Saturday, May 8, 2010

Review: Promethea vol. 1

Written by Alan Moore, illustrated by J. H. Williams III. Collecting Promethea issues 1-6, originally published in 1999, 2000.

I'm not sure that Alan Moore actually understands the idea of satire. Significant portions of all these issues are designed as what I assume is supposed to be a 'satire' of our modern, too-cool-for-school ironic pop-cultural blase-ness. Except that the problem is that the parts that are supposed to be satire of this blase-ness are so ironic and pointless that they themselves become a part of the thing they are satirising. Take, for example, the idea of the Weeping Gorilla comics. This is a funny idea, but I'm not sure it works in the way Alan Moore wants it to. I think he's supposed to be saying, "look at how stupid and needlessly ironic our society is becoming. It is getting to the point where we find the idea of something crying and thinking sad thoughts is amusing to us." But what I actually get out of the Weeping Gorilla thing is, "ha. That's a funny idea. I would definitely buy Weeping Gorilla comics."

I think part of the problem is that Moore is too good a writer for satire. He has an inate ability to make me believe that whatever crazy stuff a character is doing, that they still make sense as a character. For satire to work properly, the audience has to be convinced that what is happening makes no sense. I don't think Moore can allow himself to do that.

Also, the ridiculous-levels-of-irony stuff is all much more fun and entertaining than the stuff that I'm supposed to take seriously. I don't care about the Immateria - it's boring, and pretty cliched. If he is trying to convince me that we need to return to a world where stories matter to people, and where people don't coat everything in an impenetrable layer of irony, he is doing a pretty poor job. I would much rather read an intentionally preposterous story about a mayor with multiple personality problems than a quasi-serious saga about "the Immateria".

So, that's my opinion of the writing - what about the artwork? Well... I think it is somewhat over rated. Don't get me wrong, the decorative borders, the playing with the comic form, the imaginative layouts, all those things are really well done. All the extraneous stuff is handled wonderfully. But the actual drawings of the actual characters are often ugly and off-putting. Part of it is the weird shadowing on people's faces - the thick black lines to indicate the outline of a shadow are really ugly. But also the character's facial expressions are often poorly handled, and they look muddled. I think too much time was spent on the borders of the comic, and not enough time was spent inside them.

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