Understanding Silkcuts: The Amateur Promethea Review

Note: Although this is a review of a comic, I won't be posting it in the review section as it applies to the entire series which has never been collected in a single volume and it's more about the broad ideas then the specifics which I may feel like reviewing individually in the future. Also, if you're curious about the title, the fact is you've probably never read a review from me as I am but an amateur but I'm making this in honor of the Prince of Reviews (who deserves more credit then he gets for his achievements in that area of the site), Silkcuts, who let's face it...is kind of a big deal.

Now before I share a few of my brief thoughts on the book, I would just like to say, Promethea is not for everyone and it's definitely not a comic I would recommend to everyone for a few reasons:

  • The primary reason for this is there's no way of getting around it, Promethea is a religious piece, it's primary purpose is to get across to the reader a vast wealth of religious principles and ideas. No, I don't mean it's like those Old Testament and New Testament Picture Stories from the Bible comics DC put out in the 40's, it's not so much about re-telling myths and legends but rather transmitting a glut of textual knowledge, backed by some magnificent artwork. Yes, there is an overall story-line, but even that serves to promote the ideas that are to be brought across to the reader and most of the time the story-line is almost unimportant as it's simply an excuse to get across an idea. Now after saying all this, don't get me wrong, I'm not saying "religion is evil", this is just "preachy nonsense", what I'm saying is that if you have no desire to be preached to, you're not going to enjoy Promethea or at least not for the right reasons.

Writing

Just in case you're not aware, Promethea is written by none other then the apparently indisputable (although I will still try my darndest) greatest comic writer of all time, Alan Moore. Apart from Swamp Thing, Promethea is the longest continuous comic work he has ever done and as such it can't really be overlooked as just a minor detail in his writing career, if you're a Moore fan, this book is definitely an essential, no ands, ifs, or buts. I would also like to point out that the most common complaint I see people saying about Moore's writing is his constant debasement of the female. To be fair, that is an understandable judgment as it can be found in almost all of his works (although perhaps not intentionally on his part) but I bring this up because Promethea is (apart from maybe Halo Jones) one of the few major works by Alan that follows a female protagonist and thus is in theory a truer outlook on his opinion of women and in Promethea you will find quite the variety of women. Although, I'll leave the reader to decide whether it's negative or positive (for my part, I thought it was pretty positive).

Artwork

As for the art, well, holy crap...I can definitely see why J.H. Williams III is considered the bee's knees. He's probably best known these days for his work on that Batwoman stuff but if you're a fan of him, I'd definitely say this is also an essential book for you. Not necessarily to read but just to look at all the pretty pictures. One of the most most interesting things about Williams' art throughout the series is it changes to so many various styles as to match the events of the book. I think it's one of the reasons why Moore's sermon works as a comic, I'm not sure many artists could have pulled it off but Williams did. Plus, that last issue was just ultra badass, I mean thirty-two individual pages with all sorts of psychedelic colors, a Promethea figure and then in the background, a part of a poster that can be formed if you connect the sixteen pages to make a larger portrait of Promethea. Definitely a pleasure to just let yourself drown in the art sometimes.

Target Audience

Note: This is the portion of the program where you'll understand why I call it an amateur review and I give you free reign to roll your eyes and discard anything I say at this point.

Having said all of that, the fact of the matter is: no, I was not the target audience. I don't need magick to be considered a loony writer, I have all the mental problems a guy could ask for, what more could I need? The fact is, magick just isn't my thing, it's not for lack of belief but because it's not a world I want to be a part of. That said, this book was full to the brim with all sorts of arcane knowledge and I didn't feel the pull to absorb it. I enjoyed it for it's informative side but this wouldn't be a book I'd be at the edge of my seat for every month (although it was more like a "whenever the f@#k we feel like putting an issue out" pace) but I did learn some things. Admittedly some of the time I felt like the book was oversimplifying things but at the same time other things I'm sure went over my head. It's very dense stuff. But, if you know Silkcuts and read his posts/blogs/reviews...reading Promethea you might end up like myself and wonder if you've just stumbled onto his journals or something. While reading it, I definitely knew Silkcuts was in the target audience. He and I share a lot of interests in the comic world but we do also have our differences (he being the more grown and mature of the two) so it was an interesting experience, kind of like seeing what other books are out there on our side of the comic spectrum (a.k.a. not a bunch of poncy blokes frolicking around in tights...no offense, considering I read some of those too). To grow as a comic reader I feel I need to absorb a lot more of the stuff out there and in that regard, I do not regret this read in the slightest.

