Overcoat, hat and cane. A cold autumn evening. Along the deserted beaches of Bournemouth, two elderly walkers stop to look at the remains of dead seagulls that rest on the sand. The shortest is Frederick George Abberline, a Scotland Yard inspector who in 1888 was assigned to investigate murders in the Whitechapel neighborhood. The other figure goes by the name of Robert Lees, and he is quite a celebrity for his work as the Queen’s seer, but also for assuring at the time that he had solved the Jack the Ripper case – as the case came to be called – using Its powers. Alan Moore allows himself –in the first pages of that masterpiece titled From Hell– imagine the autumnal talks Abberline and Lees might have had towards the end of his life. About politics, the war, and about the visions of Lees. “I faked them,” the old seer suddenly says in a pause in his walk. “What is he talking about?” Abberline asks. “From my visions. All. That’s the funniest thing: that I faked them, but they still came true,” confesses Lees before they both take cover from the intemperate night.
Currently clearly disenchanted by the massification of superhero universes, and dedicated to literature (in recent years he has published a novel and a volume of short stories), Moore knew how to be a fan of comics since he was a child: “It was like rickets: yes you were poor, you read comics”. After trying himself in jobs of all kinds, his first attempt at comics was in the late ’70s, drawing for an English rock weekly called sounds. He soon began to dedicate himself solely to the script, and during the ’80s he was responsible for several successes within the English comic, such as V for Vendetta, until his reputation crossed the pond and he started working for the big American publishers. For them he wrote first Swamp Thing (described by Moore himself as “science fiction with a fantastic character and environmental issues”) and then it was the turn of Watchman, whose success led him to a crossroads: “I felt that I was reaching a limit in what I would later understand as rational writing.” He reinvented himself as a creator during the ’90s dedicating himself to writing From Hell, whose original idea was born from his interest in making a comic about the murder. “I couldn’t think of one with so many ramifications that it would allow me to talk about the kind of things I wanted to talk about. At that time, in 1988, it was the centenary of Jack the Ripper”. Although he seemed like a very hackneyed character, he eventually ended up reading all the material on the subject, and the result was not a story about the character, but about the myth that surrounds him.
In the appendix that closes From Hell He goes through all the sources of his work. It is known that, just as the Americans have their specialists on the Kennedy assassination, the British have theirs on Jack. Moore does not leave anyone out in an ironic tour of all the theories, however far-fetched they may be. From the short story “The Lodger” (published in 1911 and adapted by Alfred Hitchcock in 1926) to nonsense that claims that Jack’s real name was Olga, and that she was a Russian immigrant whose sister was a prostitute and had died in an abortion. She also points to the death row inmate who was hanged in 1892, shouting “I am Jack!” and every broken phone game of revelations told from parents to children, or from husbands to wives. The core of all the theories seemed to be the same: that a crime as brutal as that of Mary Kelly (the last in the series) must have had a specific motivation. Something must have been done by Mary to deserve such an end.
He took special advantage of Jack the Ripper: The Final Solutionwritten in 1976 by one Stephen Knight, a journalist for the East London Advertiser. The book was the first to involve the Freemasons in the case and its plot was adapted to the cinema in the film Murder by Decree (1979, with Christopher Plummer in the role of Sherlock Holmes and James Mason as his Watson). While the revelations in Knight’s book serve as the self-admitted backbone of From Hellthe work goes further in its meticulous tour of the time, such as in the surprising chapters where the secrets of the Masonic architecture of Victorian London are covered with Jack’s coachman and the one who analyzes the carnage on the body of the last victim of the Ripper.
From Hell It begins with an affair with Prince Albert who is a danger to the British crown, capable of anything to escape scandal. And after the blunt resolution of the affair calls for a dangerous blackmail, Jack will enter the scene, in reality a freemason who wanders, but within his own logic. And Moore proceeds to subject him to visions of the future twentieth century amid the euphoria of his murder. “The past is steel and pain, blood and fire, but I don’t see the slightest spark in you. Get to know yourselves!” Moore’s Jack howls before the ghosts of the future of current office workers.
