the Youth & Beauty Brigade Komix Appreciation & Aesthetics Enhancement Initiative talks about PROMETHEA

Posted 8/02/2011 by Adam D in Labels: , , , , , ,
Present: Chingbee Cruz, Adam David, Florianne Jimenez, and Francis Quina

Venue: Cafe Quezon, Maginhawa, Quezon City

Subject: Promethea books 1 and 2, by Alan Moore, J H Williams III, Mick Grey, Joshua Cox, Todd Klein, and various

Key question: on Promethea as a super-hero: "Is she even a super-hero?"

Watchmen's basic unit of narrative is the panel; V For Vendetta's basic unit of narrative is the page; Promethea's basic unit of narrative is the page-spread, pushed to its logical and aesthetic and narrative limits via a thorough engagement with the spatial relations of the elements of the comic book page, i.e., the captions, the word balloons, the drawings, the panels, the gutters, the sound effects, the emanata, the perspective, the bleed, the transition, the closure - of most comic books, this is one of the most design-conscious, but it is design that has an eye towards narrative flow and dramaturgy, not merely for eye candy (although it does that, too). Of most comic books, this is one of the most aware that it is a comic book.
     And as the books progressed, Promethea also took great pains to demonstrate the potential of the comic book page as the vessel not only of narrative but also of philosophical and semiotic instruction.

Assessment: Book was gently discussed as possibly the most successful of Moore's ABC books in terms of the comic book-line's project of subverting and upgrading the concept of the comic book super-hero - for discussion purposes, the comic book super-hero was defined as the typical strongman, generally caucasian, in bright spandex tights, and, more importantly, a manifestation of power and/or revenge fantasies, where each and every problem is solved through destructive childish pseudo-fascist violence, i.e., might is right.
     Superficially, Promethea subverts and upgrades all this by presenting us with a super-hero that is female, of Middle-Eastern/West Asian and Mexican-American descents, in practical/sensible armour, and, more importantly, a manifestation of the creative imagination, i.e., Promethea the character is on various levels and permutations a muse (of love and whimsy) and a saviour (from persecution, death, and ultimately, from our "mind-forg'd manacles").
     This subversion and upgrade permeates the entire narrative: confrontations are rarely solved through fisticuffs, often through the character/s achieving a sort of understanding, i.e., an anticipated confrontation between Promethea and a "dark" magician is actually a chapter-long tantric sex lecture, a giant blob of computer-programmed slime is confronted by Promethea by learning its language and reprogramming it; if fisticuffs do happen, they are often relegated to the background characters, typically average comic book super-heroes, i.e., the Five Swell Guys, the Painted Doll; if Promethea does partake in fisticuffs, they never end to the character's advantage, the villains never get their just desserts, i.e., Promethea versus the Temple, Promethea versus Grace, Promethea versus Promethea, Promethea versus Tom Strong.

Other stuff: Prior manifestations of Promethea were dictated by a Male Imagination (poetic, prosaic, artistic) projecting its vision towards a Female Form, up until the 21st Century (the current comic book) Promethea's manifestation being dictated solely by Sophie Bangs, a grad student researching for a critical paper on Promethea, also curiously a poet. Commentary on representation of women in genre narratives? Sophie Bangs is a critic and a poet, thus the Sophie Bangs Promethea is a product of both the rational and the imaginary? Sophie Bangs is also the first self-defining Promethea.
     Promethea can be seen as a riff on the Wonder Woman super-hero goddess archetype, only laid bare/made more aware by turning Promethea into an imaginary goddess created and powered by the imagination - on two levels, Promethea is imagination made manifest: first as a comic book character, second as an imaginary character herself inside of the comic book's reality. Curiously, for a character who knows she is a manifestation of the imagination (on the second level), she never becomes aware that she is in fact an imaginary comic book character inside a comic book (on the first level [although a couple of peripheral characters achieve (or is aware of) this realisation, and that the entire narrative's endgame hinges on this conceit]), which I personally (me, Adam David) find very refreshing in this age of megasaturation of self-devouring metanarratives.
     Promethea's home the Immateria is basically Idea Space, i.e., the place where ideas come from, thus where everything comes from, i.e., before the chair was the idea of the chair, only leaning more towards being a shared universe of all of humankind's creative narrative imaginings, from mythologies to fables to horror movies. The Immateria implies that all our fantasies are public domain, are public in origin in the first place, and will always return to the public domain; the Immateria implies that the private ownership of any and all fruits of the (creative) imagination is only temporary, if not truly impossible. What does this imply in the context of a comic book creator creating a character for a mainstream comic book owned by a comic book corporation with whom the comic book creator has many many many bones to pick regarding corporate-ownership of comic book characters?

Final word: Promethea represents the next step in the evolution of the super-hero concept, if not of comic books as a narrative, philosophical, semiotic, and instructional medium.

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