From Hell collected edition
|Date||1999 (collected edition)|
|No. of issues||10|
|Page count||572 pages|
Eddie Campbell Comics
Top Shelf Productions
|Date of publication||1989-1996|
Set during the Whitechapel murders of the late Victorian era, the novel speculates upon the identity and motives of Jack the Ripper. The novel depicts several true events surrounding the murders, although portions have been fictionalised, particularly the identity of the killer and the precise nature and circumstances of the murders.
The title is taken from the first words of the "From Hell" letter, which some authorities believe was an authentic message sent from the killer in 1888. The collected edition is 572 pages long. The 2000 and later editions are the most common prints. The comic was loosely adapted into a film, released in 2001. In 2000, the graphic novel was banned in Australia for several weeks after customs officers seized copies of the seventh issue from a shipment intended for Quality Comics.
From Hell was originally serialized as one of several features in Taboo, an anthology comic book published by Steve Bissette's Spiderbaby Grafix. After running in Taboo #2-7 (1989-1992), Moore and Campbell moved the project to its own series, published first by Tundra Publishing, then by Kitchen Sink Press. The series was published in ten volumes between 1991 and 1996, and an appendix, From Hell: The Dance of the Gull-catchers, was published in 1998. The entire series was collected in a trade paperback and published by Eddie Campbell Comics in 1999; trade paperback and hardcover versions are now published by Top Shelf Productions in the United States and Knockabout Comics in the UK. A fully colorized Master Edition was serialized starting in September 2018.
From Hell takes as its premise Stephen Knight's theory that the Jack the Ripper murders were part of a conspiracy to conceal the birth of an illegitimate royal baby fathered by Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence, slightly modified: the involvement of Walter Sickert is reduced, and Knight's allegation that the child's mother was a Catholic has been dropped. Knight's theories have been described as "a good fictional read" whose "conclusions have been disproved numerous times". In an appendix added to the collected From Hell, Moore writes that he did not accept Knight's theory at face value (and he echoed the then-growing consensus that such claims were likely hoaxes), but considered it an interesting starting point for his own fictional examination of the Ripper murders, their era and impact. However, in the serialised publication of Dance of the Gull-Catchers Moore included an "author's statement" which consisted of a blown-up panel from the prologue, depicting the psychic Robert James Lees confessing that although his visions were fraudulent, they were accurate: "I made it all up, and it all came true anyway. That's the funny part."
Moore and Campbell conducted significant research to ensure plausibility and verisimilitude. The collected From Hell features over forty pages of page-by-page notes and references, indicating which scenes are based wholly on Moore's own imagination and which are based upon specific named sources. Moore's opinions on the reliability of those references are also listed. The annotations are followed by an epilogue in comics format, The Dance of the Gull-Catchers, in which Moore and Campbell expand on the various theories of the Ripper crimes and the likelihood--or rather, the near-impossibility--of the true identity of the culprit ever being established.
Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence, also known as Prince Eddy, marries and fathers a child with Annie Crook, a shop girl in London's East End. Prince Eddy had visited the area under an assumed name and Annie is unaware of her husband's royal position. Queen Victoria becomes aware of the marriage and has Albert separated forcibly from his wife, whom she places in an asylum. Victoria then instructs her royal physician Sir William Gull to impair Annie's sanity, which he does by damaging or impairing her thyroid gland. The prince's daughter is taken to Annie's parents by the artist Walter Sickert, a friend of Eddy's who had accompanied him on his trips to the East End. Annie's father believes the child to be his through an incestuous relationship with his daughter. Sickert reluctantly leaves the child with Annie's parents.
The potentially scandalous matter is resolved, until a group of prostitutes -- Annie's friends Mary Kelly, Polly Nichols, Anne Chapman, and Liz Stride -- who are aware of the illegitimate child and its royal connections, attempt to blackmail Sickert to pay off a gang of thugs who are threatening them. After Queen Victoria learns of the blackmail attempt, Gull is once again enlisted, this time to silence the group of women who are threatening the crown. The police are complicit in the crimes -- they are granted prior knowledge of Gull's intentions, and are adjured not to interfere until the plot is completed.