It is often said that with Jack the twentieth century was born. That is what Moore and Campbell care most about in their comic: the painful birth of the new century from the unfair living conditions of the previous one, more than the elusive identity of Jack. “Murder, in the strictest forensic sense, is never solvable,” writes Alan Moore in the appendix to From Hell. “However, our detective fictions assure the opposite. Crimes are solved by isolating a killer, a motive, and a weapon. Using this method, World War II would be resolved like this: Hitler, the German economy, and tanks. Although in this way we would reduce its complex events. The best part of any murder is the field of theory and the fascination it engenders. And the truth is that this work was never about the murderer or his victims. It is about us, about how our minds dance around a faceless murderer, who only reflects our society and our hysteria.”
> The prologue to the edition of From Hell
A MASSIVE FORCE
By Alan Moore
I firmly believe that if you can dissect something deeply enough – with precise, persistent and methodical incisions – then you can reveal not only the inner workings of that something, but also the meaning behind it. The historical person whose life is the core of From Hell I shared this conviction, although perhaps it carried its consequences to much more extreme terms than I did. For my part, what obsesses me is to open and examine the still warm corpse of history itself. And, in the moments in which I analyze the matter more coldly, I suspect that this was also his main concern, although he pursued it for very different purposes.
From Hell it is the autopsy of a historical fact, using fiction as a scalpel. All the characters that populate this story really existed. The motivations that I have attributed to them and the words that I have put into their mouths are based, as far as possible, on rigorous historical documentation. To the best of my knowledge, none of the events set forth in this narrative contradicts the confirmed facts, and no pertinent information has been ignored. Theoretically, the events detailed in From Hell “might” have developed as described in the book.
But this is not history. It’s fiction. Although the issue itself is a notable historical puzzle, my purpose is to de-emphasize “who did it?” to transfer it to “what happened?”. In this work we point to a relatively unknown historical figure as a suspect (someone who, by the way, other writers have also targeted), but this is a convenience for fiction: what’s more, to a certain extent, we are not concerned if it was he who did it or not. We are more interested in trying to examine in detail the anatomy of a large human event.
This phenomenon, this miniature apocalypse, touched the lives of characters as dissimilar as Buffalo Bill Cody or John Merrick, popularly known as The Elephant Man. It took place during what may have been the most ominous decade in the brief history of mankind. And personally, it seemed to me that such legendary times and mythical actors could not be confined to a meticulous textbook, full of historical data. They needed a melodramatic and mythological component. The component that fiction provides.
Of course, it should be remembered that all history is, to some extent, fiction: that the truth cannot be properly stated once the bodies have cooled. The winning side decides who were the heroes and who were the villains; And since history is written by those who survived, their biases often live alongside them as well.
This is not to underestimate the importance of traditional history: it is vital, both to our continued well-being and to that of our culture, that we understand the events that shaped that world, which in turn shapes us. Unfortunately, history is generally seen as a barren and dusty province: accessible only through equally dusty volumes. Just thinking about history gives people allergy attacks, and the aversion therapy practiced by most school systems has turned our storied past into a repugnant object. Although their ups and downs may alter their lives or wipe them off the map entirely, ordinary people are not interested in history.
Fortunately, From Hell It is also a horror story, the genre that enjoys greater popularity. In fact, it is a horror story about five human beings touched by a mythical entity of such enormous force that it ends up destroying them beyond repair. It is a horror story about the ominous patterns that exist in time, in human endeavors, and even in the stones of those cities in which our lives take place. It is, in short, a horror story with 20th century roots: one that could be true… even if it never happened.
There is no execution at the climax of From Hell. The verdict stands open, the history books silent, and the gallows knot empty. All that we have been able to deduce is recorded in sixteen chapters. It is a fiction, a mosaic of lines and notes, an encrypted message from another era. It is a note, barely legible, and of terrible significance.
“From Hell” by Alan Moore in local edition | The mythical graphic novel about Jack the Ripper arrived via Planeta Comic