From Hell by Moore, Alan & Eddie Campbell, 1991
One thing that I dislike about myself, but I know that I will probably never change, is that I am a literary snob. Generally I know what I like and if a particular work does not fit within those boundaries, I won't even give it a chance. Mind you now, that does not come purely from a sense of superiority. I had my time with mainstream novels, and I've read many of the classics. So I tell myself that I've "been there, done that" before. But that still means that these days, I view the literary world and its output with some pretty narrow lenses. One of the subgenres that suffer the most from my judgmental gaze is the graphic arts, particularly graphic novels. I certainly had my time with comic books. At one point in time I had boxes and boxes of the things in a collection that took me years to put together. Nowadays though, I could pretty much care less about superheroes, with exceptions for some of the movies such as Iron Man. But lately I have been branching out a bit and trying some of the nonsuperhero comics. You will find several new reviews here if you look. This week's review is of Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell's From Hell, a very literary and highly informed, and extremely bloody take on Jack the Ripper. Five out of five stars.
I cannot imagine how much time Alan Moore must have spent researching Jack the Ripper before he wrote this book, though I can easily swallow that it must have taken years. This work has a fifty page appendix in the back where Moore deconstructs each of his own scenes, panel by panel, and rationalizes the choices that he made based on the logic of the authorities on Jack the Ripper. Moore's story is essentially this: Prince Albert, the sexually confused son of Queen Victoria, sired a bastard by a candy store girl named Annie Crook, and then secretly married her. When the queen found out she had Albert removed to the palace, leaving his young bride all alone. She went nuts and was confined, where she came under the care of Dr. William Gull, who lobotomized her. The baby fell to the care of its nanny, a part-time prostitute named Marie Kelly, who gave it to Albert's man-in-waiting, Albert Sickert. Marie was friends with three other prostitutes who prowled Whitechappel, all of whom were being threatened by a local gang. They were told if they did not pay a pound sterling each in protection money they would be cut apart. Marie figured that she could extort the money from Sickert, who would want to protect the reputation of the prince at all costs, but Sickert was broke, so he told the queen's men what had happened.
The story made it to the queen, who thought of Dr. Gull as a very trustworthy and loyal subject, so she asked him to take care of the problem. Unfortunately Dr. Gull was a serial killer in waiting who was as insane as they came. Gull was a Freemason who believed that time and history was a cyclical beast that repeated itself over and over with the same characters, and that the gods known as Apollo, Lud, Belinos, Atum, Bael, Christ and others were actually the same being expressing its power in different eras. Gull believed that this god's purpose was to take power from cultures that believed in a matrilineal descent of power and which focused on the mother god as supreme. He also believed that the Freemasons were that male god's agents on Earth, and their place was to do whatever was necessary to assure male rule. When Gull received Victoria's orders, he saw his chance to do his duty for the crown, and make his move and strike against the "temple whores" of the former earth goddess. In a strikingly graphic chapter, full of carnage, Gull captures and stunningly mutilates Marie Kelly, the last of the four women still living. He symbolically removed her heart and threw it into the fireplace where it exploded in a burst of energy that practically lit the entire neighborhood with light. For Gull, and Moore, this was the symbolic and ritual murder of the earth goddess’s servants, who in their day actually were prostitutes. But the ritual apparently was not totally symbolic: The investigators who found the scene of the murder the next day noted that the iron tea kettle, which hung over the fireplace, was completely melted.
The not-so-subtle message that Moore sent us here is that the true god, the one who nurtured us, fed us, and gave us our culture, was dead and was not coming back, and the male god who was concerned only with war, efficiency and sex was in charge. Gull's ritualistic murder of prostitutes was actually the sacrifice of the earth goddess' corps on earth. Once her coven of prostitutes was killed, she would have no followers left, and once that happened, the culture would disappear. Gull was "gifted" several times during the novel with glimpses into the twentieth century. Each time he was shocked by the meaninglessness of our existence. Moore seems to me to be suggesting that industrialization was a tool of the devil. During Victorian times our culture had its last chance to turn our backs on a society that would one day ruin itself by relying on machines to do everything, and by focusing more on the prurient, rather than the spiritual aspects of sex. In one particularly meaningful, yet cryptic passage after the butchering of Marie Kelly Gull tells Netley, his assistant, that he has "delivered...the twentieth century" to the world.
There is a lot more to this story than what is here. In the five hundred plus pages that it takes Moore and Campbell to tell this tale, they packed in quite bit more plot and intrigue, which you really must read to understand. This book may be one of the most literary and best thought out pieces that I have read all year. Whatever is coming next from Moore, he has my complete attention.
Copyright © 2008, Gregory Tidwell