There he is.
When it comes to literary comic icons, no man comes before Alan. So much has been written about the unofficial leader of the 80s British Invasion, who heralded the coming of Vertigo and then disavowed DC and all mainstream publishing. The mortal enemy to Hollywood who has had at least half-a-dozen films adapted against his wishes, unlike Neil Gaiman who always seems to rather enjoy his celebrity. Mr. Moore, the proverbial purist artist always refusing to compromise. The mad occultist who refuses to shave. The genius we all aspire to be and will always fail to live up to.
Documentary: The Mindscape of Alan Moore
I shall start with Watchmen, as most people have started with that famed tome. Though, please note I think Moore’s legacy is far bigger than that one superhero deconstruction — perfect work of controlled storytelling it may be — and I think he has since surpassed his early work time and time agian. More on that below.
I was about 14 when I read the full Watchmen in graphic novel form, having missed the original issues in 1986 as a small child. A reputation had long preceded it at this point and I was getting into comics on a deeper level at the time, so I was looking forward to reading and seeing what all the fuss was about. I had a whole Saturday afternoon to kill at detention, they made you sit around for 4 hours; I was not a good student at the time. I read the entire work in one sitting. I was, of course, blown away. And I did a book report.
Watchmen came about when DC Comics purchased the Charlton library characters, Blue Beetle and Captain Atom and The Question, and Moore put together a proposal called Who Killed the Peacemaker? DC realized the status quo would be torn asunder, and they were going to incorporate them post-Crisis on Infinite Earths anyhow, so he was told to keep the plot but make up new characters.
Illustrated with precision by Dave Gibbons, it grew bigger than the usual story. Blue Beetle became the cheesy Batman-esque Nite Owl, Captain Atom as the one Superman of this world became the omnipotent Dr. Manhattan. They were archetypes as well as individuals.
Not only did Watchmen win the coveted science fiction Hugo Award, after that they changed the rules so comics could no longer win.
What struck me most of all were the extras between each chapter. Newspaper clippings, magazine interviews, notes, all the the world-building to show the authenticity of a hyper-realistic setting.
Also, the usual Alan Moore themes of rape and the illusion of time.
Watchmen has since become passé. Gritty realistic superheroes have been done to death, and Moore has specifically said in interviews he regrets causing that trend.
Personally I never watched the movie all the way through, and I don’t intend to. Mr. Moore is famously against all Hollywood adaptations, and some people find him a cranky old man. I moreover stand with him on that.
With that, let’s go some earlier Moore.
His mainstream days were relatively sparse, but every single one had an impact. There was Captain Britain, with Alan Davis. There was a bit of Superman, such as the classic birthday tale For the Man Who Has Everything, also illustrated by Dave Gibbons. And that final imaginary tale (aren’t they all?) previously mentioned, Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?
Speaking of Superman: Supreme. In the 90s, Moore was invited to work for Liefeld’s creator-owned imprint over at Image. Supreme was a very obvious riff on you-know-who. It quickly became a brilliant satire/homage/deconstruction on Silver Age superheroics. The ‘Man of Majesty’ was both corny and endearing, engaging within a complex plot involving multiple realities and retroactive timelines.
I should say that Moore’s American work really started with Swamp Thing, of which I’ve only read the first two volume. I know, I know, very late in the game on this. If I’m supposed to be completist the I better get to it. The Green, The Green…
Going back a bit further, there’s Miracleman. Now, the backstory of that character is Baroquean inof itself. The British knockoff of Captain Marvel was originally Marvelman, given a reboot in the 80s and published on the American side by Eclipse comics. However, in fear of being sued by Marvel Comics they changeed the name to Miracleman. And then it was abruptly canceled, with the legal ownership thereof in legal limbo for decades.
This made the series very hard to read before the digital age. I did order the first arc on ebay and it was a great read. Finally, I read the entire series online. Don’t ask questions about the legality of that, please.
Neil Gaiman’s brief run was interesting as well. A funny thing, now Miracleman of all things is owned by Marvel and they say they’re finally going to reprint the classic issues as well as let Gaiman complete his unfinished story! Guess I’ll believe that when I see it.
Meanwhile, Alan Moore in the 80s. There was the dystopian V for Vendetta, currently in print under the Vertigo banner, one of the first of his major comics that defied classification.
On the subject of V for Vendetta, this is very much the reason that I agree with Alan Moore on all things Hollywood. The film was an atrocity. It completely misses the point of the original, pretending to be a deep critique of American post-9/11 politics — taking place in the U.K. for no reason and badly done at that. It was supposed to be about Thatcherism. Moore was absolutely treated wrongly by the pretentiously stupid Wachowski Brothers. He was 100% right to disavow the film and have his name taken off.
In the end, the legacy lives on with those Guy Fawkes masks.
Another mediocre movie based off brilliant source material, From Hell is a literary masterpiece like no other. This riff on Jack the Ripper conspiracy theories doesn’t really aim to solve it, there are deeper takes on the nature of reality at play.
I remember when I read much of these graphic novels, I was living in L.A. during my starving artist period. How did I afford to read, you ask? I went to the library in hipster Silverlake and they had an extensive archive.
Back in the 2000s, Moore had started his own America’s Best Comics (ABC) with a host of deconstructionist characters. Tom Strong, among many others.