How Alan Moore's Promethea Met DC's 'Justice League of America'
This week’s Justice League of America sees the surprise return of an unexpected character who hasn’t been heard from in more than a decade. But what brings Alan Moore’s Promethea to the DC Universe for the first time? As it turns out, it’s all about story…literally.
The character, created by Alan Moore and J.H. Williams III, previously appeared in a critically acclaimed 32-issue series that ran from 1999-2005, regularly pushing at the boundaries of the comic format and culminating in a literal apocalyptic event as Promethea — the personification of imagination, as embodied by college student Sophie Bangs — fulfilled her destiny and caused the end of the world. Or…did she?
This Week In Heat Vision breakdown
Promethea’s return is the first of two planned revivals for characters from Moore’s America’s Best Comics imprint from the turn of the century; DC’s upcoming series The Terrifics will feature pulp hero Tom Strong. Unlike Promethea, Strong survived both Moore’s departure from the ABC line and the shuttering of the line itself, appearing most recently in 2013’s Tom Strong and the Planet of Peril from DC’s Vertigo imprint.
Promethea’s appearance at the end of this week’s issue of Justice League of America marked a turning point in a storyline in which the heroes have been facing — and being easily beaten by — the Queen of Fables, who herself personifies all evil in folklore. (That character debuted in 2000’s JLA No. 47, created by Gail Simone.) The combination of hero and villain, it turns out, wasn’t just a lucky coincidence, as writer Steve Orlando tells Heat Vision in a conversation about the issue.
The end of Justice League of America No. 23 is an amazing reveal, and I’m curious about where it came from. Which came first: the villain of the storyline, the Queen of Fables or bringing Promethea back for the first time since the end of her original series? How did the story come about?
Everything started with the Queen of Fables, Tsaritsa. She's been with the book since the first moment, offering people a devil's deal that I thought would be apt in a moment of socio-political desperation. When have we been more desperate, or vulnerable, for a quick fix? Or just wanting to wish everything away? Once we knew it was the Queen, Promethea grew into the story — she presented a wonderfully enlightened counterpoint to the Queen of Fables. [The Queen is] the dark, manipulative face of story looking to conquer the bright, hopeful counterpoint, and Promethea is something that brought me hope as a reader. I pitched my ideas to DC Editorial, citing my respect for this character, and was approved to go forward.
Promethea and the Queen allow us to show how story can be used in such dynamic ways. It can influence us, it can change us, but it's still just a means. They are the power of story itself; they represent the different facets of story here. They’re why we tell story: selfishness versus selflessness, an obsession with the past versus a bright, willful look towards the future. The Queen is looking to tear down the world because of an old grudge, whereas Promethea already ended the world once, to make it better, to help us. She has never been beholden to the past.
Promethea seemed like the perfect fit to add to the tapestry of the DC Universe in a new, exciting, and transformational way. Once I found out that she was approved and available, I wanted to bring her to JLA, and to a new generation of readers, the same hope and fascination the original series brought me. Promethea offered a chance to craft a moment for DC Universe that’s fraught with meaning. It was a chance to bring awareness, create a snippet as to what made the character to special, and remind people of her story. JLA gave us a chance to pay tribute as well as build upon what's to come, creating the right moment for these characters to participate in, the elegant moment for these worlds to touch.
I’ve come to think of you as a writer who shows great care and respect towards unexpected characters, whether it’s ones that other people consider punchlines or misused or underused in subsequent appearances. What’s your approach towards reviving characters, and, in particular, a character like Promethea who not only has only previously been written by her creator, but also appeared in a story that very definitively had an ending?
I take that as a great compliment! I actually love that aspect of a story history as rich as that of DC's. I think there's something interesting to be found in every character, even if they were looked on as a punchline before. Someone like Terrorsmith maybe seemed so in the 1990s when he debuted, but his origin of being deserted by his middle-income job, abandoned without proper medical support or incapable of affording treatment, and ostracized by his loved ones because of his perceived failures (which were truly institutional failures), seemed starkly relevant today.
With Promethea, she remains relevant and transformative. The push is to do our best in honoring a story we loved, that I loved, with an appearance that hopefully spreads the words and shows even more people why she's to be loved, why she's as vital today as ever, and why she demands attention.
Promethea remains special. In touching the DC Universe, we hope to bring an instance of that wonder crafted on the page of every issue of her series. Her message, her point of view, is one desperately needed by one of the Justice League. And just like when you read her [original series], anytime she appears, even a brief moment of interaction, is transformative to its very core.
Promethea [the series] had an ending, with the book itself reinvented after she brought on the apocalypse. And Promethea the character is someone that can be inhabited by any number of strong, young woman with fire and passion. And now, with everything happening to the Justice League, with everything happening in our world, in my own personal world, we need a visit from someone like her, embodying imagination itself.
The stories in [the original series] live and are loved, especially by myself. They remain a masterwork to be revisited or discovered for the first time, and hopefully, with this moment in time as Immateria touches Earth, we can put an even greater spotlight on them, and do our damnedest to bring the magic of her presence to new readers, and new heroes.
Now more than ever, I think, we need a hero who is willing to fight on the side of Art. I know I do.
I presume this will get addressed in future issues, but is the original series still canon, for want of a better way to put it? You talked about her bringing on the apocalypse, but did Promethea escape the end of the world by becoming a story?
It all happened. And that's an easy answer, since there's honestly no guarantee Promethea is still Sophie, or that the person channeling her comes from the America’s Best Comics Universe. We see that she's here, in her Promethea aspect. But the sacred mystery remains: Is this the same embodiment of Promethea? With this work, with all my work, I hope to always build upon, and never break down. I hope to create characters — and hopefully I already have — that new creators will discover in the future and revisit, re-frame and let grow.
Justice League of America No. 23, by Steve Orlando, Neil Edwards and Daniel Henriques, is available in comic stores and digitally now.
by Graeme McMillan
by Katherine Schaffstall