Gull, a high-ranking Freemason, begins a campaign of violence against the four women in Whitechapel, brutally murdering them with the aid of a carriage driver, John Netley. While he justifies the murders by claiming they are a Masonic warning to an apparent Illuminati threat to the throne, the killings are, in Gull's mind, part of an elaborate mystical ritual to ensure male societal dominance over women. While targeting Kelly, Gull also kills Catherine Eddowes, who was using Kelly's name as an alias. As the killings progress, Gull becomes more and more psychologically unhinged, until he finally has a full psychic vision of the future while murdering a woman he believes to be Kelly.
The story also serves as an in-depth character study of Gull; exploring his personal philosophy and motivation, and making sense of his dual role as royal assassin and serial killer. Though rooted in factual biographical details of Gull's life, Moore admitted taking substantial fictional license: for example, the real-life Gull suffered a stroke; Moore fictionalises this event as a theophany, with Gull seeing "Jahbulon", a masonic figure, fundamentally altering Gull's world view and indirectly leading to the murders.
Gull takes Netley on a tour of London landmarks (including Cleopatra's Needle and Nicholas Hawksmoor's churches), expounding on their hidden mystical significance, which is lost to the modern world. Later, Gull forces the semi-literate Netley to write the infamous From Hell letter which lends the work its title. Following this, several people write letters to the police claiming to be the murderer, and the nickname "Jack the Ripper" becomes a household name. Gull has a number of transcendent experiences in the course of the murders, culminating with a vivid vision of what London will be like a century after the last murder. It is implied that, through his grisly activities, male dominance over femininity is assured, and the 20th century is thus given its dominant form, though Gull finds it disgusting nevertheless.
Inspector Frederick Abberline, who once patrolled Whitechapel as a police officer, investigates the Ripper crimes without success. He meets Robert James Lees, a fraudulent psychic who acts as a spiritual advisor to Queen Victoria. Lees, acting on a personal grudge, contacts Abberline and identifies Gull as the murderer. Abberline and Lees confront Gull, who instantly confesses. Abberline reports the confession to his superiors at Scotland Yard, who cover up the discovery. The police inform both Abberline and Lees that Gull was operating alone, and was gripped by insanity. Abberline later discovers through chance Gull's actual intentions to cover up the matter of the royal "bastard" fathered by the Duke of Clarence. He resigns from the Metropolitan Police in protest of the official cover-up of the murders, and contemplates leaving England to join the Pinkertons.
Gull is tried by a secret Masonic council, which determines he is insane. Gull refuses to submit to the council, informing them that because of his accomplishments and his visions, no man amongst them may be counted as his peer and cannot judge the "mighty work" he has wrought. A phony funeral is staged, and Gull is imprisoned under a pseudonym "Thomas Mason." The Freemasons frame boarding school teacher Montague Druitt as a suspect, killing him and making his death look like suicide. Years later, and moments before his death, Gull has an extended mystical experience, where his spirit travels through time, observing the crimes of the London Monster, instigating or inspiring a number of other killers (Peter Sutcliffe, Ian Brady), causing Netley's death, as well as serving as the inspiration for both Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and William Blake's painting "The Ghost of a Flea". The last experience his spirit undergoes before it "becomes God" is visiting a woman living in Ireland who, in the novel's appendices, is implied to be Mary Kelly. The woman has four children who are named after the women murdered by Gull in Whitechapel. She is apparently able to see Gull's spirit, and abjures him to begone "back to Hell."
From Hell was partly inspired by the title of Douglas Adams' novel Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, in that it explores the notion that to solve a crime holistically, one would need to solve the entire society in which it occurred. Moore's take on the Jack the Ripper murders is not a "whodunit": he spells out his culprit, William Gull, and the ostensible reasons for his actions very early on. But as Gull remarks, "Averting Royal embarrassment is but the fraction of my work that's visible above the waterline." The murders are an occult ritual, a complex human sacrifice using Victorian London itself as an altar. The symbolism of London's landmarks is explored in the fourth chapter, in which Gull explains his motives to his uncomprehending coachman, and employs psychogeography to tie together these landmarks with the city's history.
Gull is depicted as a misogynist who opposes women's suffrage, along with other progressive movements of his time. Women had power over men once, Gull believes, and the irrational, Dionysian unconscious mind once dominated the rational, Apollonian conscious mind. Moore cites writers such as Marilyn French and Robert Graves, who argue (as the fictional Gull does) that women held both political and religious power prior to the rise of patriarchal religions such as Christianity. Gull is reason's lunatic: he believes he is carrying out an act of magic to enforce the rational, masculine hegemony.
