There are few names more important to comics than Alan Moore. He is credited with reinvigorating the comics industry in the ’80s, bringing a literary quality to his work which helped the pulpy newsprint stories transcend the previous limits of the medium and achieve the status of high art. With his anarchist leanings, deep philosophical inquiries, and epic wizard beard, he brought a unique voice to the industry, helping to establish a whole generation of British comics writers who came after.
Recently, Alan Moore announced his retirement from comics. Over his long career, he brought realism to superhero comics and imbued his realistic dramas with a sense of supernatural wonder. Here are the ten best comics Alan Moore ever made:
10 The Ballad Of Halo Jones
While writing for the British comics magazine 2000 AD, Alan Moore scripted one of the best comics in the company’s history–and created their first female protagonist. The Ballad of Halo Jones was a story about an ordinary working class woman born to extreme poverty in the future’s crowded slums only to achieve greatness throughout her lifetime, traveling the galaxy and becoming caught up in a massive interplanetary war.
This early work of Moore’s demonstrated his controlled concise storytelling style and his fascination with how society impacts people. Sadly, the series ended before Halo’s life story came to a close, but this black-and-white epic is still praised by fans 35 years after its release.
9 Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow
In this story about Superman, Moore showed fans the Man of Tomorrow’s last day on Earth. Superman understood the gravity of what was about to happen as the Legion of Superheroes visited him from the future to pay their respects–including his dead cousin, Supergirl (time travel can get tricky that way).
Several different Superman villains attacked him throughout the story, each trying to break the Man of Steel once and for all as they go after his reputation, his secret identity, his friends, and his life. But the best part was the final climactic twist as Superman’s greatest foe revealed his true potential.
8 The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen
Supposedly, Moore imagined this originally as a Victorian version of the Justice League. Since then, it has grown to be so much more. The main characters are a team of literary heroes including Mina Harkness from Dracula, the adventurer Alan Quartermain, the legendary submariner Captain Nemo, and the muscularly violent Mr. Hyde.
The longer this series continued, the more literary characters it incorporated as its plot stretched back and forward through time. Honestly, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen might be the smartest work of literary metafiction in all of comics.
7 Lost Girls
To be clear, Lost Girls is not for everyone. This series is definitely an Adult (with a capital A) comic with everything that implies–including handling mature nuanced philosophical concepts it would take an adult to understand.
Set on the eve of World War I, the story follows three women: Alice from Alice in Wonderland, Dorothy from Peter Pan, and Wendy from The Wizard of Oz. The trio meet in a hotel and quickly form a close bond as they recount stories of early childhood awakenings while becoming romantically entangled with one another (and with a number of other characters as well). While Lost Girls deals in some graphic subject matter that might upset some readers, the story challenges the lines separating high and low art with a bold sophistication only Alan Moore could pull off.
Alan Moore is a wizard. No, seriously. The man came out as a ceremonial magician decades ago and his stories frequently explore the hidden mysteries of the occult arts. No comic better illustrates Moore’s magical affinity than Promethea, a feminist exploration of psychospiritual traditions.
The story opens in ancient Egypt with a young girl fleeing persecution from a Christian mob, turning to Egypt’s gods for help. That girl’s name was Promethea. In the following centuries, a handful of women manifested magical powers as vessels for Promethea, gaining access to magical abilities. The series delves into the Kabbalah, Hermetic magic, Tarot, and the beliefs of real mystics like Aleister Crowley and Austin Osman Spare. Promethea serves not merely as a story about numinous knowledge, but as a magic grimoire.
5 V For Vendetta
Alan Moore isn’t just a magician. He’s also an anarchist. If some of his other comics explored his religious affinity for the occult, V For Vendetta was the piece that let him delve into the political philosophy of anarchism. The titular character, V, famously wore a Guy Fawkes mask (which has since become the rallying symbol for internet groups like Anonymous, inspired by the 2005 film adaptation–a film Moore himself hated).
In the comic, V’s anarchist liberation philosophy comes up against the ideological and physical forces of a near-future fascist government in England. Meanwhile, at the heart of this political epic there is a love story that beats with the heart of the revolution.
4 The Killing Joke
The Joker is not a character so much as a force of nature. He’s chaos personified. Any attempt to humanize the character and explore his origin misses the point of his insanity. However, if the Clown Prince of Crime has to have an origin story, this is it!
From the first page, the genius of Moore’s controlled storytelling is masterfully revealed as the Batmobile rolls up to Arkham Asylum in one of the most cinematic opening scenes in comics. This story follows two timelines: in the present, the Joker has escaped from Arkham and committed a gratuitously violent crime; in the past, a desperate comedian suffered one tragedy after another before being knocked into a vat of chemicals, creating the Joker. Of course, as the Joker himself said, he remembers his origins several different ways so even his own recollection isn’t reliable.
3 Saga Of The Swamp Thing
This was the comic that brought Alan Moore onto the scene of American comics. Swamp Thing creator Len Wein actually called Alan Moore at his home in England to ask the young British writer to take over the character. Alan (after finally being convinced this was not a prank call) agreed.
In the second issue Moore wrote, the character lay on an operating table where he was literally and existentially dissected. It was revealed that the titular monster (known as Alex Holland) was not a human who’d changed form, but was in fact a plant elemental who’d absorbed the consciousness of the dead human scientist of that name. Saga of the Swamp Thing was a genuinely terrifying horror comic whose stories dealt with supernatural horrors such as werewolves, vampires, and zombies, but also handled the real-world monsters of nuclear waste mismanagement, domestic abuse, and the legacy of racism haunting a Louisiana plantation. The comic also introduced the most famous magic user in the DC Universe, John Constantine.
2 From Hell
While the title of this comic might make it seem like another horror series (and there are definitely some horror elements in it), From Hell is a crime drama built around the Jack the Ripper killings. The historical Freemason and surgeon William Gull performed the killings to cover up the evidence of an out-of-wedlock royal baby in this interpretation of the historical events.
Dealing with the concept of psychogeography (where time and space intersect) this graphic novel showed how the city of London had repeated significant events on the same sites of the Jack the Ripper killings, events that echoed through the spiral geometry of time as murders recurred on the same ground throughout the years. Masonic rites, class struggles, Victorian gender roles, and royal politics also feature heavily throughout the story. The series won multiple Eisner Awards and is one of Moore’s most ambitious works.
Who watches the Watchmen?” That question is spray-painted throughout the background of Watchmen and is the central theme of the comic, a graphic novel all about the real-world implications of superheroes. How an American superman with godlike powers would influence the Cold War and the brutality of vigilantes enforcing Objectivist philosophies are also key ideas. But for all its heady ideological intrigue, Watchmen remains Moore’s greatest work because of its incredible story and the impact it had on the comics industry.
This intense graphic novel that Alan Moore wrote with the help of artist Dave Gibbons was included by Time on a list of the 100 Best Novels. Not 100 best graphic novels. Novels! It is no exaggeration to call Watchmen one of the great works of English literature.
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