Readers of The Lost Art

From Hell – Aaron’s Review

March 4th, 2009

From Hell 

Writer: Alan Moore.
Artist: Eddie Campbell.
Reviewer: Aaron

From Hell, written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Eddie Campbell, is, at its most basic, a retelling of the infamous Whitechapel murders of the late nineteenth century, the case of Jack the Ripper. Through the 16 chapters and 500+ pages of the book we are taken into the folds of Victorian society and follow the fates of William Withey Gull, a royal physician and Freemason, Inspector Fred Abberline, a Police Detective and Mary Kelly, a prostitute from London’s East End and target of Jack the Ripper.

The book’s title is taken from a letter sent to the Metropolitan Police at the time of the murders purporting to be from the killer, one of the few that has not been widely discredited, and the title can also be taken to reflect the reality in which the main characters live. Whilst the case of Jack the Ripper has provided fodder for any number of plays, films or books, in this story Alan Moore takes a typically interesting direction in his retelling. This is no murder mystery or whodunnit, Jack the Ripper’s identity is made plain to the reader in the early stages of the book, and we the reader follow him as he commits these terrible crimes. Instead the author uses the murders as a stepping stone into a discourse on and criticism of Victorian society and, ultimately, the birth of the twentieth century.

Though a fictionalised take on the murders, ‘From Hell’ was heavily researched by both Moore and Campbell, allowing them to build up an intricate and horrifying vision of both the killer and the society that produced him. We are shown time and again the squalor and wretchedness of the poorest areas of London in contrast to the grand elegance and comfort enjoyed by the upper echelons of society. The style of the illustration amplifies the grimy feel of the story, with every panel seeming to wallow in darkness and not coincidentally bringing to mind the infamous Penny Dreadfuls common to the era.

Moore also takes the oppurtunity to throw in an eclectic mix of cameos throughout the book including Oscar Wilde, Queen Victoria, Aleister Crowley, Alois and Klara Hitler and Jonathon Merrick, more widely known in Victorian society as the ‘Elephant Man’ due to his disfigurement, some helping to move the narrative ahead and some, you suspect, just to remind you of how very clever and well read Alan Moore is.

For all its grandiose ambition and intelligence ‘From Hell’ remains a very human story thanks to the characters of Fred Abberline and, in particular, Mary Kelly, who, in attempting to safeguard herself and her friends from street thugs, sets the narrative in motion and who remains the heart of the tale. ‘From Hell’ is not for the faint hearted and its graphic depictions of both sex and violence may not appeal to everyone’s sensibilities, but it remains amongst Moore’s, and many would say the graphic novel medium’s, finest works.

Paperback: 576 pages
Publisher: Knockabout Comics (30 Oct 2006)
Language: English
ISBN: 0861661419

(First published 29/08/2007.)

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