It's no exaggeration to say Alan Moore is the definitively best writer in all of comics.
His stories have transcended and forever changed the world of comics and how readers outside the industry have perceived it, gaining the medium a newfound and long-lasting respect thanks to titles like Watchmen, V for Vendetta, and Swamp Thing.
Moore’s influence on comics cannot be understated, continuing to transport readers to lands inhabited by realistic, morally conflicted superheroes, anarchist vigilantes, and demonic Jack the Ripper suspects, with not one of his stories failing to deliver boundless imagination and entertainment.
It’s been around roughly two years now since Moore has officially retired from the comics world, yet in the meantime, the talented writer has been pursuing his other ambitions outside the medium, including writing several novels and short stories, a series of short films, and a full-length movie titled The Show that will be released on DVD and Blu-Ray on November 23.
The Greatest Alan Moore Comic Books
With Moore's film nearly set for release, we thought we'd take a look back at some of the writer's most memorable work, and discuss the effect his work continues to have not only on comics, but in the world of literature as a whole.
Miracleman (various artists)
Moore officially started off writing comics in the late '70s, largely writing short pieces published in British publications like 2000 AD and Doctor Who Weekly. In the early 1980s, he would begin working on several slightly larger projects, namely through Marvel UK, who hired him to write comic issues based on B-list superheroes.
Setting out to write his version of the superhero story, Moore approached the genre from a more practical perspective, asking the key question, “What would a superhero in a more realistic world look like?”
Based on that question came Moore's Miracleman, starring the middle-aged, overweight, insecure freelance reporter, Michael Moran. Formerly a superhero who has forgotten his past life, Moran's powers are unleashed after years of inactivity when he is caught in a terrorist explosion.
Once again resuming the life of Miracleman, Moran must contend with his current personal life as and his former life as a superhero—complete with numerous encounters with past enemies and friends—all the while struggling through an identity crisis of who he is: the average everyman Moran, or the infinitely powerful Miracleman?
Thematically, Miracleman shares ties to the other, more realistic, postmodern superhero work Moore would create in Swamp Thing and Watchmen, featuring superheroes based in real-world settings learning to accept the moral and psychological implications of their superhero careers.
It may seem a standard approach to take with superheroes now, but for the time, Moore challenged the preconceived notions of the comic standard, refusing to take a kitschy, comic-book style approach, and taking both the story and characters seriously, forever changing the entire comic landscape as a result.
Saga of the Swamp Thing (with Steve Bissette, John Totlebe, and various other artists)
Based mostly on his work on Miracleman, DC writer Len Wein offered Moore a chance to take over the writing of his character, Swamp Thing (mostly to capitalize on the 1982 adaptation of the superhero by Wes Craven). Moore accepted, and again managed to create one of the most endearing, critically popular superhero comics of his day, launching Moore into his first big mainstream success at DC comics.
As he had done with Miracleman, Moore took a far more methodical, cerebral approach to the character of Swamp Thing and his backstory, essentially retconning the entire story and giving the character newfound depth and complexities that no other superhero possessed at the time.
The first and most crucial aspect of Swamp Thing's story that changed was the character's past. In Wein's version, Swamp Thing was a scientist named Alec Holland who—after an experiment gone wrong—turns into a man-plant hybrid. In Moore's version, rather than being a transformed version of Holland, Swamp Thing instead is a sentient plant creature who believes it is the deceased Holland—having assimilated the scientist's past memories and emotions when Holland died.
It's this sense of confusion over his identity—not a man, nor entirely a plant—that drives Swamp Thing's story, revolving around him attempting to find his place in the world while also protecting the forests.
Moore's true early talent has always been revitalizing B-superheroes, granting him the creative freedom to move them in new directions and explore their troubled psyche. His epic Swamp Thing spanned numerous issues and saw Swamp Thing encounter memorable DC characters like Batman, the Justice League, and Moore's original creation, the magician John Constantine.
The series explores numerous themes and genres, including horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and occultism, and social issues like environmentalism, racism, pacifism, and feminism (especially Moore’s “American Gothic” arc).
His work on Swamp Thing would elevate him to widespread popularity among comic book fans, leading to a partnership with DC that saw Moore work on big-name heroes like Superman and Batman, both with continuing success.
