The protagonist, student Sophie Bangs, while researching a college paper, discovers several references to a character named Promethea. These references are in a variety of literary works including epic poetry and comic books. Curious Sophie investigates and eventually finds Barbara Shelley, the wife of the now-deceased author of the latest incarnation of the character. Her attempt to interview Ms. Shelley is unsuccessful.
Her investigation has been noticed, and she is warned by Barbara Shelley. On her way home she's attacked by a Living Shadow, but is rescued by a curious figure - Barbara, dressed as the latest incarnation of the Promethea character.
After they escape, Barbara tells Sophie how her husband's imagination made it possible for her to become Promethea. She explains to Sophie that in ancient Egypt a magician tried to save his daughter from the religious persecution that would kill him by getting his gods to preserve her forever as a story. Barbara further explains that some authors including her husband enabled her to cross back into the material world through the power of imagination as the superhero Promethea. Barbara warns Sophie that they have only managed to slow the Living Shadow down. She suggests that Sophie try and use her creativity to summon Promethea or they are both doomed. Sophie retreats and writes about the character, imagining herself as Promethea, and succeeds in fully embodying her. She manages to fight back the creature as it returns, but her troubles have only just begun.
Now Sophie has to figure out how to be Promethea and herself. She has to learn to identify and deal with Promethea's enemies, and for that she seeks guidance from the former incarnations of Promethea. This involves journeys into the Immateria, where individual imagination and a more universal plane of ideas meet.
The series has a heavy focus on the occult, and its related spiritual and psychological questions.
In 2018, the character was introduced to the main DC Universe in an issue of Justice League of America (Rebirth).
- Action Girl: Most, but not all, incarnations of Promethea.
- All Myths Are True: All gods and mythical creatures exist in the Immateria.
- Agent Mulder: Agent Brueghel, and most people on the planet, eventually
- Agent Scully: Ball and Hansard.
- Anti-Hero Substitute: Stacia and Grace take over from Sophie as a Split-Personality Team in the physical world during Sophie's quest into the Immateria. They have a somewhat more violent and hedonistic attitude to things, and end up fighting with Sophie when she gets back.
- Apocalypse Not: While the "end of the world" Promethea brought had caused a few fear-induced suicides, the destruction she causes is purely metaphorical. After she manages to merge the material and immaterial world, it brings humanity into a new enlightened age, thus civilization not only survives the "apocalypse", it thrives like it never has before.
- Art Shift: When "Big Bill" give Sophie a tour around Immateria and tells about his/her past, everything shifts from comic book art to photorealistic (or what Sophie calls "hyper-real").
- Aside Glance:
- As Hermes explains to Sophie and Barbara that some gods who appear in stories may be real, he smiles at the reader.
- Aleister Crowley smiles and makes an "Oh well, I tried" gesture at the reader after Sophie rejects his lewd proposition.
- Attractive Bent-Gender: Roger and Bill
- Author Appeal: Alan Moore used the series to write about one of his favorite subjects, the western magic tradition.
- Author Catchphrase: An implausible number of characters use the term "incidentally", all the time.
- After the End: Since the "apocalypse" that Promethea was meant to bring about was a metaphorical one, the comic ends with the sparkling utopia that happens after she brings "the end".
- Bad Boss: Mayor Sonny Baskerville, when possessed by the Howling."THE ONLY PURPOSE OF YOUR MILDEW-LIKE EXISTENCE IS TO DO MY BIDDING!"
- Badass Boast: Sophie gets in a beauty of one in the first issue, once she fully assumes the power of Promethea:"I am Promethea, art's fiercest spark,
I am all inspiration, all desire,
Imagination's blaze in mankind's dark...
I am Promethea. I bring you FIRE!"
- Body Back Up Drive: This is the secret of the Painted Doll's Joker Immunity - he's actually a series of robots, with a new one activated whenever the previous one is destroyed. At the climax, all of the currently dormant ones get simultaneously activated, and kill each other until only one is left.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall:
- The Painted Doll is fond of addressing the reader, particularly after a murder.
- As The End of the World as We Know It approaches, the series writer and artist make cameo appearances, as does the reader, when Promethea, in her final revelation to humankind, acknowledges the story she's a part of, while emphasizing it's not just a story.
