Alan Moore helped to revolutionize the comic book industry in the 1980s with his bold, darker approaches to both horror comics and superhero comics. However, Moore is a bit of a rare case in that his bold, new approach to comics was accepted fairly easily by the audience. That is a very rare state of affairs for comic book readers, who tend to dismiss first before they begrudgingly accept (and then retroactively adore).
Because of how quickly he was accepted, Moore was given freer reign from the fans as to what kinds of stories he could do, so it was a lot harder for him to shock the fans with his work. Mostly, his biggest controversies have been for what happened outside of the comics (his disputes with DC Comics and with Marvel, his renunciation of the film adaptations of his work, his general denouncements of the American comic book industry as a whole, etc). Still, that doesn’t mean that he hasn’t had some controversial comic book stories. Here are his 15 most controversial.
15. LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN: BLACK DOSSIER GETS TWO LIBRARY WORKERS FIRED
“Black Dossier” was the first follow-up to Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s popular “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” series. Originally intended as a “sourcebook” (mostly to make sure that Kevin O’Neill wasn’t wanting for work while Moore waited to do the third volume in the core series), it turned into a fascinating “file” book complete with maps, prose stories, comic stories and more. There were also some sex scenes in the book.
This did not sit well with library assistant Sharon Cook, who worked at the Jessamine County Public Library in Kentucky. She wanted the book transferred from the graphic novel section to adult fiction (because she felt that the library’s graphic novel section was too close to Young Adults). When her request was denied, she then just put the book on hold herself for a year from 2008-09, to make sure no impressionable minds could read it.
However, eventually a computer hold was placed on the book designed that whenever Cook’s hold expired, this computer one would take precedence (typically, Cook would just re-place it on hold whenever hers expired). Cook used her access to see that it was an 11-year-old who placed the hold, so Cook enlisted the help of a part-time employee to erase it. When they were found out, both Cook and the other employee were fired.
14. GRAPHIC ASSAULT IN NEONOMICON
“Neonomicon” was a four-issue miniseries by Alan Moore and artist Jacen Burrows that was published by Avatar Press in 2010-11. It was a sequel to a previous Moore/Burrow work from 2003. Both works are based on H.P. Lovecraft’s “Cthulhu” mythos. In “Neonomicon,” Moore had a specific goal in mind. He noted that Lovecraft would often mention “certain nameless rituals” in his work that were clearly intended to involve sex, but Lovecraft (whether because he was writing in the 1920s and 1930s or because he was simply squeamish about sex) made a point of avoiding the details.
So here, Moore wanted to force the reader to deal with what Lovecraft tried to obscure, to confront them with the horrors of rape. So when FBI Agent Brears and her partner investigate a cult in the story, her partner is murdered and Brears is then brutally raped for multiple issues by both the cultists and then by a grotesque fish man. There were naturally a number of critics who felt that it was untoward to have a comic whose purpose was to show a lot of rape, even if the intent was to show the horrors of it.
13. MARVELMAN GETS A CEASE AND DESIST
“Marvelman” was really Alan Moore’s breakout comic book work, as the lead feature in Quality Communications’ “Warrior” was actually Moore’s first regular comic book series. The concept of the book was to do a modern continuation of the classic Mick Anglo “Marvelman” series from the 1950s, which, in turn, were a continuation of the Fawcett Comics’ “Captain Marvel” series after Fawcett lost the rights following a copyright infringement lawsuit filed against them by National Comics/DC Comics. Moore (first with artist Garry Leach and then with Alan Davis) did a brilliant post-modern adaptation of the character.
However, when publisher Dez Skinn introduced a “Marvelman Special,” Marvel Comics sprung into action with one of its frequent 1980s attempts to sue companies that they felt were infringing on their trademarks, so with the series already in limbo with Moore and Davis no longer willing to work with each other, Skinn sold the character rights to Eclipse Comics, who then had to re-name the character “Miracleman.”
Amazingly, both DC Comics and Marvel Comics had the chance to buy the rights to Marvelman at the time but both said no! This was within Alan Moore’s first year on “Saga of the Swamp Thing,” so while he was a critically acclaimed creator, he was not yet the Alan Moore, whose name alone could sell a comic book series.
