Alan Moore has been one of the most popular and critically acclaimed writers working in the comic book industry in the last 30 years. His work on superhero comics such as Superman and Batman have made him a favorite among regular comic readers, but his experimental and more complex work has earned him a reputation among critics as an artist who elevates the medium.
At the same time, he’s been one of the most outspoken critics of the state of comics in the industry. While he’s been a controversial and outspoken voice off the page, it’s his writing that still commands attention. His latest work is a novel titled “Jerusalem.” In publicity tours for the book, Moore has announced that he’s going to be retiring from writing comic books. He plans to focus on literary novels and possibly screenwriting. If Moore truly is done with the medium, this is a good time for CBR to look back on his four decades of work.
16. Batman: The Killing Joke
“Batman: The Killing Joke,” published in 1988, is one of Alan Moore’s most famous stories. Moore did what was once thought to be impossible. He made the psychopathic serial killer, the Joker, almost sympathetic while simultaneously making him completely horrible. The origin story and the present-day crime are like polar opposites, showing the Joker as a younger man struggling to support his family, and also as the ruthless Joker kidnapping and killing in a twisted joke.
The biggest controversy of this story was the Joker paralyzing Barbara Gordon. Well, not just paralyzing, but also stripping naked and pasting his photos on the walls to torment her father. It’s horrifying and disturbing, just like it was meant to be. I won’t get into whether Moore was right or wrong to include that, but I do believe it drives home the depths of Joker’s evil. When he sits on a throne made of baby dolls with the naked Commissioner Gordon chained up and kneeling at his feet, it’s hard to say he’s been any more twisted in his entire career. All in all, it remains just as poignant and haunting as it did when first released.
Originally created as a thinly-veiled X-Men clone by Jim Lee and Brandon Choi, “WildC.A.T.s: Covert Action Team” was about a war between two alien races, the humanoid Kherubim and the monstrous Daemonites. The heroes, Kherubim agents living on Earth, fought against the Daemonites with superhuman abilities. Despite the main characters being aliens and robots instead of mutants, it all felt very familiar to anyone who had read Marvel, which may be why it was so hugely popular in the 1990s comics boom.
Starting with #21 in 1995, Moore used his skill at deconstructing superhero tropes during his 14-issue run. The WildC.A.T.s traveled to their home planet, but instead of a war-torn world, they discovered a paradise. Because the Kherubim/Daemonite war had been over for centuries, nobody bothered to tell those still on Earth. What’s more, the Kherubim government had become corrupt, and held the Daemonites in brutal subjugation. Moore turned a rather stereotypical story of superheroes and aliens and turned it into a critique of war and power, just like he does best. Although the series isn’t as revolutionary as some of his other work, it shows that he can transform even the most cliched story into something unique.
14. “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow”
In 1986, Moore wrote the spectacular “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow.” It’s the only Superman story on this list, but it ranks among Moore’s best works. The story was published in September 1986 in two parts, first in “Superman” #423 and ending in “Action Comics” #583. The story is intended as an end to the classic Superman mythology, and tells an apocalyptic story. Superman finds himself under attack by his major villains, including the Kryptonite Man, Bizarro, the Prankster, and even Lex Luthor being controlled by Brainiac. Superman’s secret identity is revealed, his friends die, and Superman is forced to kill in order to save the world.
Moore was allowed to write this tribute, the final story of Superman before he was changed forever by the events of “Crisis on Infinite Earths.” Moore was able to do something no other writer has done before or since: write the definitive end to an iconic superhero. Even though Superman would eventually return, he would never be the same, and Moore perfectly said goodbye to the hero known for generations. It’s an extraordinary work, especially compared to the story where Superman died in continuity, “Death of Superman.”
