Graphic Novel Friday: Absolute Promethea Book Two
This October, I had every intention of featuring a Halloween and/or horror-themed comic each week on Graphic Novel Friday. I really did. But then Absolute Promethea Book Two arrived in the mail. Halloween will have to wait.
Co-created by Alan Moore and artist J.H. Williams III, Promethea is a mind-bending, ambitious journey. The initial twelve chapters were collected in Absolute Promthea Book One last October, which is full of high-minded action and fight sequences. But then the series takes a very strange turn, and it’s in this month’s Absolute Promethea Book Two where Moore and Williams unfold an adventure unlike any other in comics (see an earlier post for further plot details).
These Absolute Editions serve less as reading venues and more as celebrations and objets d’art. The heady mindscapes at work in Book Two are in full bloom: double-page spreads abound and carefully placed panels are on display; tiny background details flutter into later pages; across the cosmos, stars trail through text balloons, connecting panels and figures. Reading the original five volume collection that was published in a smaller trim size, it’s easy to glaze over the finer moments amidst the giant plot and Moore’s sprawling text. But here it makes sense--the biggest story of Moore and Williams’ careers could only properly fit on the largest canvas.
Once a twisting, eye-crossing visual, the Möbius strip (see above image, click to enlarge) in Chapter 15, for example, is now a spectacle. The reader can pick from any text balloon in the five panels and begin reading, as the two most recent Prometheas wind up and over themselves while carrying a conversation that grows in any order it is read. No matter how coolly Moore may now feel towards contemporary comics, it’s in his ABC Universe, traveling the Immateria and Kaballistic knowledge system with Promethea, where his affection for the medium is still apparent:
“Your dance is where matter meets imagination, because that’s our whole universe, right there. I wanted to tell you I love you. I probably don’t tell you that enough.” Lines like this could just as easily be trite, but Moore makes them earnest; likewise his digressions into the carnal lairs of inspiration. It’s adult, at times outlandish, but never exploitative. In Book Two he can be guilty of trying the patience of unsuspecting readers who walked into a twelve chapter lecture on Life, the Universe, and Everything According to Alan Moore, but he tempers it with flashes to the cutthroat exploits of Sophie’s best friend, Stacia, who is back home and under the power-hungry spell of a previous Promethea. There’s a rhythm to reading these chapters, and the rewards mount the further the reader goes.
This year, J.H. Williams III likely garnered new fans with his artwork in Batwoman: Elegy (written by Greg Rucka). The way he plays with perspective and panels in Elegy can be especially traced to Chapter 18 in Book Two, where he uses the body and appendages of Asmodeus, a demonic spider, to splinter layouts and panels (see above image, click to enlarge). Williams is able to manipulate the passage of time using any number of panels (or pages) to articulate Moore’s script while deftly maneuvering the reader through complicated, unusual sequences. The credits also attribute the painted colors in Chapter 22 to Williams, but I’m curious how the Van Gogh tribute in Chapter 19 was achieved. It certainly looks painted--but is colorist Jeremy Cox responsible for the backgrounds in that chapter? Its misty blues are fantastic.
While the supplemental section doesn’t answer the above, there is plenty of commentary by Williams, including never-before-published sketches, a cover that was “shredded” for being “a little much for a cover that would sit face-front on the shelf of your local comics shop,” and hints for what is to come in Absolute Promethea Book Three. At over twenty-five pages, these extras are welcome after Book One’s lack thereof. The collection also features new wrap-around covers by Williams on both the book and slipcase, as well as a few Easter eggs inside for close readers.
Book Two showcases an unparalleled attempt at comics storytelling in an already eye-opening series by two comics creators who fully complement each other. This new edition has to be opened to be believed.