Alan Moore, Promethea: Book One (America's Best Comics, 2000)

If you don't know Alan Moore, you don't know modern fantasy. At least, you don't know vibrant, witty, sexy, brutal, erudite, mind-blowing, cutting-edge modern fantasy. And you certainly don't know comics.

Alan Moore is the author of the exhaustively researched, graphically violent, phonebook-sized graphic novel on Jack the Ripper, From Hell. And of V for Vendetta, a melancholy call to arms set in a totalitarian England and starring a guerilla fighter in a Guy Fawkes mask. Watchmen explores the link between masked superheroes and masks in the bedroom, posits a world in which the existence of actual caped crimefighters has caused comic writers to develop the escapist genre of pirate stories, and drops a giant telepathic squid on New York City.

Alan Moore is a shaman, a showman, and a glorious show-off. As far as the speculative fiction world goes, he knows more about more things and relays his knowledge more entertainingly than anyone but John M. Ford. And in case that sounds dry, I can't recall a single Alan Moore graphic novel or collection which does not include full frontal nudity.

Promethea: Book One collects the first six issues of his exploration into the roots of myth and of imagination itself.

Sophie Bangs is a college student in a peculiarly science fictional New York City, 1999, which is patrolled by cops in flying saucers and a rather inept group of "Science-Heroes" called The Five Swell Guys. She's writing a term paper on the folklore of the character Promethea, who first appears in an eighteenth century poem as a fairy handmaiden, then as a warrior woman in a series of pulp novels, and proceeds to manifest as everything from the WWI legend of an angel of the foxholes to a silly comic strip character.

But Promethea is not only fiction. She's a force of Story, an ancient archetype, an emissary from the depths of the subconscious. Her world is called Immateria, the land from which all imagination and ideas spring. She has had many incarnations, and her latest is a confused student named Sophie Bangs.

Promethea's lush artwork, by J. H. Williams III, Mick Gray, and Charles Vess, matches the mythic depth and sardonic fillips of Alan Moore's writing. The book is a sophisticated exploration of the roots of legend and creativity that also functions as a wickedly funny parody of every genre from superhero comics to science fiction to fairy tales, a moving story of female friendship, and a platform for scenes in which a gorgeous and scantily clad superheroine kicks whisker-twirling demons to kingdom come. Literally.

If you don't know Alan Moore, Promethea: Book One is an excellent place to start. Because if you don't know Alan Moore ... you should.

[Rachel Manija Brown]