The Bojeffries Saga (with Steve Parkhouse)
As Moore continued his rise in American mainstream comics, he simultaneously continued to work on smaller independent British comics, producing memorable series like the fan-favorite The Ballad of Halo Jones and his long-running newspaper comic, Maxwell the Magic Cat, throughout the 1980s.'
Around the same time, he also wrote a short, comedic comic series titled The Bojeffries Saga, following the surreal adventures of a family composed of vampires, werewolves, and Lovecraftian monsters.
Set in Northampton (Moore's hometown, and a frequent locale in many of his stories), the Bojeffries are essentially a British version of the Addams Family, although the series possesses a notably darker, more cynical tone than its somewhat campier American counterpart.
Written with sharp, brutal wit, Moore's saga draws on the childhood experiences of his life in Northampton, as well as incorporating elements of then-present day Thatcherian England.
In its own distinct way, The Bojeffries Saga is arguably the most unique of Moore's early work, with a surrealistic, comedic style reminiscent of British sitcoms like The Young Ones. It may not be the greatest Moore story ever written or an ideal choice for everyone (the drier British humor may not translate over to Americans quite as well, similar to how most Americans can't seem to get into the UK version of The Office), but it still remains a highly innovative entry in Moore's diverse bibliography, completely entertaining in its own right.
V for Vendetta (with David Lloyd)
Though Moore would enter critical and commercial popularity and fame for his American comics after the success of Swamp Thing, from 1982 to 1989, he would also continue working on the British comic, V for Vendetta. Largely unknown and underappreciated in its first few issues, it would continue to grow in appreciation among comic fandom, aging—like much of Moore's work—like a fine wine in the years that followed.
One of Moore's earliest original works, V for Vendetta is set in a dystopian near-future where Britain has adopted a fascist society after near nuclear extinction has wiped out most of the surrounding world.
Now a police state, the new British government attempts enforcing its repressive, racist, homophobic, Christian fundamentalist norms on Britain's citizens—using hyper surveillance, censorship, and mass concentration camps to do so. The only opposition they face is from V, a mysterious anarchist with superhuman abilities and intellect who conceals his identity in a Guy Fawkes mask, and who repeatedly manages to terrorize and undermine the British authorities.
One of the best dystopian works in recent memory—and almost certainly the best in the comic industry—Moore manages to paint a frighteningly realistic picture of government oppression and fascism, relying on minimal comic conventions (there's no thought bubbles or sound effects) and Dave Lloyd's stark, noirish artistic style.
Moore—himself an anarchist—set out to portray both the human side to the fascist government workers of the Orwellian government, managing to depict them as real, complicated human beings, as well as the more monstrous side to his freedom-fighting protagonist, V. (Although fighting for the right reasons, V is still capable of questionable, startlingly inhumane acts of cruelty for the sake of the greater good.)
There's a reason you're still able to see Guy Fawkes everywhere nowadays—on Wall Street protests or as the face of the international hacker activist group, Anonymous. The mask embodies a secure anonymity and an emboldened sense of justice, worn by those who feel some injustice is being done somewhere. In a large sense, it's a key reason why V for Vendetta remains one of Moore's most well-known works—as long as injustice exists, so too will V, and so too will V for Vendetta.
Watchmen (with Dave Gibbons)
Moore's rise to the top of the comics world hit its penultimate peak in 1986, with his most critically praised, groundbreaking superhero series, Watchmen.
One of the most ambitious pieces of fiction ever produced, Watchmen changed everything forever, turning numerous comic book conventions on its head, and introducing storytelling methods nobody had ever seen in a graphic novel before.
Harking back to the more realistic approach he took with Swamp Thing and Miracleman, Moore attempted to introduce a cast of various superheroes—each own representing an archetypical hero (elements of Batman were incorporated into Rorschach, for example)—into a startling real-world, contemporary setting.
Set in an alternate historical version of New York City in the 1980s—amid the Cold War paranoia and fear of mutual nuclear annihilation—Watchmen begins with the mysterious murder of a costumed adventurer, leading one superhero on a long investigation to find the person responsible, uncovering a vast, sinister conspiracy in the process.
Hypothetically, we could spend this entire list talking about how amazing Watchmen really is—from the main characters (the “smartest man in the world” Ozymandias, the philosophically detached, temporally displaced Dr. Manhattan, the psychopathic moral absolutist, Rorschach), to the experimental method, Moore tells the story, shifting from each character's perspective and detailing their troubled backstories. It's a comic unlike anything you'll ever read, presenting a story that fundamentally and intellectually challenged the style of the comic as well as the subjects you could depict, deconstructing the superhero mythology and numerous real-world issues.
