After Swamp Thing and Watchmen brought fame and fortune to Alan Moore, the man who practically redefined the "comic book" medium and popularized the form for serious literature, he spent the better part of the late 1980s through the mid-1990s attempting to bring more "serious" works of graphic literature into existence. But because the comic book market is still dominated by superheroes, Moore's struggled through an uphill battle to succedully release even one of the various projects he attempted. Big Numbers remains tantalizingly incomplete, with only the first few chapters of each being successfully published; while Lost Girls was finally published in 2006, more than fifteen years after the first chapters appeared in Eddie Campbell]'s Taboo magazine. As for Moore's third major project, it took more than a decade for all ten books of From Hell (plus its appendix, "Dance of the Gull Catchers") to see the light of day.
It was worth the wait.
Studied Ripperologists have praised Moore for the obsessive, painstakingly detailed research he undertook into the subject of the Whitechapel murders, unearthing buried facts and exploring most if not all of the various conspiracy theories involving the Royal Family, the Freemasons, Scotland Yard, and just about anyone who was involved with the Victorian aristrocracy of the time. But Moore is first and foremost a storyteller, and From Hell earns the title "masterwork" by being more than merely a scholarly journal. It's a taut, horrific, mesmerizing journey into madness that is both a fascinating detective story worthy of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; and it's also a haunting, poetic journey reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe. But Moore's mastery of the medium of graphic literature – backed by the superb and appropriately sketchy artistry of Eddie Campbell – weaves the various threads together into a fabric that conjures up images of the sights, smells, thoughts, and fears of the Victorian Era in a way that makes the reader glad that the world has changed since those days.
It has, rather, devolved into something far worse.
Our fascination with Jack the Ripper, Moore hypothesizes, is a reflection of ourselves, and the society that we have become. (These insights become especially clear during Chapter 10, "The Best Of All Tailors" – as the Ripper chastises us for allowing ourselves to become numb and soulless, while engaging in one of the most horrifying and bloody murder scenes ever displayed in any graphic medium, anywhere.) But if the polluted, diseased world of Victorian London is not really much worse than our own, then we can at least thank Alan Moore for presenting us with a fascinating tale that gives us a glimpse into it…a view that has never been presented to us in this manner before, with all of its horrors laid bare for us to see. Even more so than Watchmen, From Hell is a shining example of the very finest achievements of graphic literature. This, dear friends, is no comic book.