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From Hell (comic)

From Hell is an epic graphic novel about Jack the Ripper. And when I say epic, I mean it’s fucking epic. It’s a 572-page collaboration between writer Alan Moore and artist Eddie Campbell that combines fact and fiction, truth and speculation, history and fantasy into a dark and gripping story about one of the most notorious serial killers of all time.

Alan Moore did a bunch of research and combined a couple of conspiracy theories to create a coherent storyline. The true identity of Jack the Ripper has never been revealed, but Moore suggests that Queen Victoria’s royal physician, Sir William Gull, was the killer and that he killed the women as part of a royal/Masonic cover-up. Supposedly Prince Albert Victor had a secret affair with a commoner that resulted in the birth of an illegitimate child with royal connections. A few lowly prostitutes know about the child, and they use that information in a blackmail attempt. The queen doesn’t like being blackmailed, so she sent her trusted physician out to remedy the situation by killing them to death. And so Gull did, using his surgical expertise and Masonic beliefs to transform into Jack the Ripper.

This is not a historical textbook about Jack the Ripper. It’s a comic book interpretation of a conspiracy theory that uses a lot of historical figures and actual events that creates a gritty and realistic depiction of Victorian era London. Moore uses a little artistic license to tweak some facts around to support his story, but he doesn’t try to deceive you. The collected trade paperback edition includes over forty pages of notes and annotations that tell you what really happened, what might have happened, and what he made up entirely. He tells you where he got the information, what he was inspired by, and how he came to that conclusion.

Alan Moore’s dark story is perfectly complimented by the scratchy and rough pen-and-ink style of Eddie Campbell. The illustrations are harsh and crude, which adds a sense of hopelessness and despair. From Hell is complicated. It’s not for your average reader. You can’t just read it one time and pretend like you know what it’s about. It’s not just a murder story. It’s about religion, corruption, time, gender, and power. It’s about how fact and fiction are sometimes integral parts of each other. We may never know who Jack the Ripper was, or what his motivations were, but he’s become a symbol and he’ll never be forgotten. Whoever he was.

Critically Rated at 15/17

Written, Rated, and Reviewed by Brendan H. Young

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Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? (comic)

Superman is the most important comic book character of all time. He basically launched the comics industry and became a global phenomenon. He transcends the page; he’s an icon, a symbol. But how does his story end? Well, we got to find out back in 1986 when DC decided to simplify things and get rid of the multiverse and reboot their history. They brought in Alan Moore to write Superman’s final adventure of the Silver Age and bring his story to a close. Moore uses a framing device with a reporter interviewing an older Lois Lane about the last time she saw Superman, who has been missing for ten years and assumed dead. The story flashes back to Superman’s final days. Most of his major foes have been defeated and are out of the picture. But then they start coming back, and they are more twisted than ever before. They discover his secret identity and start attacking the people that Clark cares about most, some of them even die. Superman must find a way to save the day, and he does (cause he’s fucking Superman) but he pays the ultimate price.

            Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? is one of the most important comics in Superman’s long history. It’s a good read for casual fans and it’s essential reading for comic nerds. There’s a trade paperback that contains both Superman #423 and Action Comics #583, and as a bonus they throw in two more standalone stories. The Jungle Line is about Superman suffering from a strange Kryptonian flu and getting saved by the Swamp Thing. And there’s another one called For the Man Who Has Everything, which is Superman’s “what if” story showing what his life on Krypton would have been like if it never blew up.

            So if you ever wondered how the saga of Superman would end, this is the story for you. It has This is Alan Moore at the top of his game working on a Superman story to end all Superman stories. It has great artwork too. Curt Swan’s sketches are brought to life by inkers George Pérez and Kurt Schaffenberger. My biggest complaint is that it’s too short. You start reading and it and BAM! It’s over and you were just getting into it. You don’t want it to end, and then it’s over before you know it. But it sticks with you. It’s a great way to say good-bye to Superman. Even though he never really went away… you know there’s a new Superman movie coming out?

Critically Rated at 15/17

Written, Rated, and Reviewed by Brendan H. Young

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Watchmen (film)

Alan Moore’s Watchmen is regarded by many to be the best graphic novel of all time. Zack Snyder’s big screen adaptation is a valiant effort to capture the magic of the comic on film but the end result is somewhat disappointing. The comic is a perfect comic. The film is flawed and you’re a fool if you think its anywhere close to perfect.