"The Fourth Wall"

On to the comic itself, one unique thing I'd like to point out about the book is it is very much alive, as it points out itself, and there are numerous breaks in "The Fourth Wall" and not for comedic effect like you'd get in Deadpool or Jack of Fables. In fact, by the end you are just one of the many people in the world experiencing the Apocalypse and talked to directly (and in the final issue it is even explained to you why a comic is the best form for this). However, what I found even more interesting (and this is something that brought me back to many of Silkcuts reviews/posts) is the way the comic format is explored and manipulated to serve the story. For example, an infinite loop has you turning the comic around and around and the dialog could literally have you reading that two-page spread for the rest of eternity. Apart from that, you also get to see the creators within the book...during the end of the world, you get a two page-spread on which there is a panel of J.H. Williams drawing the page, a panel of Alan Moore writing the page and even a panel of you the reader holding the comic all with your shocked reactions. However, I think my favorite break in the Fourth Wall was a magnificent (even if I literally couldn't read like 80% of it) two-page spread of prayers all contained in a single perfect moment...one of which is Todd Klein's prayer "God, I hope I've lettered this right...".*

*For the record, seven of his many Eisner's in the Best Letterer field were awarded in part for his work on this series.

The Story Line

As for the story-line itself, I actually liked the original set-up...but it was around #12 (there was other stuff before that but it was more introductory and I still didn't see the ultimate goal) I believe that I realized where the book was going and for the span of two volumes, Sophie (the protagonist) and Barbara (a past Promethea) take a journey through the Kaballah Tree of Life, teaching the reader about it as they go.

Meanwhile, there is other stuff going on in the city, which to be honest I often felt didn't really suit the rest of the story but could have made a great comic in and of itself. The Mayor with over forty personalities or the Mayor who's a former porn star; the Five Swell Guys and their enemy The Painted Doll; Stacia and Grace as the replacement Promethea; the giant crossover at the end that was essentially an excuse to pull in all the ABC characters into the book (although I recognized most of them, I haven't read many of their comics so the effect was lost on me). However, one of my favorite bits in the "other stuff" was the use of the Ars Goetia as villains, I'm kind of disappointed with myself for not realizing who they were earlier on (as I wrote a terrible story for a school project once featuring the seventy-two of them back in ninth grade) but even if their role was small in the grand scheme, I still enjoyed seeing them get used just because I felt like it was something I could say "hey, I knew something talked about in this sacred text years before I read it, go me".

Verdict

Promethea. Although I wouldn't call it the greatest comic ever printed, I can understand it's appeal and would recommend you check it out if you're in the mood for expanding your horizons. And if you have already read it, feel free to tell me how much of an idiot I am for having the wrong opinion on it, seriously, I enjoy the discussion or insults, whichever you prefer. Although if anyone wants to turn this into an Alan Moore argument, I still need to read several more key pieces in his bibliography before I can have that debate again.

Oh and as a quick last thought regarding something I forgot to mention...maybe Moore did it on purpose but I was kind of annoyed how nudity was okay in the series but all the swearing was censored and there were some supporting characters who loved to swear (looking at you Boo Boo)...I feel like if you're going to censor a swear in a published work, there's no point using it at all.

10 Comments
10 Comments
Posted by turoksonofstone

Great review. Far from Amateur though.