From Hell also explores Moore's ideas on the nature of time. Early on, Gull's friend James Hinton discusses his son Howard's theory of the "fourth dimension", which proposes that time is a spatial dimension. All time co-exists, and it is only the limits of our perception that make it appear to progress. Sequences of related events can be seen as shapes in the fourth dimension: history can "be said to have an architecture", as Gull puts it. Gull's experiences seem to confirm this: he has visions of the 20th century during the murders, and as he is dying he experiences, and appears to influence, past and future events. Moore had earlier explored similar ideas in Watchmen, where Doctor Manhattan perceives past, present and future simultaneously, and describes himself as "a puppet who can see the strings".
Perhaps the most elaborate theme in From Hell stems from Moore's statement that "the Ripper murders -- happening when they did and where they did -- were almost like an apocalyptic summary of... that entire Victorian age. Also, they prefigure a lot of the horrors of the 20th century." In Moore's reading of the works of contemporary artists including Émile Zola and the post-impressionist painters, the prostitute had become an icon of the working lives of the impoverished and disenfranchised. He notes that the 1880s saw the Mahdi uprisings, the first time the Western world had to face militant Islamic fundamentalism; physicists were beginning to make discoveries that would pave the way to the atomic bomb; and the growth of both Zionism and anti-Semitism. The period of the killings coincides with the conception of Adolf Hitler and the final scene alludes to the outbreak of World War II. After the final murder, during which Gull has an extended vision of 1990s England, Gull says, "It is beginning, Netley. Only just beginning. For better or worse, the twentieth century. I have delivered it."
On a more prosaic level, Moore indicts the inequalities of Victorian society, contrasting Gull and the wealthy circles he moves in with the hand-to-mouth existence of the women he targets; the moral disgust shown at the peccadilloes of the poor with the depths to which the rich are prepared to sink to protect the image of propriety; and the imaginary anti-Semitic conspiracy theories which divert the police's investigations with the real conspiracy that controls them. During one murder, scenes from the killing are interspersed with scenes from a nearby meeting of a socialist club, addressed by William Morris, where a portrait of Karl Marx comes to dominate the scene. In his appendix, Moore sardonically expresses regret that England never had a revolution as France did.
Just about every notable figure of the period is connected with the events in some way, from "Elephant Man" Joseph Merrick to Oscar Wilde, from the Native American writer Black Elk to William Morris, the artist Walter Sickert to Aleister Crowley, who makes a brief appearance as a young boy in short trousers, sucking on a candy cane, and lecturing the police about magic.
According to his notes in his appendix, Moore was somewhat inconsistent with how "historically accurate" the events within the graphic novels are. On one hand, he revealed that he had actually written an entire scene where Abberline gets into an argument with Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley; he rewrote it after research revealed that Buffalo Bill had left England by the time of the murders. On the other hand, again according to his own notes, he had William Morris appear in London on the night of one of the murders, although historical records show he was out of town that night. Morris, however, does not interact with any of the characters, but is simply seen reading his poem "Love Is Enough", while Gull murders Elizabeth Stride in the alley below.
In The Dance of the Gull Catchers Moore reports that he had been drawn into and even obsessed with the particulars of the Ripper murders. The Ripperologists--or "Gull Catchers" as he refers to them--are depicted as unhinged men running about with large butterfly nets, chasing details and connections, however tenuous. Initially, Moore observes them from a distance, but eventually--while researching and writing From Hell--he joins them. Moore compares the multitude of increasingly outlandish Ripper theories to a Koch snowflake, where a finite, fixed location, event and era (London, in late 1888) can have an infinite number of nooks and crannies. Ultimately, Moore observes that the longer the Gull Catchers chase after the Ripper, the more the ground underneath them becomes churned and unrecognisable mud; their attempts to uncover the truth only serve to obscure it and cause further confusion.
The comic series was a top vote getter for the Comics Buyer's Guide Fan Award for "Favorite Limited Series" for 1997, and the collected edition won their Award for Favorite Reprint Graphic Album in 2000.
A film, loosely based on the series, was made by the Hughes brothers in 2001, starring Johnny Depp, Heather Graham and Ian Holm. It received mixed reviews from critics, with a rating of 57% on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes.