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Promethea

by
Kiat Han Ng

It was welcome respite, first of all, when I learnt that the one man who invented the graphic novel is reinventing graphic novels once more. ABC, delightfully, is but another gloriously oversized, but thankfully not overwritten, mega story arc in the same vein as his magnum opus, Watchmen.

Pronethea is a little of an interesting anomaly. Is is Egypt, AD 411, and Greek gods and their names were indeed present in Egypt then, thanks of course to the likes of Julius Caesar, Marc Antony, and their ilk. The Romans, after all, wrestled the Greek pantheon from them and gave them different names. Hermes, from Thoth-Hermes, was Greek, in the first place, and his Roman equivalent was Mercury. Hermes’ name was the one used by Promethea’s father, so the Roman influence must have dwindled in Egypt by then. That, or that Promethea’s father kept to the true or original genealogy of the deity.

The name ‘Promethea’ is the feminine form of the Greek name Prometheus. We do know that the suffix -us is traditionally male, and the suffix –a is female. Prometheus, by the by, is infamous for stealing fire from the Sun God Helios’ chariot. This, according to the Greek legend, is a very colourful account of how we get fire. Great for mankind, but Prometheus suffered the wrath of the gods. As punishment, he he was put in Greek hell, where he’d be chained to a rock for eternity where he would see his liver being eaten by eagles in the day but it would be regenerating at night, only for it to be eaten again the next day. Ergo, the pain, physical and emotional, of having his liver eaten will not (read: never) end. It is exceedingly curious that Promethea should get her name from such a character with such a bad fate, but we must not forget, that Prometheus, foul his punishment may be, through his (intentional) misdeed, gave all of Mankind a wondrous gift. Moore’s Promethea similarly, while perhaps not a bringer of great materials or artifacts, is after all, by her own admission, the “ holy splendour of the imagination”, and “all inspiration, all desire”, and is perhaps another, nay, the _greatest_ gift of all to the hearts and minds of men.

Incidentally, Hermes/ Mercury was the Greek God of speed, and his weaponry includes his caduceus, which is the name for a staff with snakes encircling it, is a rod with two snakes around it, which is the symbol most people immersed in popular culture link immediately to the health services. The god Aesclepius is the “God of Healing”, as Promethea declares, and he, too, wields a caduceus. The Aesclepian staff, by contrast, has only one snake. The caduceus plastered on the side of the hospital where Barbara Shelley was taken to after she got wounded during the fight with the Smee has two snakes, and is therefore the Hermetic staff, not the Aesclepian one. Also, the error in placing two snakes in the caduceus found in many health bodies is exceedingly common. The WHO today has a two-snaked caduceus on their emblem, for example, as do countless other bodies (including my own local agency, the Ministry of Health). Forget not, however, that Promethea’s father was a Hermetic scholar, and he would have wanted Hermes’ staff to be used, and/ or reflected, in everything he did. Still, the error was exonerated by the symmetry in that selfsame image where we see the two-snaked caduceus by the side of the hospital in the same panel as the 2-snaked one brandished by the flying Promethea. The resonance, too, was bolstered in the next panel where she proclaims, “Kyre (probably meant to be Kyrie, but it’s Moore’s artistic licence after all) Aesclepius! Hail the God of Healing!”, pushing aside all doubts that it was indeed a house of Aesclepius, Hermetic both caducei may have been. The extra snake, as illustrated, is not entirely an unobvious error, but it remains an error nonetheless. In Promethea’s context, the extra snake could be a reference to the snake deity Alan Moore famously resurrected and deified once more. Nice touch.

This whole concept, so far, also reinforces the Pagan line of religion Moore himself practises. Worshipping a snake, while not as pagan as many other things, and if indeed such practices can be quantified, is certainly pagan enough. Religion does not play any important role in Comics, but Moore mentions his pagan ideals in virtually everything he writes. Watchmen, that seminal work, introduced Jonathan Osterman to us as a very human God, as well as a very Godlike human, both at the same time, and Moore showed that the Illuminati and Freemasonry play parts in this other works as well. Promethea, by her very name/ premise/ history, is definitely no exception.

The story introducing the character Promethea is very notable indeed when it did its cinematic flash-backwards-and-forwards in time routine. Was Promethea’s father truly, as Eroom Nala suggests in Promethea annotations, merely repeating the words he knew his assailants would say, ergo, he forsaw the entire episode, including his eventual demise? Very likely indeed. Watchmen’s Dr Manhattan, also described himself as “a puppet who can see the strings” amidst a tapestry of a planet of peoples who “are all puppets.”. Perhaps Promethea’s father was someone, who like Osterman, could “see the strings”. Moore very likely intended some echo of this thought in the run of this scene to illustrate to everyone that all future is written already.

The name Prometheus (which gave us Promethea) is hardly exclusive to the mythology, since it, too has become a colourful, emphatic synonym for great personages of science and art who bring to men great work, concepts and ideas previously unheard of. In the opening scene of the comic series Marvels, Kurt Busiek tells us that the creator (in the comic story) of the original Human Torch (not Jonny Storm) was like “a modern-day Prometheus”. Moore should be glad that, with the strength and facility of virtually all his work, including Promethea, he has included himself in this illustrious cognoscente.