Monday, December 04, 2006

Me and Alan

Now for a complete departure from what I've been reading, I've decided to take up Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell's seminal graphic novel From Hell, which details their version of the Jack the Ripper killings intertwined with the birth of the twentieth century in Western Civilization. The book has just returned to print after having been out of print for some time. The new edition contains maps, multiple appendices and at least one "deleted scene" in the back. It's cover price is a hefty $35, but at our online store, it can be bought for a mere $26.

Alan Moore is widely regarded as one of (if not the) greatest graphic novelists around. So far I've found his reputation to be a bit overblown. Watchmen is a truly great work of art, it simultaneously encapsulates and destroys the superhero myth by taking it seriously and makes almost any post-Watchmen effort at super hero mythologizing almost redundant, if not downright impossible. But V For Vendetta is a terrible bit of Leftist poppycock, in which Moore casts himself as V, the brilliant terrorist mastermind, and the reader as Evie the passive citizen of an increasingly right-wing world who must be reeducated (even through torture) by none other than... V himself. V's complete control over events in the novel (he has a master plan including his own death which gets executed without the slightest hitch) robs the novel of all dramatic tension or suspense. Add in that there are no compelling characters and one of the main characters in the second half speaks in a phonetically rendered think Brogue, and you have a not-particularly-enjoyable read. It's one of the few books I've ever read where its (mediocre) film adapation is better.

And League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is a fun lark (with amazing artwork) and clever, but not much else.

But From Hell is considered by just about everyone a masterpiece. Second only, perhaps, to Watchmen. A work that combines Moore's ideosyncratic fascinations without succombing to them entirely. Is this true? Or is Moore's genius so uneven that it's only fully realized in one great work?

So far, I think it's going pretty well (I'm a few chapters in). Eddie Campbell's artwork is extraordinary, referencing Victorian Woodcuts in simple (often deliberately opaque) black and white drawings. So far, we have almost certainly met Jack The Ripper, and his face has yet to be shown (his section of the book is done POV). The extensive notes in the back are fascinating for learning how deeply researched and sourced the book is, although checking them constantly interrupts the pleasures of engaging in the story. As per usual, Moore is telling the story kaleidoscopically, and so it's hard to tell what, if anything, is going on thus far. We've jumped all over time and gotten two stories. The first is about a young man who gets married and has a child with a shopgirl only to ripped from the hands of his beloved because he is, in fact, the prince of England traveling incognito, while the second details very swiftly the first fifty years of William Gull (who they're indicating wildly is JTR), his ascent as a doctor and his entrance into the Masons.

Along the way we've been treated to digressions on Masonry and the History of Architecture, not to mention faux Spiritualism and a sex scene only slightly less graphic than what you'd find in an R. Crumb book. So... so far, so good. A touch of humor, a touch of horror, a touch of true crime.

Let's see what's next.


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