It could have been worse though. It’s obvious that Zack Snyder respects the source material. He uses lines and scenes taken directly from the book. The whole first half of the movie is just like the comic. Then it starts deviating from it. And you realize there is no master plan involving kidnapped scientists and artists. So they had to change the ending. And fans don’t like it when you change the iconic ending to an iconic story.

Another problem with the movie is that they spend all the time establishing the main characters and ignoring the minor characters like the citizens of New York. So when NYC blows up and millions of people die, you don’t care because you didn’t know any of them. The director’s cut gives the Bernards a little more screen time, but if you only saw Watchmen in theaters you only catch a few glimpses of them.

The casting is pretty solid. Jackie Earle Haley steals the show as Rorschach. Jeffrey Dean Morgan does a great job as the Comedian, and it’s hard to play a character that you mostly get to know through flashbacks. Patrick Wilson does a good job as Nite Owl. Malin Åkerman plays a decent Silk Spectre II and you get to see her boobies (always a good thing). I don’t know about Billy Crudup as Dr. Manhattan. His delivery is too distant and monotonous and the blue CG wang is distracting.

Some of the actors are miscast. Carla Gugino can’t pull off playing the aging Silk Spectre, and even though she’s pretty to look at, it’s not enough to hide the fact that she can’t act. The worst decision was hiring Matthew Goode to play Ozymandias. In the comic Ozymandias is a super strong athletic gymnast with an intellect off the charts. Matthew Goode can play smart well. But he’s not physically intimidating. He looks skinny and sickly like he’s recovering from chemo.

If you liked the comic, you’ll probably enjoy the movie. If you never read the comic, I doubt you would know what the fuck is going on. It’s a really dense story and the movie tries to cram twelve issues of the comic into a few hours of screen time. Shit is going to be left out, cut out, or butchered. The movie will suffer as a result. It’s not a bad movie. It’s loud. It looks cool. There’s fighting and nudity and masked vigilantes. But it’s not the comic.

Critically Rated at 11/17

Written, Rated, and Reviewed by Brendan H. Young

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V for Vendetta (comic)

V for Vendetta is one of those comics that transcends comics and gets accepted as genuine literature. Alan Moore’s story is about a masked vigilante who rebels against the oppressive dictatorship that the UK has become. And he wears a Guy Fawkes mask because you have to look cool if you’re going to fight the government.

The story is set in the UK a few years after a nuclear war. Society collapsed and a group called the Norsefire takes advantage of the chaos and establishes itself as the new government in charge. If you are trying to assume total control, it’s only natural that you would eliminate your enemies or any threats against you, and so the Norsefire purged the UK of foreign immigrants, left-wing liberals, homosexuals and put them in concentration camps.

Only one prisoner managed to escape and he decides he wants a little revenge. He dons a cloak and a Guy Fawkes mask, and has an unnatural obsession with the letter V and the number five. In the beginning of the comic, our masked vigilante saves a young girl named Evey from a sticky situation. He takes her to his underground lair and begins teaching her how to become free, while showing off his bombing abilities and literary prowess.

It soon becomes clear to the Norsefire that they have a terrorist on their hands and they have to stop him. Eric Finch, the head of The Nose (the police force) , is assigned to track down V. We start to see how the party works. We meet the Leader, a shut-in named Adam Susan, who spends all day with his beloved computer system, Fate. There’s also The Finger (the secret police), The Eye (the visual surveillance branch), The Ear (the audio surveillance branch), and The Mouth (in charge of propaganda).

V starts killing a bunch of seemingly random people with ties to the party. Finch discovers a link between the victims – they all worked at a concentration camp. He finds a diary from one of V’s victims and learns about a mysterious prisoner known as the Man from Room Five because he was locked in a room with a roman numeral V on the door. The Man from Room Five escaped the camp using improvised explosives and vanished into the night. Finch deduces that this prisoner became the masked vigilante. He just has no idea who his true identity is.

V continues wreaking havoc on the Norsefire of the next few months and years, all the while continuing to teach Evey how to be free and what it means to be free. While V is terrorizing the party, the party is becoming divided and there’s a lot of bickering and backstabbing and attempts to seize power. V’s continued assaults on the party makes the oppressed masses start to stir and fight back. The party must try to deal with a potential political uprising in addition to warding off V’s victories.

