When I first read the blurb for Alan Moore’s From Hell it sounded like the perfect graphic novel for me: it purports to evoke the dark underworld of the ‘Jack the Ripper’ murders and reflect on the Victorian era at the dawn of the 20th-century. Eddie Campbell’s illustrations are truly, stunningly grotesque, and I also enjoyed the quotes listed at the beginning of each chapter, an eclectic collection of contemporary interviews and articles, philosophical meditations and poetry, which not only set the tone for each segment of the story but also reveal the impressive extent of Moore’s research.
Sadly, I think these extracts were (for me, at least) the most enjoyable part of the graphic novel. Unlike Watchmen and V for Vendetta, I found the story of From Hell lacking. In Moore’s other works, the stories, however apparently outlandish, always have a deeper social resonance, such as the morality of vigilantism in V for Vendetta, and I expected From Hell to similarly tackle such issues, possibly by meditating on the question of evil. Instead, it relied heavily on the supernatural, evoking Masonic ritual and conspiracy theories to explain the Jack the Ripper murders. As the notes to each chapter suggest, Moore did research the case exhaustively, so the problem isn’t that I find his explanation far-fetched, but rather that graphic novels are an exciting and unique medium which can tell stories in ways like no other art form, and From Hell fails to fully take advantage of the form’s potential.