12. SWAMP THING HAS SEX
“Saga of the Swamp Thing” #34 (by Alan Moore, Stephen Bissette and John Totleben) is the perfect example of what we were referencing earlier when we mentioned that Moore’s early 1980s audience followed him to bizarre places with open minds. The issue dealt with Swamp Thing and Abby exploring their relationship, specifically Abby’s willingness to take things to another, sexual level. The problem, of course, is how do you have sex with an animated pile of swamp vegetation? As it turns out, you do so by Swamp Thing producing a tuber that Abby would eat and then the two would share in a psychedelic wonderland of desire.
Bissette and Totleben did a stunning job depicting the experience, using a series of double-page spreads (cleverly going vertically instead of the typical horizontal double-page spread) to show what the two lovers were going through.
A problem came, though, when DC gave away the rights to do whatever the producers of the second “Swamp Thing” film, “Return of the Swamp Thing,” wanted to do with Moore’s work, and the end result was one of the most bizarre movie sex scenes ever (with Heather Locklear as Abby).
11. MR. HYDE RAPES THE INVISIBLE MAN
Hawley Griffin was the Invisible Man in Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.” He was first seen in Volume 1 terrorizing a girls’ boarding school before being enlisted to join the team of Victorian superheroes. In the second volume, however, Griffin turned on his colleagues during the Martian invasion, choosing to ally himself with the invaders (as he felt it was a given that they would succeed, so he might as well serve them and live than fight them and die). When Mina Murray discovered his deceit, he brutally assaulted her. Since he was invisible, the readers just see Murray as she is assaulted and degraded, left in a pile of her own vomit.
When Mister Hyde learned what Griffin had done, he revealed the fact that his enhanced senses allowed him to see Griffin. He then proceeded to rape Griffin nearly to death as revenge for what Griffin did to Murray. When Griffin finally died from his injuries, his blood became visible, so the reader got to see Hyde’s clothes slowly turn red with Griffin’s blood. Some critics took issue with the use of rape here as almost a heroic tactic.
10. GALLEY-WAG CAUSES CONCERN
In “League of Extraordinary Genetlemen: Black Dossier,” Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill introduced the Galley-Wag, a noble being from the Black Matter Cosmos. Galley-Wag was Moore and O’Neill’s attempt to redeem the character of the Golliwog, from Florence Upton’s series of children’s books from the turn of the 20th Century. Upton based the character of Golliwog on the black minstrel tradition. There’s little doubt that what Upton was basing the character on was a racist depiction of African-Americans. However, people would argue that while the origin of the character’s designs were racist, how Upton wrote the character was not racist, as the Golliwog was treated like a hero.
Alan Moore himself discussed the use of the character, “Here we had a character which in its day was positive, bold, innovative, and the creation of a typically overlooked woman creator who had quite possibly wished to situate an admirable and loveable black figure in the imaginations of the white Victorian children who comprised her readership.” Moore’s intent here was noble, but many critics felt that there really isn’t a way to successfully adapt a character who is such a racist caricature on the most basic levels. Others obviously disagree, and think Moore and O’Neill succeeded in redeeming the character.
9. TWILIGHT OF SUPERHEROES TOO DARK TO BE MADE
This entry is a tricky one, since the series was never actually made, so you could argue that it doesn’t belong on a list of controversial Alan Moore comics. However, it was such an important piece of comic book history that we think that it merits a unique place on this countdown. In 1987, at the height of “Watchmen” fever, Moore made a proposal to DC Comics for a companywide crossover event called “The Twilight of the Superheroes.”
The concept involved John Constantine and Rip Hunter visiting the present from their future, to warn the heroes of the DC Universe of how dark things get. The main thrust of the series would be in a limited series where future John Constantine reveals the story of the future to his present-day self through a letter. The future of the DC Universe would be bleak, with “houses” made up of the various superhero families, sort of like a super-powered “Game of Thrones.” In the end, it would turn out that Hunter and Constantine were here not to stop their future, but to assure it came true, as in the end, the non-superhumans rebel and unseat their superhuman overlords. The proposal is brilliant, but it involved so many dark turns for so many prominent heroes, there was no way that DC would ever allow it to happen.
8. THE DARK STORY OF KID MARVELMAN
The first major villain in Alan Moore and Garry Leach’s “Marvelman” feature in “Warrior” was Marvelman’s former sidekick, Kid Marvelman. While Marvelman spent years trapped in his human form, forgetting the magic words that transformed him into Marvelman, Kid Marvelman just refused to turn back into his human form, young Johnny Bates. He instead slowly built up a fortune as the sadistic head of a powerful corporation. Marvelman and Kid Marvelman eventually had a brutal battle in which Kid Marvelman accidentally said the magic words to turn him back into Johnny Bates.
