New To You Comics #115: History’s Most Infamous Serial Killer– ‘From Hell’

by Brendan M. Allen

Tony and Brendan have very different tastes in comics. Tony loves his capes, super powers, and sci-fi. Brendan tends to stick to horror, noir, and weird indies. Occasionally, their paths cross, but like most readers, they tend to stay in their own lanes.

New To You Comics is here to break up the pattern a little. Tony will throw some comics out of his favorite genres at Brendan, and Brendan will hit Tony with some of his. Most NTYC titles are brand new to at least one of them. Most of the time they can find some common ground, but even when they don’t, it’s fun to watch them go at it. Brendan fights dirty. Tony kicks like a mule. 

This week, they’ll be taking on Top Shelf Production’s From Hell Master Edition, by Alan Moore, with pictorial revisions by Eddie Campbell. Here’s what Top Shelf says about the book:

‘From Hell features the story of Jack the Ripper, the most infamous serial murderer of all time. Alan Moore names Dr. Gull as the villain and creates the most compelling and terrifying psychological study ever undertaken. All the conspiracies and cover-ups are considered and bound together in this vortex of terror. A gripping crime noir masterpiece of historical fiction.

Jack is back—and this time, the blood is red. The award-winning bestseller From Hell—often ranked among the greatest graphic novels of all time—takes on haunting new dimensions in From Hell: Master Edition, enhanced by impressionistic hues and revisions by Eddie Campbell himself, along with all the original annotations by Alan Moore.’

Brendan Allen: The story of Jack the Ripper is one of the most fascinating unsolved mysteries of all time. One of the first recorded serial killers, the mystery of the Ripper’s identity is still widely speculated to this day. The suspects range from butchers, artists, aristocrats, doctors, and members of the royal family themselves.

Alan Moore explores the discredited theory that royal physician William Gull was the perpetrator, mixing up several masonic and royal conspiracy theories. I remember watching the 2001 film, and then going back and reading at least the first couple chapters of the book. On this read, it’s abundantly clear I was either a very different person twenty years ago (probably), or I am misremembering having ever read the book (also, probable).

Tony Thornley: When we talked about our very reasonable reactions to Scott Pilgrim a few months back, you and I knew we were making a shift in the column. We were starting to cover books that were either very distant memories or sight unseen.

Now, I get this book’s existence. It’s not just about the Ripper case. Victorian mysteries are still one of the most popular sub-genres out there. Look at all the Sherlock adaptations and content still coming our way. So, this is worth looking at.

Brendan: This book is obviously aimed at a mature crowd, not only for the fact that there’s a serial killer on the loose, but also for the very graphic depictions of sexual intercourse. It fits the general tone of the rest of the story, but it also felt gratuitous. There’s no reason to show penetration. 

Tony: Yeah. Adults know how sex works. Unless it’s specifically intended to be pornographic, it’s absolutely unnecessary. But that’s Alan Moore for you.

Brendan: I know this was my pick, but I had a hard time with this one. I really wanted to like it. It’s got so many of the elements I love in stories, but they just don’t work really well together.

Tony: I’ll be straight up- this is probably the first book we’ve covered that I’ve actively disliked, maybe even hated. I’m saying that as a fan of Moore’s work too. I haven’t read everything he’s written, but I really enjoyed League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Top Ten (though it’s been years since I’ve read either of them), and I really think For The Man Who Has Everything is one of the best Superman stories ever written.

Brendan: I really feel like the film version did a better job of building up the mystery, developing the characters, and then revealing the horrible truth. It seems weird to give up the monster in the very beginning of the book.

Tony: Oh it was SO obvious that it was Doctor Gull from the moment he was introduced. It would have been fantastic if they had tried to make it less obvious, but it was just fully from the beginning “here’s the killer, now I’m going to go on whatever diversions I want until I need to.”

Brendan: Like, zero pretense. No mystery at all. They at least had some red herrings in the film. One of the suspects in real life was ‘Elephant Man’ Joseph Merrick, who does appear in the graphic novel, but just for a couple cameo scenes. And the motivation behind the whole string of murders? The royal conspiracy is laid out, in detail, straight from the beginning. There’s nothing left to discover in the bottom half of the book. 

Tony: Oh man, and can I get into the thing that was a story breaker for me? The lettering. The book is hand lettered throughout, and it’s often too small, faded or otherwise illegible. It completely ruined the experience for me.

Brendan: I initially thought that was kind of cool. There are fonts that are designed to look hand-lettered, but if you look closely, you can tell that while there are several versions of each letter, they do repeat. This is clearly hand-lettered throughout. Gives it a very manic, sort of ‘zine look, but it’s very hard to read in places. It gets distracting after a while. 

Tony: Agreed. I’ve heard in the print edition, it’s much easier, but when a MAJOR portion of your story is next to impossible to read on digital… maybe don’t release a digital edition. So much of the book was next to impossible to read, and it eventually pushed me to the point that I couldn’t finish the book.

Brendan: They also didn’t need to colorize this one. The color takes away from the impact of the story. I’m reluctant to read the new colorized version of TWD for the same reason. Black and white just adds a layer of mystery that gets lost in color, and the color choices here are strangely bright. 

Would have probably worked better with a much more muted palette, or selective color, black and gray with bright red splashes for blood. I absolutely love that Trash Polka palette for horror and noir. Blacks and grays with those red highlights for emphasis and shock value.

Tony: Going to be honest- I read the black and white version, because I could not find the colored version on Comixology anywhere. I thought it was pretty perfect in black and white.

Brendan: I’m glad I read it again, even just as a point of reference, but I didn’t really enjoy it this time. I don’t think I need to ask, but where’d you land on this one?

Tony: Yeah, like I said, I couldn’t even finish it. It was worth reading what I got through to say I tried, and there was some interesting stuff in what I read, but I didn’t like it.

Maybe I’ll read For The Man Who Has Everything or Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow as a palette cleanser.

Brendan: What’s up next on your queue?

Tony:  Well speaking of Superman, we’re going to look at one of my favorite Superman origin stories. Now, it’s been probably 15 years since I’ve read it but let’s see if Superman Birthright holds up.

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