Finch goes a little off the deep end and starts to think like V. He figures out where V’s hideout is and confronts him He wounds V mortally and V ends up dying in Evey’s arms. She doesn’t unmask him, she instead decides to don the cloak and the mask and assume his role. His ideas will live on through her, he lives on as a symbol.

V is one of the most unusual characters in comic history. You never see his face, you never learn his identity. And neither do any of the other characters. V could be a hero, he could be a villain. He could be sane, he could be totally crazy. He’s a little bit of everything, and he’s always an enigma.

Alan Moore’s depiction of dystopia is very reminiscent of Nineteen Eighty-Four. David Lloyd’s fantastic illustrations are perfect for this story. Although some events are over-the-top, the artwork keeps everything grounded in reality. It makes everything seem not just possible but inevitable. The art and the story are perfect compliments of each other.

If you liked Nineteen Eighty-Four or Fahrenheit 451 but wish there was more violence and nudity and a masked vigilante, you would probably like this comic. They made a film version that doesn’t really translate well, but it has Natalie Portman in it and she’s nice to look at. It’s not a terrible movie, but it sucks compared to the comic. This is a good comic, it’s a smart comic, and it’s an important comic.

Critically Rated at 14/17

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Swamp Thing: The Curse (Book 3)

Alan Moore is a remarkable storyteller and Swamp Thing contains some of his best work. This volume collects issues #35-42 of Saga of the Swamp Thing. The Swamp Thing meets a new ally named John Constantine, and he deals with a few new things that go bump in the night. The Swamp Thing is a horror comic, and this is a great showcase of what horror comics can be.

The first story is about a crazy guy named Nukeface. He’s addicted to a toxic sludge that a shady business is discreetly disposing of. He tries to share some of his delicious poison with the Swamp Thing and it ends up disintegrating him. But the Swamp Thing learns a new trick, his consciousness is not a part of his physical form and he can essentially recreate a new body for himself. He learns that he is capable of leaving his body in one place and re-growing a new one in another place.

The mysterious John Constantine shows up. He offers the Swamp Thing knowledge about what he is and what he is capable, in exchange for the Swamp Thing going around and stopping evil from spreading across America. Constantine sends the Swamp Thing to Rosewood, Illinois. A few years ago, something evil came to the town and they flooded it in order to destroy the evil. Now the town of Rosewood lies underwater, but the evil managed to thrive. This short story has one of the best interpretations of vampires that I’ve ever come across in literature. Moore twists vampire lore to make them unique creations. Vampires die because of oxygen and sunlight. It makes sense that they would thrive underwater. Driving a stake through its heart kills it because it causes oxygen to enter the heart directly.

The Swamp Thing is able to defeat the underwater vampires, and Constantine sends him on his next mission. The Swamp Thing must deal with The Curse. A lady named Phoebe is having her period and is pissed off and angry at her husband. Throughout the day, she is feeling more and more rage, and more and more detached until she reaches the breaking point and is transformed into a werewolf. This is a cool variation on the werewolf legends… werewolves transform once a month and you can argue that women do the same. This isn’t a sexist story, you have to read between the lines.

The last story in this volume is about a TV show about life of a plantation in the South. A new show is being filmed in the Swamp Thing’s hometown. There are a few celebrities in town and a bunch of the townspeople are hired on extras to portray the plantation’s slaves. Before too long, the actors are having trouble staying in character and it appears that the plantation’s tragic past is being relived through the people involved with the show. The past catches up with the present, and the dead start to rise to seek justice.

Saga of the Swamp Thing is a horror comic. The world is going to hell, and the Swamp Thing is one of the few things that can save it. I’ve seen vampires and werewolves and zombies a thousand times before. But I’ve never seen them depicted like this. They are unique and still recognizable. Alan Moore creates a world where the impossible can happen at any moment, and if it does, you’ll be glad if a walking/talking plant is willing to save you.

Critically Rated at 15/17

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Swamp Thing: Love and Death (Book 2)

Alan Moore is a genius. A scary, angry looking genius. Swamp Thing has some of his best stories. He didn’t create the character or the comic, he just made it awesome. Love and Death is the second compilation of his Swamp Thing comics. When Moore first took over, he changed the Swamp Thing from being a man turned into a plant monster into a plant monster that was never a human and just thought it was

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The collection starts with a bang as the Swamp Thing comes to terms with the fact that he was never Alec Holland. He finds the body of the man he thought he was and buries him. It marks the end of an era; Swamp Thing is no longer a Len Wein character, now he has evolved into a much deeper and darker character. The whole comic becomes more adult. It’s not for little kids. It’s for adult readers, the first comic to be published monthly without the Comics Code Authority Seal of Approval.