The heavily traumatized Bates was sent to a group home. Tragically, some of the other boys there attempted to rape Bates, and while he had been trying desperately not to transform again, the attempted rape was too much and he changed into Kid Marvelman, murdering the would-be rapists and then turning his attention toward the rest of London, slaughtering thousands until Marvelman and some other heroes were able to force him to turn back into Johnny, whom Marvelman had to kill. John Totleben drew the horrific battle, making it an iconic issue but also one that many readers of the era found very disturbing due to the graphic and often grotesque depiction of violence (the most famous example is Kid Marvelman impaling people on the clock hands of Big Ben).
7. ALAN MOORE TAKES ON THE C.I.A.
In 1988, Alan Moore was in an interesting place in his career, as he had broken from DC Comics and was also not willing to work with Marvel Comics, so he entered the world of independent comics, first working with Eclipse, who were publishing “Miracleman” at the time. Comic fans all over the world were waiting to see what Moore’s next big project would be, and they were surely surprised to find that it was a graphic novel takedown of the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency.
Moore and artist Bill Sienkiewicz produced “Shadowplay: The Secret Team,” which was one part of the group graphic novel, “Brought to Light” (the other major work in the volume was Joyce Brabner and Tom Yeates’ “Flashpoint: The LA Penca Bombing.”). In “Shadowplay,” Moore and Sienkiewicz basically detail the alleged sordid history of the C.I.A. over the years. Like we mentioned before, though, since the book did not have the same widespread release that Moore’s other work of the era received, the controversy was a bit blunted. If this had been released by, say, DC Comics, though, it likely would have been a major controversy, as Moore and Sienkiewicz make some awfully bold claims.
6. LOST GIRLS
Originally serialized in the pages of Stephen Bissette’s edgy independent comic book series, “Taboo,” “Lost Girls” was ultimately finished by Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie nearly two decades later as a massive graphic novel collection by Top Shelf Productions. The series was about the sexual adventures of three famous fictional female characters of the late 19th century/early 20th century, Alice from “Alice in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass,” Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz” and Wendy from “Peter Pan” who meet together at a hotel in Europe on the eve of World War I.
Since the book was specifically about sexuality and, in certain instances, the sexuality of young women, the book was a lightning rod for censorship. However, interestingly enough, Moore was shocked by just how blunted any negative response was to the book. Moore theorized that it was tied to the fact that he openly acknowledged that the book was pornography, which he felt cut the legs out of critiques of the work, for if he was calling it pornography himself, then what could his critics say? Invariably, they said, “No, it’s not! It’s art!” Thus, a work that seemed destined to be in one of the top spots on a list like this ended up not being really all that controversial.
5. THE MARVEL DOUCHE THAT LED TO AN ISSUE BEING PULPED
In 1999, Alan Moore cut a deal with Jim Lee’s Wildstorm Studios to launch a whole new line of comics called “America’s Best Comics,” before Lee sold Wildstorm Studios to DC Comics, much to Moore’s chagrin. His line of comics included “Tom Strong” with Chris Sprouse, “Top Ten” with Gene Ha and Zander Cannon, “Promethea” with J.H. Williams III and “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” with Kevin O’Neill.
“League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” was set in the late 19th Century, and just like his classic series, “Watchmen,” Moore included extra material at the back of the issues that would give insight into the world of the characters. Amusingly, in issue #5, they included an ad for an actual feminine product of the era, the Marvel brand douche. DC Comics, though, freaked out at the idea of this being seen as an insult of Marvel Comics, so they had the entire print run of the issue destroyed and then re-released with an edited version of the ad, with the product now being called Amaze Douche (the above ad is not precisely the one included in the original issue, but it’s for the same product – you can look at the original ad here). Amusingly, in a later issue of “Top Ten,” there is a tiny newspaper headline referencing the incident (as well as the whole “Marvelman”/”Miracleman” imbroglio), noting “Miracle Douche Recall.”
4. THE DOCTOR WHO STORY THAT BROKE MOORE FROM MARVEL
During the early 1980s, Alan Moore did a bunch of work for Marvel’s British branch, Marvel UK. His most famous work was an acclaimed run on “Captain Britain” with artist Alan Davis, who Moore was also working with on “Marvelman.” Moore also did a number of back-up stories on “Doctor Who.” In 1985, Marvel colored and reprinted two of Moore’s “Doctor Who” stories in the American version of the “Doctor Who” comic. Moore was outraged, as Marvel had not asked him if they could reprint the comics and there was also not yet a system in place where Moore would be paid for his work appearing in the American comics.