- Cerebus Syndrome: The comic started as, and spent roughly one third to half its run as, an adventure story with philosophical elements. After that, it quickly turned into a non-stop Author Tract.
- Creator Thumbprint: In-Universe, when the character Promethea was written in pulp stories in the 1920s, the writers shared a Pen Name, "Marto Neptura". In order to defeat a representation of Neptura in the Immateria, Sophie lists five such writers who each had different trademarks. Two are said to have been quite good and one is only mentioned to have been prolific, but of the other two, one is said have included a lot of misogynistic bondage scenes and the other is said to have been obsessed with medieval weaponry.
- Cliché Storm: The entire point of the Weeping Gorilla, an in-universe comic book character whose only function is to spout such maudlin, commonplace sayings as "Why do pets have to die?" and "I hate my body."
- Deadpan Snarker: Stacia, Barbara, Jack, Grace, Roger, agent Ball, the Doll, Boo-Boo, Sophie and Trish (sometimes)... actually, about half the cast.
- Eldritch Location: The Immateria is essentially the afterlife, the collective unconscious, the omnipresence of god, the metaphysical form of the universe and the human soul all rolled into one, so of course it can be one hell of a head trip navigating it.
- Emotion Bomb: Because the Immateria are the memes and images of public consciousness without the filters that mankind is accustomed to, being within the physical vicinity of such symbols overwhelming the senses. For instance, the Weeping Gorilla is a cultural meme meant to make people experience sadness, so being within the vicinity of the Weeping Gorilla causes one to sob uncontrollably.
- Enlightenment Superpowers: Following with the theme of Hermetic spiritualism, magic (and those who wield it) is implied to be a power that everyone is capable of doing with an open enough mind through the use of symbols and art, the various incarnations of Promethea coming into existence through such means.
- Ethnic Scrappy: The Little Margie strips spoof this with Chinky, a ridiculously racist Chinese caricature. The Little Margie comic started in 1901; realistically, it probably could have been much worse.
- Although within Promethea itself Chinky only appears in Moore's prose prologue to the series, Steve Moore (no relation to Alan), in Tomorrow Stories, included him in two Spin-Off Little Margie tales in the form of Little Nemo-style Newspaper Comics. The first tale plays the trope straight; the second subverts it by having Chinky reveal himself in his true form as a non-stereotypical Chinese prince, Ching-Ki.
- Free-Love Future: Implied to be one of the various outcomes of Prometheus's "apocalypse" After the End.
- Friendly Enemy: Jack Faust, initially introduced as an antagonist
- Gender Bender: While Promethea is always female, one of the incarnations was male, and transformed when needed - the fact that he was a gay man was a factor in some unfortunate circumstances. There's also one of the Five Swell Guys, who seems to have suffered a permanent one-way transformation to female
- The Ghost: the Night Queen is referenced repeatedly, but never actually appears.
- Hard-Drinking Party Girl: Trish, at first.
- Hermetic Magic: it's by Alan Moore, what did you expect?
- Higher Self: Promethea herself is a higher self to the various people who embody her. The Angel Boo-Boo definitely is, being the guardian angel and divine expression of the previous Promethea, Barbara Shelley.
- Historical Character's Fictional Relative: Sophie Bangs briefly meets John Kendrick Bangs, her ancestor, on the house-boat on the Styx which he wrote about, while searching for her dead predecessor.
- Historical Domain Character: Aleister Crowley and his associates make various appearances throughout the comic's run.
- I Am Legion: The Howling are a series of demons - who eventually all find an already troubled person to possess.
- Intercourse with You: There was a whole issue dedicated to this, and it got an award for how it handled the subject.
- Joker Immunity: The Doll seems to have this which becomes a plot point later
- Kangaroo Court: Played with in "A Higher Court."
- Knight Templar: The Temple, collectively.
- Laughably Evil: The Painted Doll.
- Legacy Character: There were several incarnations of the Promethea character, and the latest one seems to have had to deal with some common adversaries.
- The Legions of Hell: When Sophia is established as the new Promethea, Solomon summons a host of demons to kill her.
- Little Red Fighting Hood: A figment of Sophia's imagination that pops up when she fights the fear of wolves.
- Living Shadow: The smee.