13. The Ballad of Halo Jones
In 1984, Moore and artist Ian Gibson created “The Ballad of Halo Jones” in “2000AD” #376. It started out with a woman living in the far future in a floating poverty-stricken community called the Hoop. Unlike most comic book heroes, Halo Jones didn’t carry guns or have superpowers. She was just an ordinary person in an extraordinary world. Her biggest concerns were going shopping, hanging out, and getting a good job. But that’s not easy in a city torn apart by riots where a good job means becoming a stewardess on a spaceship. As she grew older, and ended up fighting in the army, she became increasingly desperate to escape from the chaos of her life.
Moore deliberately worked to undermine all the cliches of the genre at the time. He chose a relatively unremarkable woman as his heroine and set the story in a detailed and developed futuristic society. In the process, he created a heroine whom many female readers found immensely appealing because she acted like a real person instead of a stereotype. She had relationships, wasn’t sexually exploited, and spent time with other women. “Ballad” introduced elements of feminism in the male-dominated “2000AD,” and continues to resonate with readers.
12. Tom Strong
Tom Strong is a man who’s reached the peak of mental and physical perfection. Raised by his parents in a high-gravity environment, his body is stronger and larger than a normal human being. His parents also gave him an education that rivals the finest colleges, making him a genius in every sense of the word. With his family and a team of volunteers around the world, Strong fights for Earth and justice throughout the universe.
Created in 1999, “Tom Strong” is Moore’s ode to pulp heroes and comic book conventions of the past. The series jumps back and forth over a hundred-year period and pits Strong against Nazis, alternate universes, and giant robots. The story goes from the prehistoric era to the far future and embraces genres from straight sci-fi to pure horror. This being Moore, he doesn’t just repeat the work of the past. The series avoids the worst aspects of pulp fiction with an ethnically diverse cast (Tom’s wife is black, for example), fully developed characters, and a complex story. At the same time, it embraces the comic book setting with talking gorillas, a steam-powered robots, and action scenes. It’s all about pure fun and Moore really delivers.
11. Future Shocks
In 1980, Alan Moore was one of the many authors who got his chance to write for “Future Shocks,” a series of self-contained sci-fi short stories published in “2000 AD” (best known for Judge Dredd) that was often used to test out new writers. There, he produced over 50 legendary stories over the course of the next three years.
Stories like “Man Reversible The,” about a man who lives his life backwards. It’s a remarkable story, starting with the character coming back to life from a heart attack, and going backwards from there. He meets and raises his children back into childhood, falls in love with his wife, and grows younger and younger. Then there was “The Last Rumble of the Platinum Horde,” about an army launched by a bloodthirsty empire to conquer their way to the edge of the Universe. It’s a funny but thoughtful story about the mindlessness of combat, and speaks to the dangers of war for its own sake. Taken together, Alan Moore’s “Future Shocks” make a great short story collection, and show shadows of his later work.
10. A Small Killing
In 1991, Alan Moore and artist Oscar Zarate released this contemplative and speculative graphic novel. “A Small Killing” tells the inner thoughts of Timothy Hole, an advertising executive looking for inspiration on a campaign to sell cola in Russia. But he finds himself haunted by a vision of a small child, who turns out to be his younger self. The child torments him with how he’s given up his dreams for short-term gains.
The novel is one of the most complex and philosophical stories Moore has produced. Throughout the book, we see flashbacks of Hole’s life and how much he’s sacrificed. The metaphor of his older and younger self at war would easily resonate with his mature fans, but also those just starting out in life who can question if they’re going in the right direction. The book also features incredibly bold and symbolic artwork that begs close study. It also feels like one of Moore’s more personal stories. It doesn’t take much to imagine the story about an older Moore, reflecting on whether he’s sacrificed his youthful idealism for short-term gain in writing superhero fiction.
9. Captain Britain
An iconic hero who represents the nation itself. No, not Captain America. We’re talking about Captain Britain.
Captain Britain was created by Chris Claremont and Herb Trimpe for Marvel UK, a blatant attempt to copy the success of Captain America. 1976’s “Captain Britain Weekly” told the adventures of Brian Braddock, gifted by the wizard Merlyn with superhuman powers to become Captain Britain. The character didn’t catch on, and lost his own series, becoming a backup character in various other books.
