Is Alan Moore, from Northampton, England, the most influential writer alive? Perhaps not, but for more than two decades, Moore has been a dominating force in his field – comics, or graphic novels – reaching millions of young, and not so young, minds.
In 1986, DC Comics began publishing Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s Watchmen. When the story reached its conclusion in 1987, the landscape of comics was forever changed. Traditionally, the world of comics had been dominated by straightforward, linear stories. A flashback here and there might disturb the steady flow of time, but not in any significant way, and therefore the chaos and multi-perspective of Watchmen was quite sensational.
Fundamentally, Watchmen is a story about the end of the world, a fear that may be as old as life itself, but it is also a hope that possibly has been around as long as reflective thinking. Again and again in his career, Alan Moore has returned to the end of days, and the theme is the centerpiece of another story by Moore: Promethea (vol. 1-5).
The apocalypse of Watchmen is, however, different from the end of the world scenario of Promethea. Where Watchmen takes place in a dystopia, Promethea is a search for utopia. In Watchmen, it’s a matter of mass destruction caused by the belief in the supremacy of one rigid idea or another. The apocalypse of Promethea is an issue of hope. And while Watchmen is dominated by fanatics and the bloody consequences of their convictions, Promethea is a story where different faiths and belief systems are merged into one tolerant and multifaceted way. Moore tries to share a simple idea: everything that is, is part of the same body – in the old Hindu saying, everything is everything. The name of the body may vary – the world, the universe, God, the Tree of Life, the Brahma, the Buddha, the Christ, the Way – but it’s still a matter of one body, albeit a body with “a thousand faces” (to paraphrase Mahatma Gandhi).
Although the message is simple, Alan Moore presents it in a complicated manner. At times, Moore is an example of imagination running wild. Sometimes his creations contain too many events and too little substance, and while Watchmen was a tight piece of art, Promethea might be considered obese at times. It has been accused of being too talkative, and perhaps the story would have turned into a tell-not-show nightmare if it hadn’t been for the mind-bending artwork of if J.H. Williams, et al.
What has been neglected is the possibility that the talking heads often can be found in the most carefully illustrated parts of Promethea, and that there might be precise reasons for all the talk. The word-flooded pages slow the reader down; it is not possible to just glance at an image, burn through a few words, and then move on. The pace of the comic and the perception of time itself change – time is stretched out as words and images create a radiating union, and this is the body, spirit, and soul of comic book storytelling.
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