There’s a three-issue arc about Abigail dying. The Swamp Thing goes through extraordinary events to bring her back. He ventures into the afterlife and makes his way down to Hell. Hell is terrifying and horrifying, and it reminded me of the Hell scenes in What Dreams May Come. I know that movie came out way after this comic, but I saw the movie first so shut up.

This is when my review gets lazy. There are a few other stories in this compilation too. One’s about cute little aliens arriving in the Swamp. There’s one where you discover that there’s been more than one Swamp Thing. There’s one about Abigail and the Swamp Thing doing weird things that no human should do with a plant monster. There’s really no way to do Alan Moore justice by paraphrasing material of this caliber, I just hope that you are slightly intrigued and decide to read Swamp Thing.

If you like Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, you will like Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing. You might even recognize a few characters that they both use. The Swamp Thing universe takes you places. There are internal struggles and external battles. The storylines have unlimited potential. The Swamp Thing goes to Hell and back and ends up hooking up with a sack of meat. There’s really nothing that Moore can’t do and make feasible.

Critically Rated at 16/17

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Batman: The Killing Joke

Alan Moore has some amazing stories under his belt, and Batman: The Killing Joke is another one in his arsenal. It is just one issue, but it’s the best Joker story written. Batman and the Joker are two sides of the same coin, and like Harry Potter and Voldemort, neither can live while the other survives.

The Joker escapes from Arkham Asylum, shoots and paralyzes Barbara Gordon, and kidnaps Commissioner Gordon. The Joker thinks that anyone can end up like him; all it takes is one bad day. The Joker wants to break Gordon, to make him go insane. Batman has a problem with this and sets out to save Gordon and confront the Joker.

The story flashes back to the Joker’s early life, before he was crazy. He’s a failed comedian who agrees to help out some gangsters stage a robbery to get some much needed cash. Before the heist, his wife and unborn child die in a freak accident. He has no reason to commit the crime now, but he’s forced into it. The caper doesn’t go as planned, and long story short, shit goes down and he becomes the Joker.

The main storyline and the flashbacks echo each other. The panels have a lot of parallels: similar character poses and arrangements provide a seamless transition between the past and present. Brian Bolland’s art is amazing. It suits the story perfectly.

Batman and the Joker are both the result of one bad day. They just channeled their pain in different ways. Batman chose to face reality and fight crime. The Joker chose to embrace insanity and fight reality. He truly is crazy. He even admits that he can’t trust his own memories: “Sometimes I remember it one way, sometimes another… If I’m going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice!”.  There is an iconic ending. The Joker tells Batman a joke and they share a laugh. It makes you wonder if Batman is also insane

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Batman comics are awesome. Alan Moore comics are awesome. Alan Moore Batman Comics are exponentially awesome. That’s a lot of awesome. This is a really good story. It’s a really important Batman comic. It’s also really short, so you have no reason to not read it. So read it.

Critically Rated at 15/17

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Saga of the Swamp Thing: Book 1

Len Wein created swamp Thing, but it took Alan Moore to make Swamp Thing an interesting character. The original Swamp Thing was the story of a scientist named Alec Holland who gets transformed into a plant and becomes the Swamp Thing. Moore revamps his origin and turns the Swamp Thing into a plant that thinks its Alec Holland. Now the Swamp Thing never was human, it just absorbed Holland’s memories and turned itself into a humanoid. He must deal with the fact that his identity is an illusion, that he’s not supposed to be self-aware.

Alan Moore’s Saga of the Swamp Thing Book 1 is composed of issues #21-27 of the comic. His take on Swamp Thing begins with the total deconstruction of the character. An evil businessman has the Swamp Thing’s body, and he hires Dr. Woodrue (the Floronic Man) to figure out how Alec Holland became the Swamp Thing. Woodrue isn’t entirely human; he is a little bit of a plant too, making him the ideal one to research the Swamp Thing.  Woodrue discovers that Planarian worms are responsible for transferring his consciousness into the swamp, and the plants tried to mimic his human form, turning themselves into the Swamp Thing.

