Damian's Reviews > From Hell

From Hell by Alan Moore
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M_50x66
's review
Aug 23, 09

Read in August, 2009

I am no Comics aficionado or anything, but I do like me a good graphic novel from time to time, and have read a number or Alan Moore's other works, like V for Vendetta and Watchmen. From Hell has to rank, though, as his best work.

As much psychological study as social critique, From Hell recounts the story of Jack the Ripper, as he trolls the dark streets of London's Whitechapel district murdering -- and utterly eviscerating -- 5 prostitutes over three months. The Ripper murders were never solved, and a quick check on wikipedia will show that history's conspiracy theorists have put forth hundreds of theories for who Jack the Ripper was and why he did what he did. Moore presents one of the more extravagant but compelling theories, involving Royal scandal and meddling Freemasons.

The narrative is completely different from the ridiculous movie adaptation of 2001. While the movie presents the story as a classic whodunit murder mystery, the graphic novel starts, quite straightforwardly with the murderer himself (spoiler! it's a he!) and works through his mental deterioration, his doing of the deeds and the resulting media frenzy which in some sense lasts to this day. Crucially, the public reaction and the cover-up that follow plays as large a part in the story as the killings themselves.

Someone casually flipping through the book in a Barnes and Noble might be turned off by the stark black-and-white scrawling of Eddie Campbell's art. I would just encourage the reader to run with it, because in the end, Campbell's Whitechapel becomes as chilling a character as Jack himself, and he supports Moore's surreal descents into madness with appropriately hallucenagenic imagery.

Much has been made of the fact that the story of Jack the Ripper says as much about the serial killer himself as it does about Victorian England, and indeed Moore's narrative seems to distribute quite broadly the responsibility for the killing -- and the inability or unwillingness to solve the case. The blame reaches even to our own century. We are the inheritors, Moore tells us, of Jack's legacy.

It has been a long time since I read something that I felt legitimately haunted by once I put it down. If you can handle some amount of true gruesomeness, From Hell is a thrilling, thought-provoking and very disturbing read. It's also a comics master at his best and least compromising.
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