Calling Alan Moore the best writer in all of comics feels like an understatement.
His stories have transcended and forever changed the world of comics, gaining the medium a newfound and long-lasting respect thanks to titles like Watchmen, V for Vendetta, and Swamp Thing.
No one can overstate Moore’s influence on comics, as the author continues to transport readers to lands inhabited by realistic superheroes, anarchist vigilantes, and Jack the Ripper suspects. His work has transcended the ranks of comic book fandom itself, leading to notable accolades outside the industry, with numerous critics, scholars, and fans dissecting Moore's work from decade to decade.
From ambitious crossovers of pre-existing Victorian characters to postmodern riffs on the superhero genre, here are some of the greatest comic books ever written by the industry legend Alan Moore.
Miracleman (Various Artists)
Moore started writing comics in the late '70s, completing various short pieces published in British publications like 2000 AD and Doctor Who Weekly. In the early 1980s, he began working on several larger projects, mostly for 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. A former superhero who has forgotten his past life, Moran regains his powers after years of inactivity when caught in a terrorist explosion.
Resuming the life of Miracleman, Moran contends with his current personal life and his former life as a superhero, encountering past enemies and friends, all the while struggling through an identity crisis: Is he the everyman Moran or the powerful super-being Miracleman?
From a thematic standpoint, Miracleman shares ties to the other more realistic, postmodern superhero topics Moore explored in Swamp Thing and Watchmen, featuring superheroes based in real-world settings learning to accept the moral and psychological implications of their 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, forever changing the entire comic landscape.
Saga of the Swamp Thing (With Steve Bissette, John Totlebe, and Various Other Artists)
Based on his work with Miracleman, DC writer Len Wein offered Moore a chance to take over the writing of his character, Swamp Thing. Moore accepted and again managed to create one of the most endearing, popular superhero comics of his day, launching Moore into mainstream success at DC Comics.
As with Miracleman, Moore took a far more methodical, cerebral approach to the character of Swamp Thing, retconning his entire backstory and giving the character newfound depth and complexities that no other superhero possessed at the time. In Wein's original version, Swamp Thing had been 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 exists as a sentient plant creature who believes it is the deceased Holland, having assimilated the scientist's memories and emotions when Holland died.
This confusion over his identity — not a man, nor entirely a plant — drives Swamp Thing's story, revolving around his attempt to find his place in the world while protecting the forests.
Moore has always had a talent for revitalizing B-superheroes, granting him the creative freedom to move them in new directions and explore their troubled psyche. The series explored numerous themes and genres, including horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and occultism, and social issues like environmentalism, racism, pacifism, and feminism (as seen in the comic's “American Gothic” arc).
The Bojeffries Saga (With Steve Parkhouse)
As Moore continued his rise in American mainstream comics, he also 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 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 act as a British version of the Addams Family. However, 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 his childhood experiences of life in Northampton, as well as incorporating elements of then-present-day Thatcherian England.
In its own distinct way, The Bojeffries Saga ranks as the most unique of Moore's early work, with a surrealistic, comedic style reminiscent of British sitcoms like The Young Ones. Moore has probably written better stories, and the subject here won't captivate everyone (the drier British humor may not translate to Americans quite as well). Still, it remains an innovative early entry in Moore's diverse bibliography.
V for Vendetta (With David Lloyd)
One of Moore's earliest original works, V for Vendetta takes place in a dystopian near-future where Britain has adopted a fascist society after nuclear war has wiped out most of the surrounding world. Now a police state, this new British government enforces its repressive, racist, homophobic norms on the country's citizens — using surveillance, censorship, and mass concentration camps. The only opposition they face is from V., a mysterious anarchist with superhuman abilities who conceals his identity behind a Guy Fawkes mask.
One of the best dystopian works in recent memory, Moore manages to paint a frightening portrait of government oppression and fascism with V for Vendetta, relying on minimal comic conventions and Dave Lloyd's stark, noirish art style.
Moore — himself an anarchist — set out to portray both the human side of the fascist government workers of the Orwellian government, depicting them as real, complicated human beings, as well as the more monstrous side of his freedom-fighting protagonist, V. Although fighting for the right reasons, V is still capable of questionable acts of cruelty for the sake of the greater good.