The Swamp Thing escapes from being experimented on, and Woodrue goes psycho and becomes a threat. He starts attacking small towns and waging war on humans, using his control of plants as a weapon. He’s the opposite of the Swamp Thing, a parody of what he stands for.

After the Woodrue arc is done, Jason Blood/the Demon shows up. The second part of the story makes it apparent that the Swamp Thing is a horror comic. He deals with demons and black magic. It’s a lot different than what you would expect from a comic with a title like this.

Moore’s story is complex. He goes into the minds of characters and you see what they see. You see Woodrue’s descent into madness. You see the Swamp Thing’s fear as he discovers that he can’t regain his humanity, because he was never human to begin with. The Swamp Thing takes place in the DC universe. Superman and some other members of the Justice League make cameos, but the story is not about them. It’s about the Swamp Thing. It’s about monsters and things that go bump in the night. It‘s about what it means to be human.

The Swamp Thing is kind of an obscure comic character. People know about him, but they don’t know what he’s about. Read Alan Moore’s stories about him, andyou will see that he deserves to be as iconic as Superman or Spider-Man. If you like monsters, demons, and Monkey Kings scaring the shit out of little kids, you will like this comic.

Critically Rated at 15/17

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The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume II

Alan Moore is the shit. The League or Extraordinary Gentlemen proves that. This is the second installment, and solidifies Alan Moore as a Comic Badass. The first issue in this series brings together a bunch of Victorian Literature characters together, and this second volume reunites them. We already know the characters so we can have fun with them. That’s that Moore does. He jumps right into the story, and it’s a better story than the first one.

The first issue of this series is important, because it introduces the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Now that we know each character and what the represent, the new conflict will either make or break the ensemble, and there is more drama and tension if it does so. There is much more at stake than in the previous story. The plot recreates the War of The Worlds, and so not only must man deal with foes from beyond, but they must deal with themselves internally.

Mr. Hyde and the Invisible Man go at it. Much of what occurs between the two is implied, but it is horrific. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but there is man rape in this story. Savage, dirty man rape. And it is justified. Literature doesn’t have to spare feelings; it just needs to reflect the real world. And man rape is a part of the real world.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen celebrates literature. The second volume rejoices in it. You have cameos from John Carpenter and creatures from The Island of Dr. Moreau and The Wind in the Willows. The character are much more active and independent from their creative author, Alan Moore gives them much more room to explore their boundaries.

Alan Moore has fun unifying classic literary characters. He pays homage to their origins, but also makes them his own. Mr. Hyde is the best example of this. Everyone who pretends to be cultured knows about Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Moore makes Hyde more of a villain and more of a hero than Robert Louis Stevenson ever could have fathomed. He redeemed Mina Murray in a savage and brutal, yet honest way, the only way that he could have.

The League of Extraordinary Gentleman is a great comic. There are more than two volumes, but they are all the evidence you need to prove their longevity. They are essential. They are necessary. They  are worth reading, so get on it.

Critically Rated at 15/17

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The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume One

Alan Moore is a genius. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is proof of such. There are a few volumes out already, this rant is about the first Volume. A bunch of characters from Victorian literature work together to recover a stolen item in order to prevent an aerial attack on British soil. Mina Murray, Allan Quaterman, Hawley Griffen (the Invisible Man), Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, and Captain Nemo are the Extraordinary Gentleman (and Woman). A bunch of other literary characters also make cameos, it’s rewarding to whoever paid attention in English class.

Kevin O’Neill’s artwork is scratchy and rough, a good fit for Moore’s storytelling. It feels old fashioned, and it captures the vibe of Victorian London.

It is quite a chore to take characters from different authors and different genres and be able to tell a story that would actively involve all of them. It’s a pretty dense story, and Moore is able to give each character time to develop and contribute to the action. A lazy author would be content merely writing famous characters into an original story, Moore makes them his own and gives them something to advance the plot.

There’s a lot of steampunk technology, but it’s nowhere near as obnoxious as Wild Wild West. I won’t even comment about the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen movie fiasco. That shit was just insulting.

This is a cool comic book. It is essential reading if you like Alan Moore. You can bring up this book in literary conversations and advance the dialog. It’s a very smart comic, you have to have read classic literature to know these characters. Moore assumes that you know them, or at least know about them, and brings them together in a clever way.

Critically Rated at 14/17

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