In “Marvel Superheroes” #387 (1982), Alan Moore took over the character. As he tends to do with existing characters, he completely turned the character upside-down. He started by killing Captain Britain and his elfin sidekick, and changing his origin to make his powers come from aliens instead of magicians. The aliens brought him back to life, and Captain Britain went on journeys to alternate realities, and battled new enemies. It featured epic moments drawn in what came to be known as “widescreen,” something now common but rare at the time. It’s all an amazing journey, once again showing how Moore takes even the most stereotypical character and makes it unique.
8. Top 10
If you cross the TV show “Law and Order” with Marvel’s Avengers, the result would be 1999’s “Top 10.” It followed a rookie cop nicknamed Toybox and her surly partner, Smax, trying to solve crimes in the city of Neopolis, a city where everyone — the police, criminals, and even animals — has superpowers and costumes. The series has no end of weird characters, including a team leader in the form of a talking dog in an exoskeleton, a crime scene investigator with synesthesia, a detective with a box full of toys, and a drug operation run by a Nazi mad scientist.
While the series had its share of humor, it also tackled issues usually ignored by mainstream comics. Monsters and robots faced prejudice by humans and law enforcement struggled to deal with the pressure of fighting crime. There were elements of satire and reflection on society along with jokes about life in a world of superheroes, where a clothing store is called the Phonebooth, and people sell signal watches instead of cell phones. More than anything, the series showed once again how Moore could bring new life to the stereotypical superhero genre. It also showed he could be pretty funny.
When “Promethea” was first released in 2000, many expected it to be a sort of Wonder Woman rip-off. Instead, Moore created a brand-new character inspired by the concept of imagination itself.
The series begins when a college student named Sophie Bangs investigates Promethea, a woman who keeps appearing in folklore, cartoons, and even comic books. But this is no “comic book comes to life” story. Sophie discovers Promethea is a legendary female warrior who exists in Immateria, a realm created by imagination. She appears whenever someone calls her into existence through telling stories about her. In some cases, women actually become her. That’s what happens to Sophie, who transforms into Promethea, facing deadly threats while fighting a conspiracy and trying to understand both the world of Immateria and herself.
Through “Promethea,” Moore explored the power of comic books, superheroes, and their connection to ancient mythology. Towards the end, the series dipped deeper and deeper into spiritism and religion, challenging the natural order and even reality itself. Moore’s love of mysticism was never more clear than in this series.
6. From Hell
Alan Moore’s “From Hell” (1989) dramatically stretched the boundaries of what the comic book format is capable of. Instead of a macho portrayal of superheroes and supervillains or a horror story of macabre monsters, he tells a historical horror drama where the monsters are human.
Set in Victorian London, this graphic novel is about the famous serial killer Jack the Ripper. But unlike most stories involving Jack the Ripper, the murders are not the beginning or the end. Moore tells the story as a way of seeing the world of Victorian London in a new way. Moore recreates the era in great detail, giving us the feel of the British Empire on the verge of the 20th century. In this graphic novel, Moore portrays Jack the Ripper as the Queen’s physician, part of a Masonic conspiracy. Not only is it a dramatic story, but the graphic novel ends with numerous annotations, showing how much exhaustive research he carried out. It’s a testament to his dedication to the story.
Decades before Alan Moore came along, a blatant knock-off of Captain Marvel called Marvelman was created starring a young boy who would say the word “Kimota” (“atomic” spelled backwards) to transform into a superhero. In 1982’s “Warrior” magazine, Moore created a new version that upended the old one. Changed to Miracleman in the US for legal reasons, Michael Moran was now a freelance journalist who forgot his past. Upon rediscovering his powers, Moran also discovers his childhood adventures were all fantasies implanted by a government experiment that really created him. He also finds that his former sidekick Kid Miracleman (Billy Bates) has become a psychopath using his awakened powers to wreak havoc. As Miracleman, he tries to find the truth about his past, stop his former partner, and struggles with his identity.
