Archive for Jack the Ripper

Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper

On this day in 1888, the body of Annie Chapman, the second victim of Jack the Ripper, was found.

That’s as good an excuse as any for us to talk about “From Hell.”

“From Hell” was written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Eddie Campbell. It was originally published spread out across several different magazines, but eventually compiled into a single book in 1999. It’s a gigantic book — almost 600 pages.

It’s about Jack the Ripper, of course. It’s a fictionalized account, obviously, following Inspector Frederick Abberline as he investigates the killings, a group of Whitechapel prostitutes as they slowly realize that they — very specifically, in fact — are being stalked by the killer, and it follows Sir William Gull, royal physician to Queen Victoria and the man behind the gory murders.

Oops, was that a spoiler? No, believe it or not, it isn’t. We know almost from the beginning that Gull is Saucy Jack. This isn’t a whodunit. It’s a whydunit.

I think “From Hell” is my favorite of Moore comics — better than “Watchmen,” “V for Vendetta,” or “The Killing Joke.” I got into it because I’ve always been a horror fan — in fact, I’m the only person in my immediate or extended family who cares for horror, which makes me, well, the only person in my family who likes horror. Anyway, as a horror nut, serial killer stories, and especially stories about Old Leather-Apron, have always appealed to me. And “From Hell” ladles on buckets of horror. Not just gore — and there is a lot of gore, and I mean a lot — but suspense, paranoia, psychological chills. It’s a very scary, creepy story about the best known but most mysterious serial killer in history, and horror fans will absolutely love it.

But on top of that, I’d developed a taste for conspiratorial fiction and stuff about secret societies — books like Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson’s “Illuminatus!” trilogy, Umberto Eco’s “Foucault’s Pendulum,” and the more demented style of modern conspiracy theories. And “From Hell” actually manages to scratch that itch, too, because it’s crammed full of conspiracies, esotericism, sacred geography, secret history, weird stuff both subtle and spectacular. In the story, Gull manages to make mystical connections with poet/painter William Blake and 20th century serial killers like Peter Sutcliffe. He sees visions of Adolf Hitler and WWII and even sees the 1990s — he even claims to have created all of it himself, through the murders.

None of it seems like it should have any place in a story about Jack the Ripper, but once it’s introduced, it seems to make perfect sense. I get irritated by Moore’s obsessions from time to time, but it really is a testament to his strength as a writer that he can shoehorn all these unconnected elements into a single story, and it all works.

The full collected edition also includes a gigantic appendix detailing, almost page by page, which elements of the story were based on fact, which were invented, and which were conjecture or theory, and it all closes with an illustrated essay called “Dance of the Gull Catchers,” which distills the entire history of Ripperology, its movers and shakers, and its leading theories and fixations down into a dozen or so pages. And it makes sense, and it’s entertaining. Heck, I remember laughing out loud when Moore made the Jack the Ripper/Cattle Mutilators connection, partly because it was completely mad, and partly because, holy macaroni, it had that perfect conspiracy-theory frission that feels so good to us conspiracy fanboys.

“From Hell” is a near-perfect mix of horror, detective drama, and conspiracy theories. I wish the movie (which I’ve never managed to see) hadn’t put so many people off of the comic, because it’s one of Alan Moore’s best and most ambitious stories.

You can probably find it at your local comic shop right now. Go pick it up.

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