Website (for Alan Moore’s wiki page)
There’s no way I’m going to be able to talk about this one without giving out a little bit of personal history, so bear with me. Back in my youth, I had terrible taste in comics, sticking mostly with garbage Marvel superheroes. So did most of you, if you’re being honest about it. Or maybe not, as it’s never been easier to find quality comics than it is now. Anyway, eventually I started to grow out of it and look for other, better comics to take their place (giving up on comics altogether wasn’t really a consideration). I knew that THE books to get were The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen, so I got them both and loved them. This led me to look for more from both authors, so I was able to get a few random old issues of Daredevil by Frank Miller and The Bojeffries Saga by Alan Moore. In hindsight this was damned odd, as he certainly had more popular and better known books out there, but I lived in a very small town and took what I could get. I’m not going to be able to get through this review without a fair amount of hyperbole, but it’s safe to say that that book influenced my sense of humor in a big way. I didn’t get the accents (Moore writes his characters in this book with heavy, thick accents that you practically have to sound out to understand), and I didn’t get a number of the references. But I could tell that it was funny, and the more universal bits made me laugh right away, so I researched the bits that I didn’t understand, which made those a whole lot funnier, until finally there was a solid decade there when I would have called it my favorite comic, even above the books that led me to it. That was longer than I intended, but you get the idea: an objective review of this comic is impossible, so what you’re getting is a subjective review, impressions that I have now after reading this again for the first time in a decade (ish) after reading it maybe a dozen times in the past. My first impression was amazement at how short the stories seem now. It seemed like every page (and damned near every panel) was crucially important at the time. But then the funny started to come at me, and large chunks of this haven’t aged a day. The opening story with the rentman was a fantastic introduction to the cast of characters, and him constantly coming up with titles to the story of his life in his head while doing his job had me laughing out loud constantly. Raoul’s Night Out, the batfishing story (and that closing line to it!), every single thing said by Ginda, the slapstick comedy of Festus dying over and over again, there’s just so much here that hasn’t aged a day. Outside of a reference or two, that is, but that’s inescapable. Finally there’s a new 24 page story to bring everybody up to date on the family, and just in case this is your first introduction to them, I won’t spoil a single bit of it. Sometimes new stories in old collections feel tacked on, but that is not the case here, as it just makes the whole thing more complete. I recommend a lot of comics, but even 20 years after seeing this for the first time, there isn’t a single comic out there that I would recommend more highly than this one. Buy it, read it, make your life better instantly. $15
From Hell. Christ, talk about a nostalgia overload. I first saw From Hell in any form when I picked up a copy of Taboo #4, which I believe had the third chapter of the story. This was probably in 1993, so this along with the suggestions of Dave Sim led me to hunt down everything I could find from Eddie Campbell (I already knew all about Alan Moore, as Watchmen was one of the books that got me started down this independent comics path). EventuallyÂ I picked up a few more issues of Taboo before that publishing company went under, then over the years I successfully managed to get all of the individual issues when they came out for Tundra and Kitchen Sink Press, two more companies that are no longer active. The point of this extended introductory ramble, outside of letting you all in on what this book means to me, is to point that this is the first time I’ve read the book in its collected form. Sure, I read through the comics all in a row once, but that includes all of the letters pages and asides that come with individual issues. Reading this all in a chunk is a revelation. I remembered loving the book, obviously, but it’s only when you have it in a chunk that you can really see all of the tricks that Moore was trying to pull. For those of you who have never heard of small press comics but have somehow hit this review, From Hell is Moore & Campbell’s version of what happened with the Jack the Ripper murders. I say “Moore & Cambpell” because even though Moore is obviously the writer, this book would have been something else entirely under the hands of a different artist. Eddie’s depictions of the steady rains, foreboding shadows and the brutally graphic murder scenes is what I think of even today when somebody mentions Jack the Ripper. If you’re a history buff and think you have a good theory on who committed the murders, might I suggest reading the lengthy appendix with Moore’s notes? These things are meticulous and list his thoughts practically page to page, and they answered every question I had about why he went in certain directions. Most people are content to call it a