Moore answered the problem by refusing permission for Marvel to reprint any of his stories and threatened them over the use of characters he invented in England, as the different intellectual property laws between the United States and the United Kingdom made it an open question as to whether Moore had rights to the characters he invented in the British comics. This problem with Marvel led to three major repercussions. First, obviously Moore would not work for Marvel now. Second, Davis and Moore split, since Davis wanted their “Captain Britain” work to be reprinted in the United States. Third, Chris Claremont had just begun to use characters from Moore’s run in “Uncanny X-Men” and had to scrap those plans due to Marvel’s lawyers being overly cautious.
3. THE SWAMP THING ISSUE THAT LED TO LABELING
Nowadays, parental warnings are ubiquitous in the world of popular culture. In the 1980s, though, they were still a matter of great debate. Alan Moore’s “Swamp Thing” helped push the issue along with a particularly controversial issue. “Saga of the Swamp Thing” was, like pretty much all of DC Comics’ output at the time, approved by the Comics Code Authority. However, that changed with “Saga of the Swamp Thing” #29 (by Alan Moore, Stephen Bissette and John Totleben).
The issue included zombies, which were still a “no no” according to the Comics Code, but it also had Abby having sex with her husband, Matt Cable, who was possessed by her uncle Anton Arcane. It was likely way too disturbing for the Comics Code, so DC released the issue without Comics Code approval. Since they knew Moore was going to keep doing these types of stories, DC decided to stop submitting the book for Code approval and then with “Swamp Thing” #31 they began to label the book as “Sophisticated Suspense.”
Eventually, this was deemed to not be a good enough warning, so DC introduced “For Mature Readers Only,” which outraged many comic book creators who hated the idea of DC doing labels at all. The labels, though, won out in the end and are now pretty universal in the world of comics.
2. THE WATCHMEN COLLECTION THAT CHANGED EVERYTHING
It’s hard to imagine now, but in 1987, Alan Moore and DC Comics were very happy with each other. This was based on the great commercial success that Moore and DC Comics were having with Moore and Dave Gibbons’ hit series, “Watchmen.” The series was not just a success as a comic book, but also they were licensing it like crazy – buttons, posters, the works. Moore and Gibbons shared in the profit, so they were very happy.
Then came the project that would sour things between Moore and DC for decades. “Watchmen” was released as a mass market trade paperback. Moore and Gibbons obviously were not unhappy about that, as that meant a whole new slew of royalties for the pair. However, what they were unhappy about was that the “Watchmen” trade (along with the “Dark Knight Returns” trade) changed how comic book trade paperbacks worked.
Historically, you would do a print run and that was it. If you were lucky, you would do a couple of printings. Eventually, though, the book would go out of print and Moore and Gibbons would regain the rights. Instead, “Watchmen” has never gone out of print. As Moore said in 2006, describing his response to DC when he split from them in 1989, “Fair enough…You have managed to successfully swindle me, and so I will never work for you again.”
1. THE KILLING JOKE
Alan Moore only wrote what ultimately became “The Killing Joke” as a favor to its artist, Brian Bolland, as Moore had already soured on DC Comics by the time it came out in 1988. The story is about the origins of the Joker, showing that he feels that he was driven to evil by having “one bad day.” Thus, he wants to see if he can do the same to someone with a strong moral fiber like Commissioner James Gordon.
Therefore, he breaks into Gordon’s home, shoots and paralyzes Gordon’s daughter, Barbara Gordon (who had just retired as Batgirl), and then kidnaps and tortures him. “One bad day” did not break Jim Gordon, though. The story ends with Batman and Joker laughing at the absurdity of their endless “cat and mouse” relationship.
The book has been criticized for the way that it allegedly treats Barbara Gordon’s injury as just a means to supply drama to her father and Batman. That is to say that Barbara is less a character in her own right as she is a prop for the plot. John Ostrander and Kim Yale would later famously turn Barbara into the hero Oracle, but that was not in the cards for Gordon at the time. The controversy behind this story continues to this very day, as Warner Bros. recently released an R-Rated animated adaptation of the story.
What do you feel is the most controversial Alan Moore comic book story? Be sure to tell us in the comments section!