Posted by aztek_the_lost

@turoksonofstone: thank you, although I could never compare to many of the other reviewers on this site

Moderator
Posted by turoksonofstone
@aztek the lost:  
Really? You are far too modest.
Posted by aztek_the_lost

@turoksonofstone: I don't know, I review comics because I enjoy them but I'm not sure my reviews are so great, not that I will stop reviewing regardless but I do it hoping that it will serve someone, not expecting it to

Moderator
Posted by turoksonofstone
@aztek the lost said:

@turoksonofstone: I don't know, I review comics because I enjoy them but I'm not sure my reviews are so great, not that I will stop reviewing regardless but I do it hoping that it will serve someone, not expecting it to


Hmm, ...guess that does make it a different enterprise kind of.
Posted by Silkcuts
@aztek the lost: @turoksonofstone said:
@aztek the lost:  Really? You are far too modest.
Dude for your age you are a great reviewer, the fact that your deliberately try to expand your comic knowledge gives you an advantage of those who only read " a bunch of poncy blokes frolicking around in tights".  The medium can be an escapist entertainment or an artist outlet, it depends on the mind in which one plays with the medium.  I am more proud you of you that you read this series, then I am of you giving me too much praise.  What you did in this review is the same goal in my posts/blogs/reviews/etc.... and that is to talk maturely about the medium.  Not everyone can truly do this.  
 
Your right that Promethea can be seen as preachy, that is but only a layer.  The structure Moore plays with in certain issues are marvelous, I like how you pointed out the Mobius Strip page and the final issue that can be read a few ways.  Promethea is great because different people will walk away with different things and yes I love it because it is the greatest example of how "Comics" is a modern form of Magick, because without you knowing, Moore has changed your "Will", even a little bit.  You are now smarter then you were before you read the series and that is one of the reasons I love Promethea. Like Prometheus, the series brings light and light being a symbol for knowledge.   The depth is an issue because of its dense nature the average comic fan may not enjoy the story only the art.  That level on comprehension is another reason I think Promethea has such a strong case as the greatest series, it pushes the medium in narrative no one has ever tried and I don't think anyone but Moore could of written a series with so much experimental ideas.  This series is a head of its time, like How Grant Morrison's Invisibles does not make sense to everyone who reads it.  I think my understanding of comics is decent and I am sure I'll notice something new with Promethea with my next read.  It is a series worth rereading.  I am currently trying to track down extra copies of issues #32 so I can make the poster and reread that issue in its pieces and combined.
 
J3's art is just wonderful, as great as his Batwoman stuff was, Promethea still has my heart.  The only art flaw was with Jose's photos (I believe it is issue #7), some of the models just don't really sell the poses.  Even the use of real photos to show a break into the real world was a nice touch, cheesy but had to be done.  The art really is a great example of what can be done in the medium.
 
BTW, I believe the reason Moore is considered (universally) the greatest is not because of his direct influences; such as the architect for the DCU before Flashpoint of course, or not his many torchbearers, but in the fact that no one pushes the medium better then Moore.  The panels he uses, the plots he creates, the structures of his stories, the poetry in his words and the execution with surgical percussion.  Alan Moore treats comics like it should be, he treats it as a medium that has no limitation, that is something most writers do not do.  There are better plot writers, sure, but how good would they be if they challenged themselves like Moore challenges his self.  The poetic structuring in V for Vendetta alone is an example Moore has no peers and that was when Moore was getting started.  Promethea is a series that even I struggle to explain how great of a contribution to the medium it is. I think that is where the argument in definition lies, as for stories themselves that is debatable, but for ability to work the medium Moore's skills is undeniable. 
 
Thank you very much for all your kind words Sir Aztek, Baron of Reviews. 
I enjoyed this blog (review) a lot even if there was not my name on it as many times as it is. 
^_^
All the best to my favorite Mad Man.
Cheers
- Kevin "Silkcuts" G.
Posted by MrUnknown

Good read and you are a great reviewer!

Posted by J1ml33

brilliant review (going to read a book on Alan Moore`s past essays on writing comics ) :D

Posted by kfhrfdu_89_76k

"...all the swearing was censored and there were some supporting characters who loved to swear (looking at you Boo Boo)...I feel like if you're going to censor a swear in a published work, there's no point using it at all." 
 
I think it`s humorous if a curse word is censored in a comic. 
 
I guess I`ll read this someday. 

Posted by Jonny_Anonymous
@aztek_the_lost: I'm surprised I haven't got to reading this yet, it doesn't seem to get as much attention as his other work yet it seems like something I would love