of composite or fusion-being that’s partly the essence of the fictionalized girl, Promethea, and partly that of whichever human has been chosen.  This fusion-being, also called Promethea, varies in details from one host-human to the next, but is always a supernatural force for good in the world.  As the graphic novel begins, we watch on as a young woman named Sophie Bangs, resident of a futuristic New York City that’s not our own Big Apple but feels similar enough in most of the ways that matter, is the latest human to be chosen to bond with the Promethea-spirit.  Then as the series progresses, it becomes clear that Sophie-Promethea is destined to usher in the Apocalypse…although what an “apocalypse” means might vary from one person to the next, depending on the person’s worldview, right…?

Anyway, what’s interesting is that even though the series is very much aimed at exploring the occult and the metaphysical right from the get-go, about a year into it, Moore just sort of threw up his hands and decided to stop dancing around it, and to instead just plunge into full-on scholar/sensei mode, and teach us, and us readers could choose to sign on for the ride or not, sales be damned…

I signed on.  Sophie enters the Immateria for a long middle section of the book, and she and a companion take an involved journey up through the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, about which — not enough room in this post.  Tons of info out there if you want to surf it, and the Tree of Life is tied in to plenty of realms of magical and esoteric thought, including Tarot (which Moore gets into as well).  I found it all fascinating, and while I had already read it twice by then, I drifted back to it again after reading the Choquette book, and suddenly it was like Moore had inserted a crowbar into some tiny fissure in my skull, and then jacked it completely wide open.  Upon this third reading, I could suddenly see the universe through the lens of Moore’s “teachings” in Promethea (which, I learned later, weren’t all his at all, but he did at least collect them up into one single, achingly lovely piece, so I give him mad credit for that!), and I’ve never been the same.  I began devouring everything he touched on: Magic, the Tree of Life, Tarot, Astrology, Numerology, Alchemy, you name it.  And I haven’t stopped.

And when I said that Moore does things in the comic form that can’t be replicated elsewhere?  I, a huge devotee of the Mobius Strip, or lemniscate, for example, offer you, as evidence of what I say, this two-page spread:

Promethea traverses an infinite loop -- I've been in conversations like this, only nowhere near as interesting...
Promethea traverses an infinite loop — I’ve been in conversations like this, only nowhere near as interesting…

If you start reading at the upper left and then follow Sophie and her predecessor, Barbara, all the way around that loop, you’ll see that as the conversation “ends,” the last thing said feeds right back into the opening word balloon, thereby creating a true circle — in other words, you can read the damn thing forever if you want, as it feeds right back into itself.  How would you do that with pure text, or in a movie?  Answer: you wouldn’t, because you couldn’t.

Here’s another example of the unique way Moore approaches the comic form:

Deep thoughts in either direction...
Deep thoughts in either direction…

This circular spread can actually be read in either the clockwise or the counter-clockwise direction, and it will make equal sense!  I have no clue how Moore did it, but I unabashedly love it.

These two images, by the way, are taken from different parts of that journey I mentioned in which Sophie and Barbara travel from our own sphere of matter, the material world, toward pure godhead.  It’s pretty ambitious stuff for a comic book, but Moore knocked me out with it.  And I have to also mention the artist, a genius of a guy named J.H. Williams III, who handles anything Moore asks of him, no matter how trippy, way out, or varied in style, and he does it all with grace and class.  If you’d like an introduction to elements of occult thought, or even if you’re an old pro but wouldn’t mind seeing them presented in a powerful visual style, I advise running, not walking, to Promethea.  She will bring you fire…

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