Friday, February 18, 2005

The Visual Rewriting of Promethea

Promethea, as a comic book figure, is a visual character just as much as she is a literary character. Therefore, her visual appearance means as much as her actions or her words. Partly, this has to do with what Richard Reynolds calls one of the “crucial signs of super-heroism.” In his book, "Super Heroes: A Modern Mythology," he argues that “an individual costume is an example of parole – a specific utterance within this structured language of signs... a costume can be ‘read’ to indicate an individual hero’s character or powers."*

This certainly holds true for Promethea, as her costume is a microcosm of her entire character. However, the symbols that exist in Promethea's costume can be rewritten just as easily as words can, and that is what Moore does with the symbols in Promethea.

With the use of Barbara Walker’s "The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects," Moore’s reasoning in choosing each symbol hopefully can be explained. On the surface, Promethea’s costume is a gold-plated Amazonian-like armor with a simple cape. She carries with her a Caduceus and has a tattoo of a Phoenix on her shoulder blade and another tattoo of an Ibis on her right leg. On her armor are an Ankh, Laurel-designs, and a Scarab. All of these are symbols that tie into the Greek and Egyptian tradition, specifically those of the Greek god Hermes and the Egyptian god Thoth.

Some of the symbols can be translated simply, such as the Phoenix. The symbol of the Sun God is present all throughout the story of Promethea, and the Phoenix, with its relationship with both the sun and eternal renewal makes perfect sense to be part of Promethea’s design. The only slight caveat, is the fact that the Phoenix has what looks to be a Scarab in place where this is normally a blank circle. This, however, is probably a visual choice. In that same vein, the Laurel designs and Promethea’s hairstyle look like artistic decisions merely to invoke the dual Greek/Egyptian tradition, rather than any deeper meaning.

The Caduceus, Scarab, and Ankh, however, all have one thing in common, and that is that they are all tied together with the idea of the power of life and of healing, which is all very traditional, and not rewritten in the least. Likewise, Promethea’s relation to Hermes and Thoth is very simple, as those two gods are the gods of the creative word.

However, this is significant because of the way that these symbols have been rewritten in the history, and presumably, Moore wishes to rewrite the original rewriting. There is a need for rewriting because of what Barbara Walker discovered about Hermes, which likewise applies to Thoth. According to Walker, Hermes quite possibly stole the first alphabet from Medusa, and is not the rightful forebear of the creative word. Likewise, the original Egyptian deity in charge of the creative word was the goddess Maat, who lost her powers to her husband, Thoth. These two gods, then, are examples of the male stripping away the female power.

This is seen in the Scarab and the Ankh as well. The Scarab was related to the all-important Sun god, only so long as the Egyptians believed that Scarabs were only male. Soon, upon the discovery of the falsity of this statement, they were rewritten as a nurturing, lunar symbol. Likewise, the Ankh was once a symbol of female power, as the symbol of the Great Goddess. Soon, however, it was rewritten as a symbol of life and stripped of any specific meaning.

Therefore, Moore is certainly aware of the fact that Promethea gained her power over the creative word from two gods who, according to Barbara Walker, got their powers from matriarchal goddesses. This is then Moore’s way of bringing the feminine power back to the forefront – the gods may feel that they have the power, but Moore and the reader know where the real power actually came from. He rewrites the symbols so that what was once thought to be a masculine symbol is back in the feminine hands that it originally belonged to; and that rewriting imbues Promethea with the confidence that she certainly would have lacked without said knowledge.

Reynolds, Richard. "Super Heroes: A Modern Mythology". Jackson: University Press, 1992. Page 26.


Blogger Brad Curran said...

Man Brian, that article wasn't funny at all. If it's followed by another installment in Alex's ongoing series of "___ Can Suck My Dick," maybe I'll get some chuckles, but jeez, could you be more scholarly? Don't you know you're talking about comic books? Where's a post about Tom Grummet's work on New Thunderbolts? That's what I come here for! What a dissapointment.

(This post paid for by Everything That Joe and Alex Hate. And Probably Brian, too, but he's too nice to say it.)

2/19/2005 02:27:00 AM  
Blogger Brad Curran said...

That public service announcment out of the way, I do have to say that this is an interesting post. I might like it more if I weren't in the process of writing some academic stuff myself. But since I am, I am kind of longing for the nerdery. A little. But still, good work. It's certainly something different.

2/19/2005 02:29:00 AM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

There's a lot of good material for discussion in the early issues of this may not be the last you'll hear from me on the subject...hehe.

2/19/2005 02:51:00 AM  
Blogger MarkAndrew said...

Now *that's* an interesting take on things.

>>>> Promethea, as a comic book figure, is a visual character just as much as she is a literary character.

Moreso for some of us. :)
Really the only reason I bought Promethea for, ohhhh the last 22 issues or so was cause the art was so freaking good. (And it *Was* ohmyGawd,ohmyGawd,ohmyGawd.)

Which is my way of sayin' that I think the art was even more important than the traditional superhero type comic, just because it was so intricate and breathtaking.

>>>>However, the symbols that exist in Promethea's costume can be rewritten just as easily as words can, and that is what Moore does with the symbols in Promethea.

I'm not entirely sure what you mean here.

You're arguing that he's not actually "rewriting" or, actually altering the symbols in any way, right?

Just placing them back in their original context, right?

Other than that, interesting article. I like the subtle touches a lot more than the blatant, kinda lecture-y magical explanations in the middle there.

Y'seem to be arguing that Alannnnn M,

2/20/2005 05:00:00 PM  

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