While not as controversial as “Watchmen,” “Miracleman” plays around with the same concepts. Moran’s recollections are a stark contrast in style and tone to the more mature world he lives in, making us face how we as readers have grown up. The brutality of Bates and the shocking portrayal of violence depicted in the battle between he and Miracleman makes us see evil in a whole new light.
4. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
Moore’s “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” (1999) is basically a literary take-off on the Justice League of America set in an alternate version of Victorian England. The conversations and arguments between the five of them are great with clever quips and retorts. The League is thrown into battles and adventures, all the way up to a kite-flying climax. It’s one of Alan Moore’s best works.
What makes this series especially great is that every page and panel is crammed with literary references and characters from across the era. The actual story takes the League into contact with other literary characters such as Ishmael from “Moby Dick,” Detective Dupin from “Murders in the Rue Morgue,” and Artful Dodger from “Oliver Twist.” You can read the story on its own, then re-read it while examining the characters and events in the background. You could write a book about all the stuff happening in each panel, and some authors have.
3. Swamp Thing
In 1984, Alan Moore was given the chance to work on a low-profile comic book on the verge of cancellation, “Saga of the Swamp Thing.” “Swamp Thing” had been declining as a comic about a scientist who was turned into a plant monster. But Moore literally reinvented and revitalized the character and the book, starting by killing Swamp Thing in issue #20 and bringing him back to life. In the process, Swamp Thing discovered he wasn’t a scientist turned into a plant. He was a plant who thought he was a scientist.
From there, Swamp Thing went on a journey through dark and twisted realms, and Moore broke new ground in the comics industry. He was one of the first to push towards more adult-oriented storytelling in mainstream comics, and turned the series into a genuine horror comic. This series truly cemented his reputation as an outstanding writer, and contains elements of the spiritual and metaphysical journeys he would make in his later work.
2. V For Vendetta
“Remember, remember, the fifth of November.”
In Moore and David Lloyd’s “V For Vendetta,” a nuclear war has put a fascist government into power in near-future Britain. The government rules with Orwellian surveillance systems, and much of Britain has become resigned to their fate. V styles himself as a modern-day Guy Fawkes and wages a one-man war against the state. Behind a stylized mask, he works to undermine the public’s trust while assassinating various members of the government. He’s hideously scarred behind the mask and seeks vengeance for what was done to him. Along the way, the dark and twisted conspiracy that led to V’s birth are revealed.
There are a lot of complex themes in this story about the role of government and what people are willing to trade for security. There’s also some moral complexity. V is, by any definition of the term, a terrorist. He sets off bombs and he kills his enemies brutally and frequently. He also allows Eve (a girl he rescued from government thugs) to undergo some pretty horrific events and it makes the reader wonder whether V has gone too far.
Written by Alan Moore and drawn by Dave Gibbons, Watchmen asked the question, “What if superheroes were real?” It’s set in an alternate history where people began dressing up as superheroes in the 1940s through the 1960s. They fought crime, helped the US win the Vietnam War, and changed technology and society. But by 1985, almost all of the superheroes have retired with the exception of the sociopathic Comedian, the paranoid Rorschach, and the god-like Dr. Manhattan. On the verge of World War III, Rorschach tries solving the mystery of who is killing off costumed heroes. Old heroes come out of retirement and a horrific conspiracy is exposed.
With this comic, Moore created some of the most complex characters in comic book history, where both villains and heroes have strengths and weaknesses, along with rich histories extensively told in flashbacks. It also cast a harsh light on the concept of a superhero. Why would anyone become a superhero, and what lengths would someone go to save the world? “Watchmen” also talks about the consequences of power and how it can be abused. All of these were ideas that transformed the industry. It’s truly Moore’s greatest achievement.
What’s Moore’s best story? Any others you can name that are your favorites? Let us know in the comments!
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