Alan Moore has got religion and, as the example of Tolstoy shows, this can cause detriment to even the strongest of literary careers. Moore would object that his magical beliefs are not religion since, he writes in the final issue of Promethea, the word “religion” comes from the same root as “ligature” and means “tied together in one belief.” However, even if Moore and the audience are not tied together in one belief, the text of Promethea, which so frequently mimics the art of tapestry, certainly is. That belief is an unwieldy and ultimately incoherent melange of occultism, kaballah, amateur cognitive theory and a pinch of left-wing politics.
Promethea relates the journey of Sophie Bangs, a college student in an alternate version of contemporary New York who becomes the carrier of the eponymous Hellenistic deity of imagination. For the first ten or so issues, the comic followed Sophie’s adventures with her friend Stacia, a smart-mouthed repressed lesbian, other “science-heroes” and occultists, and her predecessors as Promethea, a delightful if stereotypical recapitulation of the last two centuries of the Anglo-American romance tradition, from 18th centuty philosophical poems to psychedelic ‘70s comic books. When Sophie/Promethea took leave of earth to explore the higher realms of the kaballah, however, the comic book about the goddess of story forewent plot in favor of a lengthy explication of Moore’s beliefs. Political realities intruded on Moore after the kaballah journey, however, and he found himself dramatizing a conflict between Sophie and Stacia, whom she appointed replacement-Promethea in her absence. This conflict stood in for Christian/Islamic hostilities post-9/11 and, by the time Sophie found herself hounded by the FBI, living a bleak Watchmen-like life in the absence of Promethea, the U.S. was attacking Iraq. When Promethea finally arrives to “end the world” in the final five issues, one gets the sense that the Bush administration’s perfidy has provoked her more than anything else.
To understand why Moore’s entirely justified objection to American foreign policy clashes with his belief system, we have to revisit some of the series’ statements about the nature of life and God. In #23, when Promethea visits Kether, the highest level of the kaballah, she beholds God, which she describes as, “All one. All God. All Kether.” In other words, God is everything and everything is God; this is illustrated in the comic with a page of circles (which are also comics panels) radiating out from an atomic center. The circles contain drawings of many of the things that constitute God, including a couple holding hands, a bird in flight, a baby being born, a suicide bomber preparing to strike and the attack on the World Trade Center. If God is holy and everything, then these moments are holy and are God. Promethea tells us in #31: “Everything is universe, everything is holy ... Triumphs, heartbreaks, heaven, hell. Paradise everlasting. Endless punishment.” As spiritual thought, this is a venerable tradition in many religions, but it obviously cannot support a moral attack on any government. In Moore’s undifferentiated cosmos, there is no good or evil, only God; if one enormous act of violence (9/11) is God, then how can Promethea, a bringer of God’s truth, morally oppose another enormous act of violence (the Iraq invasion)? In the essay “Reflections on Gandhi,” Orwell wrote: “One must choose between God and Man, and all ‘radicals’ and ‘progressives’, from the mildest Liberal to the most extreme Anarchist, have in effect chosen Man.” Moore tries to have it both ways, but in the end we have to wonder why, if there is nothing but God, we should worry about anything.