day after 400+ pages, but Moore instead offers a peek into his writing process that feels like a necessary epilogue instead of a tacked-on filler piece. As for the execution of the story, again the word I would use is “flawless.” The idea that nobody in authority was able to figure out these murders was always a little hard to swallow, so Moore has come up with a more plausible explanation. He’s the first to admit every step of the way that this is all fiction, but he also clearly took the time to learn all of the fine points of the murders and the investigation. If you’re reading along and have noticed that I’m not going into any kind of chapter by chapter analysis, that’s for a reason: this is in my personal top 10 (probably top 5) and I’m thrilled that Top Shelf was nice enough to send along a review copy. Picking it apart piece by piece would take weeks and kill some of my enjoyment of the book, so why bother?Â It’s an entirely different experience from reading it issue to issue, and it’s also clear that they fixed up a few panels here and there. Oh, and just in case this giant book with a lengthy appendix isn’t enough content, they also included the rare “Dance of the Gull Catchers” story. If you’re a fan of this medium and don’t already have this book on your shelf, the only excuses I can think of are excessive poverty or ignorance. One is more easily rectified than the other, granted, but there are always local libraries that tend to have this on the shelf if all else fails. $35
You wouldn’t believe how long I’ve been trying to get my hands on this story. I heard about it after it came out, as I paid no attention to Rob Liefeld’s comics at all, and by then it was out of print and uncollected. Sometimes I swear that these Checker people are reading my mind with the collections they’re putting out. This is the second collection of what I’m guessing to be at least three. I haven’t seen the first one, apparently it sold out quickly but they’re putting out another printing. Surprisingly, it really didn’t affect my understanding of the story. Sure, it might have helped here or there if I knew exactly what led up to certain things, but the main strength of this series was its vast history. As this character is at most ten years old, that probably needs a bit of explanation. This character is Alan’s take on Superman, pure and simple. I thought that was the point of Tom Strong and maybe it was; I still haven’t read it. There is a world for Supreme that houses the Revisions, which are all the failed versions of Supreme that were discontinued after a few months or a few years, going back decades. Read some of the OLD collections of Batman or Superman if you’re not aware of how many revisions they’ve had over the years. It’s a perfect story device for this because there’s an automatic history for the series, no matter what point you start reading it. Rick Veitch does some flawless work when flashbacks are needed for the sake of reminding readers of “old” characters, and he does a perfect tribute to Jack Kirby as well. Sure, at times it seems like a silly superhero comic, if you’re not reading between the lines, but that’s kind of the point. The actual story here (Supreme fighting villains who’ve escaped his prison, Radar (the Supreme dog) having thousands of puppies, Supreme revealing his secret identity) is good, but it’s secondary to the dissection of Superman that is on display and the incredible ability Moore has to make the silliest things believable and interesting. This is an amazing chunk of work for fans of Moore or just for fans of the medium in general. He’ll be known as the best comics writer ever when he’s gone (I know that he already is, but people don’t truly appreciate the greats while they’re still producing), and this, surprisingly for me at least, is some of his best work. It’s $24.95 but it’s huge, in case you were wondering…
This is the last of the books I was able to buy with my “I still have a steady job, why not get this book?” money, and I don’t think I could have picked a better one. I didn’t follow this book as it was coming out, but there’s no way that it could have come out on a monthly basis. Every panel is packed with in-jokes and references to other comics and characters, from “Vacation on Infinite Earths” to a Hawkwoman feeding little baby hawks in a nest to Kang the Caterer. It’s been said before in other reviews, but this is pretty much Hill Street Blues with superheroes. There might have been three fight scenes in this whole book. It’s all about the characters and the human side of all these fantastic figures. After all, super powers kind of stops being a conversation topic when everybody in town has some. And always, always check out the backgrounds of these panels. There’s always superheroes flying around and doing something, more often than not you’ll probably recognize them. That brings me to my only problem with the book. If you haven’t grown up on comics, you’re going to miss a lot of stuff in here. I think the average person would still get a lot out of it, but this is for the comic book fans, plain and simple. It’s $14.95 and you don’t really have to read these two books in order, although I guess it might help for certain parts. It’s some of his best work in years, definitely the best of the “America’s Best Comics” line that I’ve seen.