The Ten Best Alan Moore Stories You’ve Probably Never Read
Any look back over Alan Moore's career is likely to overlook a lot of really great comics. Beyond the usual works that are typically rattled off as the highlights of his career are British works that never got big in America, independent comics that never got wide distribution, and reams of short stories that have fallen between the cracks. You might have read a few of them, but they're all worth a look.
Alan Moore's greatest hits include Watchmen, Saga of the Swamp Thing, From Hell, Marvelman, The Killing Joke, V for Vendetta, Tom Strong, Supreme, Top Ten, Promethea, the hundreds of pages of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and a couple of the best Superman stories of all time, but as this list proves, there's a lot more to Moore.
Michael Zulli and Stephen Murphy's Puma Blues was a favorite of some of the biggest names in 80s comics, and a few of them contributed short comics to the twentieth issue. Moore's entry, illustrated by Stephen Bissette and Zulli, was one of the earliest instances of Moore using sex as metaphor, as an unseen narrator professes his arousal at the sight of flying manta rays mating. Like the rays who evolved out of the poisoned water, this story progresses into something else: an expression of the gossamer bonds of love, and the tenuous prospects of reproduction in a world that's turning to ash.
Moore has always been socially progressive and politically active, and in response to an anti-gay statute in the UK, he penned an epic poem that could almost be thought of as a short history of homosexuality. Originally published in AARGH! (Artists Against Rampant Government Homophobia), with benefits going to support the fight for gay rights, Mirror Of Love was re-envisioned fifteen years later (the same year the anti-gay statute was finally repealed) with photography by Jose Villarrubia. The original version, illustrated by Stephen Bissette and Rick Veitch, is the better of the two, pregnant with the powerful imagery of twin hermaphroditic angels narrating the story of love and struggle.
The Ballad Of Halo Jones is one of Moore's famous unfinished projects, but the extant three volumes with Ian Gibson are plenty. A reaction to testosterone-fueled action sci-fi, this space opera is about an average woman just trying to live her life in the frenzy of the 50th century. The world-building, humor, and parody are all brilliant, but what really drives this book is the feminist allegory at work: at first powerless and passive in the immensity of her universe, Halo Jones finds her will, and vows to command her own destiny. Moore and Gibson planned to follow Halo until her death as an old woman, but as an ending, the ownership of one's own significance works.
In this contribution to Art Spiegelman's landmark art-comix anthology RAW (in vol. 2, issue #3), Moore collaborated with expressionist artist Mark Beyer for a cynical, subtle, and poetic diatribe on the economic climate of the early 90s. "The Bowing Machine" is told from the perspective of a Japanese businessman in a battle of deference with a co-worker in a bid for the waves of money flowing in from America, and it maintains this strange balance of satire, absurdity, and alienation that's quite unlike anything else in Moore's bibliography.
Originally titled "In Fictopia," and a mere eight pages, Don Simpson altered and expanded this story into one of Moore's brightest gems. "In Pictopia" is almost a proto-Top Ten, with the titular city populated entirely by characters from comics and cartoons — stand-ins, amalgams, and analogues for Mandrake the Magician, Plastic Man, Popeye, Blondie, and so on. But "In Pictopia" expresses both a genuine affection for comics, creators, and characters, and a genuine fear for the prospects of the medium, in the middle of a dark age that Moore himself felt partly responsible for. A stirring and epiphanic story about comics, love, and doom, "In Pictopia" is a genuine classic, with the most recent printing available in George Khoury's The Extraordinary Works Of Alan Moore.
Originally a spoken-word performance by Moore about the death of his mother, The Birth Caul was translated into sequence by From Hell collaborator Eddie Campbell simply because Campbell loved it so much. In The Birth Caul, Moore meditates on life and death, and travels back to conception for an attempt to regain some recondite atavistic knowledge. The transition to comics is a seamless one, with Campbell's imagery marrying with Moore's prose to create a reading experience that approaches the hallucinatory.
Moore's most underappreciated book, and one of his most personal. Painted by Oscar Zarate, A Small Killing is nuanced, psychologically compelling, and free of the structural claustrophobia incited by Moore's tightly-plotted timepieces. A European-styled exploration of the unfulfilled life of commerce, A Small Killing feels very much like Moore's mission statement, a declaration that he was right to (for the most part) eschew the corporate for the personal. Most days, this is my favorite Moore book; understated and riveting from the first page to the last.
Technically, nobody has ever read this story, as Big Numbers went infamously unfinished. After both Bill Sienkiewicz and Al Columbia left the project, only the first two issues were released; the third mysteriously appeared online about a decade later. Only a quarter of the story actually exists, but what's out there is tantalizing. Big Numbers is clockwork and distanced, but with perfectly-shaded characters and hypnotic dialogue, and is notable simply because it's Moore's only true attempt at realism in comics.
Will Eisner's The Spirit: The New Adventures was a short-lived anthology title that offered comics' best creators the opportunity to craft their own Spirit stories, and they did not disappoint. Neil Gaiman, Eddie Campbell, Paul Pope, Kurt Busiek, Moebius and more contributed, and in the first issue, Moore even reunited with Watchmen co-author Dave Gibbons for a triptych of stories told in impression of Eisner's style. But the best Spirit story by Moore is this one with Daniel Torres, in which the immortal Denny Colt tours the "logotechture" ruins of Central City hundreds of years in the future, recalling the dead. Wondrous and melancholic.
In Moore and Melinda Gebbie's contribution to 9/11: Artists Respond, they communicate a myriad of responses to tragedy, both emotional and intellectual, contrasting and yet not conflicting. An incredibly nuanced story that crams all of Moore's structural tricks into just a few pages, it still breathes in a way unlike most of Moore's library; it contains a beating heart quite often lacking from anything crafted under the iron fist of his formal oppression. The entirety of Artists Respond is moving and heartfelt, but this story, which closes out the collection, carries an appeal for common reason and humanity in a tone both hopeful and pragmatic.