What did I say last week? “Give me some of those god-fearin’ stories of madness“? Oh hell yeah, mofos. Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s graphic novel, From Hell, is exactly what I was talking about. HOLY SHIT, this thing is crazy.
Horrifically graphic murder scenes? Oof, yeah. Pychogeography? It’s a thing you didn’t know existed until just now. An underground battle between the Freemasons and the Illuminati for control of England? It’s what’s for breakfast. A graphic sex scene showing Hitler’s (and by extension the 20th Century’s) conception? Baby, you know Alois knows what Klara wants.
I went in to this not really knowing much about Jack the Ripper other than vague memories of what I’d seen about the murders on Unsolved Mysteries back in the day. I didn’t know that there are almost 30 suspects, each with their own pros/cons, and that there’s even disagreement on the number of murders. So I mistakenly believed this graphic novel was just a fictionalization of real events. It wasn’t until I read Jack the Ripper’s wikipedia page that I realized this is a speculation of real events. And, oh boy, it is nutters.
But it’s a beautiful kind of nutters. It’s implied up to the final murder that Jack the Ripper (in this case, played by Sir William Withey Gull) and his murders are some sort of connecting tissue to or midwife of the 20th Century.* Then chapter 10 happens. Holy crap, that was a tough chapter to get through: it’s a speculative moment-by-moment recreation of what JTR did to the final victim, Mary Jane Kelly.** But it’s this chapter, when Gull hallucinates his way through Kelly’s mutilation, that this link is made concrete. The subsequent and final four chapters really cement Moore’s thesis, and goddamnit if they’re not incredible.
I don’t know what else to say here. Pick up a copy, and any questions you might have at any point about what’s going on, what themes Moore is tackling, why what where: Moore’s appendix answers pretty much everything. It’s so strange to read a work and then flip the page over and have the author of that work explain basically everything about it. It doesn’t diminish the work in any way…but I’ll be honest: I stopped reading the appendix after the Kelly mutilation chapter. Is there a correlation between that and my sense that the final chapters were the book’s strongest? Hard to say without a second read. Which I look forward to.
* The canonical murders happened in the back half of 1888.
** Don’t go looking for the crime scene photos of that one. They’re…horrible.