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Promethea and the Fourth Wall.

In issue number 15 of the series, Promethea and her dead companion Barbara Shelley visit the mystic sphere of Splendour, or Hod. This is "the mercurial realm of language, magic and intellect", replete with "thought-stuff", a never-ending mobius strip, and language gods. One of the gods, Thrice-Great Hermes, interrupts his chess game to greet Promethea with the words, "Well, well. The Promethea idea. I had you in..what? The fifth century?"

Promethea is acknowledged as an idea throughout the entire series: indeed, even on the front cover of the very first issue, the following words appear: "If she did not exist...we would have to invent her." The character Barbara Shelley explains the concept in that first issue. "Promethea became a living story, growing up in the realm that all dreams and stories come from."

Promethea is a story about a story. As the text of Promethea dances about from realm to realm, challenging the reader's depth of knowledge with its exhaustive references to mythology and symbolism, the writer, Alan Moore, has Hermes embellish the story with an explanation: "Its all a story isn't it? Its all fiction, all language...it can change like quicksilver." Hermes cocks a knowing eye directly to the reader, and breaks outside of the fourth wall. "I'm saying some fictions might have a real god hiding beneath the surface of the page. I'm saying some fictions might be alive...that's what I'm saying." The fourth wall is the imaginary invisible plane at the front of the stage in a theatre through which the viewer is thought to survey the scene. The term signifies the suspension of disbelief of the audience, who are looking in on the action through the invisible wall. With Hermes' smirk, the story startlingly crosses into reality. But it had already done that years before.

On 20 July 1998, a trademark application was filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Below is an extract from the on-line search facility of the US trademark registry:

Word Mark PROMETHEA
Goods and Services IC 016. US 002 005 022 023 029 037 038 050. G & S: printed material, namely, posters, comic books and comic magazines and stories in illustrated form.
FIRST USE: 19990602.
FIRST USE IN COMMERCE: 19990602 Mark Drawing Code (1)
TYPED DRAWING Serial Number 75521734
Filing Date July 20, 1998
Filed ITU FILED AS ITU Published for Opposition January 26, 1999
Registration Number 2291601
Registration Date November 9, 1999
Owner (REGISTRANT) D.C. COMICS WARNER COMMUNICATIONS INC., A DELAWARE CORPORATION AND TIME WARNER ENTERTAINMENT COMPANY, L P A DELAWARE LIMITED PARTNERSHIP. THE GENERAL PARTNERS OF TIME WARNER ENTERTAINMENT COMPANY, L.P. ARE: AMERICAN TELEVISION AND COMMUNICATIONS CORPORATION, A DELAWARE CORPORATION; CAPITAL CABLEVISION SYSTEMS, INC., A NEW YORK CORPORATION; MEMPHIS CATC, INC., A TENNESSEE CORPORATION; PEOPLES CABLE CORPORATION, A NEW YORK CORPORATION; TIME WARNER OPERATIONS INC., A DELAWARE CORPORATION; WARNER COMMUNICATIONS INC., A DELAWARE CORPORATION; AND WARNER CABLE COMMUNICATIONS INC., A DELAWARE CORPORATION PARTNERSHIP NEW YORK 1700 BROADWAY NEW YORK NEW YORK 10019
Assignment Recorded ASSIGNMENT RECORDED
Attorney of Record MARNIE WRIGHT BARNHORST
Type of Mark TRADEMARK
Register PRINCIPAL
Live/Dead Indicator LIVE

A trademark is an indicator or badge of the source of origin of goods or services, a symbol or sign which allows a purchaser to identify the goods or services being purchased. In many ways a trademark is the crystallisation of a concept. Many trademarks are logos or pictures, not unlike the hieroglyphs referred to by Promethea in issue 15. They transcend language in identifying products irrespective of a consumer's lingusitic ability. The Nike swoosh, for example, is immediately accessible to a large percentage of people on the planet, whether they be Japanese, Finnish or Zulu. Promethea notes in issue 15, "I guess that telling stories with pictures is the first kind of written language." This is undoubtably true: but Barbara's reply that pictorial ideas (or "gods", as she says) "used to be in tapestries, but now they're in strips" is only part of the (ahem) picture. Trademarks serve as the contemporary continuation of this _expression of language.

Further, in relatively recent times, trademarks have become cultural identifiers, going beyond the traditional role of assisting businesses and consumers in commerce. There are countless examples: "Barbie doll" has entered the common vernacular as something other than an indicator of a type of toy for young girls - it can be a cruel derogatory statement of a woman's shallowness of intellect. "Star Wars", despite George Lucas' best efforts through litigation (Lucas Films v. High Frontier, 622 F. Supp. 93 (D.D.C. 1985)) , can mean something other than a space opera: the Court found in the Lucas case that the "purveying of ideas or points of view" was not "a service", and that the description of Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defence Initiative as "Star Wars" was not something over which Lucas had control. The idea and language is elusive and malleable, the quicksilver of Hod, and it took a life and substance of its own.

Promethea was a sign, an idea, which impacted upon the physical world months before she appeared in issue 1. Promethea took her first steps in Splendour years prior to her encounter with Thrice-Great Hermes: she leapt into the vault of language and ideas and crossed outside the fourth wall before she was ever published.

As we near the end of her time as a monthly publication, Promethea will continue to exist in our real world as an idea so long as her trademark continues to be renewed. A trademark is capable of perpetual registration, provided that fees are paid every ten years, a mobius strip of recognition and conceptualisation. She was a story outside of the story from before the beginning, and through her existence as a trademark will continue to be outside the story once it has finished.

David Stewart
3 May 2003