Far and away Moore's most famous, critically and commercially popular work, Watchmen continues to rank favorably as one of the greatest pieces of fiction ever written, appearing on Time magazine's “List of the 100 Best Novels” (the only comic series to appear on said list).
Batman: The Killing Joke (with Brian Bolland)
In the late 1980s', Moore wrote what became one of his final stories directly for DC before a fierce falling out between the two over the rights for Moore's stories, during a period where Moore was able to write stories focusing on the company’s biggest, most noteworthy superheroes, including Superman, and his now-iconic Batman story, The Killing Joke.
Alternating between flashbacks and a present-day storyline, the Joker has just broken out of Arkham Asylum, embarking on a brutal path of anarchy and murder that sees him paralyze Batgirl and abduct Jim Gordon, intentionally trying to drive him insane. Provided throughout are glimpses into Joker's past as a struggling comedian unable to support his pregnant wife, forcing him into a life of crime that results in his transformation as the Joker.
Built around the idea of whether “one very day” can mentally push you to the breaking point, The Killing Joke continues to rank favorably as one of the greatest, most well-known Batman comics that there is. Moore’s humanization of Joker's origins and his tragic backstory all added new dimension and complexity to his character, portraying him as a man who realizes he's lost all his humanity, but is unable to change or regain it.
Moore himself may have disowned the book (along with Swamp Thing and Watchmen) over his fallout with DC, but its continuing influence and effect on comic books, as well as its description of Joker's past (unofficially accepted as canon) have all greatly impacted Batman's larger mythology.
Dark, cynical, and verging on nihilistic, it's one of the more depressing entries in Moore's canon, and while the writing may not be up to par as Moore's other stories (another reason Moore has disowned it), it remains a fascinating read nonetheless.
From Hell (with Eddie Campbell)
After stepping away from DC, Moore turned back to the indie comics he had started off writing, producing numerous memorable comics during the 1990s, none more famous than his epic, encyclopedic period piece, From Hell.
Set in 1880s' London, From Hell begins with the revelation that Prince Albert Victor—heir to the British Throne—has secretly had a baby with a commoner. Looking to keep the secret within the Royal Family, Victoria orders the baby taken away and the girl is committed to an asylum, although five prostitutes attempting to blackmail Albert later threaten to reveal the secret to the public. Hoping to avoid scandal, Victoria orders her royal physician—real-life Jack the Ripper suspect Sir William Gull—to kill the girls before they can reveal anything.
One of Moore's longest singular comic books he's ever written, From Hell is as ambitious and far-ranging a work as Watchmen or Swamp Thing, although in an entirely different sense. Meticulously researched, it offers a stark depiction of London near the turn of the century, made all the more vivid by Campbell's minimalist black-and-white artwork.
Utilizing elements of occultism (around this time, Moore would begin his slow exploration of magic in his personal life) and surrealism, From Hell remains one of Moore's most haunting books, offering an interesting hypothetical exploration of Jack the Ripper based largely on fact, with added fantasy elements for additional effect.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (with Kevin O’Neill)
The amazing thing about Moore is his seeming inability to lack imagination or aspiration. He's always shooting for new heights, experimenting with stories that cover numerous genres, subject matter, and topics. His work with the 1990s' series, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen would punctuate this point—a comic series that spans literally centuries and utilizes hundreds of characters.
Set within its own universe, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was originally an ambitious crossover project that saw some of Victorian fiction's most famous characters—King Solomon's Mines‘ Allan Quatermain, Dracula's Mina Murray, Verne's science pirate Captain Nemo, Wells' Invisible Man, and Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde—form together to protect Her Majesty's Government from outside threats.
Before long, though, Moore's plans grew into several sequel adventures and tie-ins that further expanded and explored the world of the League, and saw The League battle memorable fictional villains like the “Napoleon of Crime,” Professor Moriarty, the Martians from The War of the Worlds, and Ian Fleming’s sociopathic gentleman spy, James Bond.
Spread over four volumes, an original graphic novel (The Black Dossier) and three spinoffs (the Nemo trilogy), Moore drew inspiration from numerous novels, short stories, comics, and films from every era, utilizing characters from Poe, Shakespeare, and Lovecraft to Kerouac, Orwell, and JK Rowling.
