An outstanding achievement.
I hated every goddamn minute of it. I even hated the massive heft of the goddamn book itself, which was impossible to hold comfortably in any position, especially outside on my stoop, especially on the subway, especially anywhere except I guess sitting in a massive velvet armchair in some vast dark-wood-paneled drawing room where rich white men drink sherry and chortle over their monocles. I don't fucking know, it's two years since I read it and I think I blocked most of it out.
In one of the books most powerfuland memorably realizedsequences, Gull takes us (and his coachman Netley) on an occult tour of the urban geography of London, crowding our minds with historical anecdotes, precisely limning for us the pentagrammic map of the ceremonial violence to come. When, after murdering and methodically dissecting his final and victim, he is granted the vision of a late 20th century business office, Gull realizes he has failed to bring about the advent of an Apollonian age: no, nothing remains in the future but unemotional phantoms, fiddling with strange electronic devices: What spirits are these, labouring in what heavenly light? It is INSIDE you." Another contradiction is in Moores (and artist Eddie Campbells) treatment of the women who are the Ripper victims. Moore and Campbell never forget for a moment that Gulls ceremonial pawns are also real human women. Of these things alone are we certain: the phrase calls to mind another of From Hells contradictions.
It was OK in V for Vendetta though I must admit to liking the movie a bit better because it was more grounded. With From Hell, once again, I've seen the movie before having read the graphic novel and although the movie features Johnny Depp and a lot of opium, I liked that one better as well.
A story doesn't have to be factual to be true, and I don't think I have read a truer story in any form than Alan Moore's From Hell. It is the truest telling of Jack the Ripper that I've ever read. It matters not a whit whether Dr. William Gull is actually Jack the Ripper. What matters is that Alan Moore's writing and Eddie Campbell's artistry uncover a deep emotional and philosophical truth about the reverberations of the smallest actions in the world.
I mean, sure, it's Jack the Ripper and Alan Moore and it's supposed to be this grand masterpiece, but to me it just feels mostly like some kind of disjointed hodge-podge collection of personas that simultaneously lift up and denigrate both the East Side women and everyone else, nearly randomly, until much later in the comic when things finally tie together into a mystical extravaganza that is both surprising and feeling rather out of place. Keep the bits about William Gull, REALLY emphasise the importance of Masonic conspiracy theories and the connection to the crown, and then, after you're thoroughly grounded in all the blood and gore and the feeling like nothing really matters, top it all off with a dose of Alan Moore's more odd explorations in the human psyche and/or WOW mysticism.
While a work of fiction, this book includes a greatly expanded and detailed Appendix with factual notations as well as educated speculation (from the author) for each chapter and a period map of London giving the reader much food for thought.
From Hell is a brick of a book by legendary author Alan Moore. The murders are, of course, the central events of the book, and are depicted as an elaborate Masonic ritual by the killer (with pages and pages of Masonic theory to boot), but devotes considerable time to even the minor characters, a sort of pantheistic character study of an entire society. Moore and Campbell also provide an exhaustive overview of which parts of the story are fictionalized and which have some basis in reality, an exceptionally rare move in historical graphic fiction.
I read this not with a notion that by the end I'd come to understand the ins and outs of the Ripper case, but to witness yet another of Moore's masterful deconstructions of the stories we like to tell ourselves. That is an approach I'd expect from Moore--but Moore's presentation here is altogether too precise, too small, too lucid to really capture the grand mythology of The Ripper, a figure larger than any one story, any one account. There are a few excellent moments that draw this simple little story out of itself: strange glimpses of the future, a recognition of an age that is dying (which is in fact about to be brutally murdered, its blood flowing through the gutters of all the great cities of Europe) but these threads are not fully explored. There is little sense of form or gesture, flow and movement are lacking, and worse, the stark balance between the white and black spaces--the very power of pen-and-ink work--is absent. I understand the concept of an unsure, muddy world, a world of the past, seen through a thousand conspiracy theories and lies, but that thrust of history must still be presented with a sense of forcefulness, a trajectory--or better yet, many trajectories.
Alan Moore is an English writer most famous for his influential work in comics, including the acclaimed graphic novels Watchmen, V for Vendetta and From Hell.