- MadonnaWhore Complex: In Binah, Sophie and Barbara encounter an entity known as Babalon, a Thelemic goddess that embodies feminine sexuality, the passions they ignite in others (both positive and negative) and their destructive capabilities. After she proclaims who she is and her relationship to Promethea's role as Apocalypse Maiden, she then immediately transforms into Marie, the embodiment of all that is sacred, wholesome and compassionate in woman-kind.
- Meaningful Name: Sophie Bangs
- Mental World: Trips into the Immateria seem to qualify as this, the Immateria acting as the collective unconsciouse where all symbols, dreams, thoughts and metaphors reside.
- Mr (and Ms, and Mrs.) Exposition: About half the cast.
- Monster Clown: The Painted Doll, a celebrity serial killer dressed as a clown.
- Noble Demon: Asmodeus, so long as one treats him with respect.
- No Sense of Humor: One of the female FBI agents, named Lucille Ball.
- Odd-Shaped Panel: Frequently used in the mystic realms.
- Our Demons Are Different: The various demons present are depicted in various forms, the Smee being a Living Shadow, Asmodeus shifting from a giant spider into a human form and the The Legions of Hell looking like the sort of things you would find among Jacques Collin de Plancy's illustrations of the Dictionnaire Infernal.
- Parents as People: Trish and Juan
- Passing the Torch: Promethea is a title is passed on from one generation to the other, sharing the idea of the person Promethea made divine by Hermes-Thoth into the form of a legacy-based Science Hero.
- Practically Joker: The Painted Doll inevitably reminds one of The Joker. He even has a resemblance to Mark Hamill.
- Real Person Cameo: repeatedly, especially the near-ubiquitous Aleister Crowley. Toward the end, Moore and series artist J.H. Williams III also have a one-panel cameo each.
- Red Is Violent: Geburah is one of the branches of the Kabbalah, representing the universal qualities of strength, judgement, the planet Mars, the element of fire and the domain of War Gods and enactors of justice. The entire area is illustrated with harsh red and black illuminated with flames, and being within it for too long influences Sophie and Barbara into a more aggressive state of mind, eventually losing track of themselves and accidentally falling into the domain of Asmodeus.Sophie: Barbara, when I think of all the scum injustices hurting people, my wrath is mighty.
- Rule of Symbolism: Because the Immateria is the realm of imagination, dreams and the subconsious, symbols and metaphors are made real there.
- Sex Magic: One issue of consisted entirely of a sex magic ritual between the hero Sophie Bangs and her Trickster Mentor Jack Faust.
- The Scrappy: Little Margie is an in-universe example. As the fictional creation of Margaret, she's stuck hanging around for eternity in the Immateria with her and the other deceased Promethea hosts, and her Little Nemo-like exclamations get on their nerves.
- The Smart Guy: The Five Swell Guys actually have two of these, which later becomes a plot point.
- Sophisticated as Hell: The Angel Boo-Boo.
- Super Gender-Bender: One of the former Prometheas was a male comic book artist called Bill Woolcott.
- Tarot Motifs: Tarot cards (most notably the Thoth Deck) are brought up many times. The previous Prometheas use the minor arcana to teach Sophie how to use her abilities, the snakes on her staff use the Major Arcana to explain the history of the universe and she encounters personifications of both during her quest through the World Tree.
- Transparent Closet: Stacia
- Unfortunate Names: Lucille Ball. Not kooky, not a redhead, and snarking apart, generally not inclined to see the humor in anything, including her name. Also (lampshaded by the character) Trish Bangs.
- Unusual Euphemism: Chemise-lifters.
- The 'Verse: Shares a verse with other America's Best Comics works by Alan Moore like Tom Strong, Top 10 Splash Brannigan, Jack B. Quick, Cobweb and Greyshirt.
- Villain with Good Publicity:
"'Hail Satan!', quipped the increasingly popular Mayor."
- The Painted Doll is surprisingly popular, as some people even wear t-shorts depicting him. He's actually referred in the media as a "celebrity omnipath". In fact, his publicity is too good. One of his incarnations gets mobbed to death by fans wanting to be killed by him.
- Also the Mayor post-possession.
- Villains Never Lie: The Goetia.
- The Watson: Sophie fills this role very heavily at first, and then goes MsExposition as she learns more to Stacia and Trish, and even to Barbara, of all people.
- Your Mind Makes It Real: This seems to define how things are handled in the Immateria.