Like From Hell or Watchmen, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is an incredibly experimental comic, made of numerous elements of creative fiction entirely from preexisting material, ingeniously using fictional stand-ins for real-world historical figures (instead of Hitler, there's Charlie Chaplin's Adenoid Hynkel from The Great Dictator, for example), with artist Kevin O'Neill cramming hundreds of references in nearly every panel.
Combined together, it's probably the lengthiest book Moore has ever written over the years (perhaps even more so than From Hell), and every page of it is pure pleasure to read.
Promethea (with J. H. Williams III and Mick Gray)
Moore's interest in magic in his personal life would eventually find its way into his creative work, with elements of occultism found in his later From Hell and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, before being the main focus in Moore’s hallucinogenic series, Promethea.
Going all-in on the magical aspects that influenced him from the 1990s onwards, the series follows a young college student in an alternate history, futuristic New York who inadvertently becomes the host for a powerful goddess-like entity known as Promethea.
A vivid, psychedelic exploration of faith, religion, magic, and fantasy—inspired by various myths and religions—Promethea is perhaps the most out-there of Moore's work. Never working within a conventional context, Moore has always thrived on depicting strange, unique subject matter or going for a more outside-the-box approach to his narratives, which is certainly seen here.
Combined with Moore's experimental story is J. H. Williams III and Mick Gray's equally surreal art style, which meshes as well with Moore's subject material as certain illegal substances do at a Grateful Dead concert.
Given its inclusion and portrayal of faith and religion, Promethea seems possibly the most personal of Moore's work, depicting something he clearly holds dear in life and respects. It may be a bit strange a comic for some, but it remains one of the strongest, more interesting entries in Moore's bibliography.
Providence (with Jacen Burrows)
As his interest in magic had found its way into Promethea, Moore's lifelong interest in the work of HP Lovecraft would trickle into much of Moore's work over the years, including references in The Bojeffries Saga and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
By the early 2000s', Moore embarked on an interconnected series of horror comics linked to Lovecraft, including Yuggoth Cultures and Other Growths, The Courtyard, Neonomicon, and Providence.
In what would be one of Moore's final comic series before his retirement in 2019, Providence acts as a prequel/sequel to all of the aforementioned series Moore had written connected to Lovecraft. Set in the late 1910s', it follows a young writer in New York who sets out to find a sinister book of myth, leading him on a journey through New England and New York and encountering numerous places and individuals related to some of Lovecraft's most famous works.
In essence, Providence can be seen as a similar sort of story as The League, acting as a crossover composed almost entirely of Lovecraft's characters and stories. Like From Hell, it was painstakingly researched by Moore, who—in addition to depicting elements of Lovecraft's stories—also included the famous horror writer himself in the story.
However big a fan Moore is of Lovecraft, though, he also doesn't pull any punches when it comes to the more problematic aspects of the writer's work, including Lovecraft's antisemitism and homophobia (two points of frequent criticism among Lovecraft's readers, and which Moore directly explores through the inclusion of the main character—who is both gay and Jewish).
As had been the case with League, too, Providence feels like the work of a story that has continuously grown from humble beginnings into something far-reaching and expansive. Not content to only explore Lovecraft and his work, Moore also uses the series' historical setting to depict other issues of the time—especially labor unions, political unrest, and homosexuality during the 1910s'.
It's an incredible work from an author who has produced dozens of amazing stories, and unsurprisingly drew Moore's comics career to a close with a strong final act before retirement.
For nearly fifty years, Alan Moore has given readers some of the best, most innovative work in all of comics. His unique style, realistic approach, and thematic interests have forever changed not only how comic books were told, but pop culture as a whole, influencing everyone from Neil Gaiman to Damon Lindelof (whose love for Moore is clear through the format of Lost and his later HBO series Watchmen).
His stories range from darker, more realistic superhero stories, to horror comics focused on Lovecraft and Jack the Ripper, to Victorian adventure series composed of fiction's greatest heroes and villains, all told in Moore's signature experimental style.
With Moore's new film, The Show, set for DVD and Blu-ray release on November 23, we encourage you to read these incredibly interesting, entertaining works from the comics legend himself. Additionally, we also suggest reading some of Moore's other work, including Brought to Light, Maxwell the Magic Cat, A Small Killing, Cinema Purgatorio, Fashion Beast, The Ballad Of Halo Jones, and “Superman: Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow?”