Guy Fawkes masks appear 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. In a large sense, it's the 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 will V for Vendetta.
Watchmen (With Dave Gibbons)
Moore's rise to the top of the comics world hit its peak in 1986, coinciding with the release of his groundbreaking superhero series, Watchmen. One of the most ambitious pieces of fiction ever produced, Watchmen changed everything forever, turning numerous comic book stereotypes on their head and introducing storytelling methods nobody had seen in a graphic novel before.
Harking back to the more realistic approach he took with Swamp Thing and Miracleman, Moore introduced a cast of various superheroes — each representing an archetypical hero (elements of Batman were incorporated into Rorschach, for example) — into a 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.
It's a comic unlike any other, presenting a story that challenges comic book styles and the subjects a writer could depict in a comic and offers a deconstruction of superhero mythology and numerous real-world issues. Far and away Moore's most famous work, Watchmen continues to rank 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)
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, trying to drive him insane. The reader 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 into the Joker.
Built around whether “one very bad day” can mentally push you to the breaking point, The Killing Joke has appeared on numerous lists for one of the greatest, most well-known Batman comics. Moore’s humanization of Joker's origins and his tragic backstory all added new dimension and complexity to the character, portraying him as a man who realizes he's lost all his humanity and cannot regain it.
Moore may have disowned the book (along with Swamp Thing and Watchmen) over his fallout with DC. Still, its continuing influence and effect on comic books, as well as its description of Joker's past, have all impacted Batman's larger mythology. Dark, cynical, and verging on nihilistic, it's one of the more depressing entries in Moore's canon. While the writing may not rise to the level of 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 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 mother committed to an asylum. However, five prostitutes blackmailing Albert later threaten to reveal the secret to the public. Hoping to avoid a 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, From Hell is as ambitious and far-ranging as Watchmen or his work on Swamp Thing, although in an entirely different sense. Making use of meticulous research, 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.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (With Kevin O’Neill)
Set within its own interconnected universe, Moore envisioned The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen as 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 a team to protect Her Majesty's Government from outside threats.
Before long, Moore's plans grew into several sequel adventures and tie-ins that further expanded and explored the world of the League, depicting the group's battles against formidable villains like the “Napoleon of Crime,” Professor Moriarty, the Martians from The War of the Worlds, and Ian Fleming’s gentleman spy, James Bond.
Spread over several 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 J.K. Rowling. 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 a pure pleasure to read.
Promethea (With J. H. Williams III and Mick Gray)
Moore's interest in magic in his personal life eventually found its way into his creative work, with elements of occultism found in From Hell and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen before serving as 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 a futuristic New York who inadvertently becomes the host of a powerful goddess-like entity known as Promethea.
A vivid, psychedelic exploration of faith, religion, magic, and fantasy, 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 he does here.
Given its inclusion and portrayal of faith and religion, Promethea seems the most personal of Moore's work, depicting something he holds a deep love and affection towards in real life. 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 H.P. Lovecraft trickled 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 mark 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 wrote connected to Lovecraft. Set in the late 1910s, it follows a young writer in New York who sets out to uncover the Necronomicon, leading him on a journey through New England and New York and interacting with places and individuals related to some of Lovecraft's most famous works.
In essence, Providence resembles The League, acting as a crossover composed almost entirely of Lovecraft's characters and stories. Like From Hell, it makes use of some painstaking research on Moore's part. 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.
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, drawing Moore's career to a close with a strong final act before retirement.
Cinema Purgatorio (with Kevin O’Neill)
One of the final comic books Moore worked on, Cinema Purgatorio once again saw Moore collaborate with his League of Extraordinary Gentlemen co-creator, Kevin O’Neill. An anthology series that saw contributions from Garth Ennis, Max Brooks, and Kieron Gillen, among others, readers will find Cinema Purgatorio worth reading if only for Moore and O’Neill’s fascinating overarching story.
In the main narrative for Cinema Purgatorio, an unnamed woman dreams about a mysterious theater showing macabre movies highlighting Hollywood’s dark past. These strange and vivid films range from Marx Brothers-style satires of ruthless Hollywood business practices to unsolved murders linked to the film industry.
Covering a far-ranging number of genres (Westerns, screwball comedies, Biblical epics, B-adventure serials, and stop-motion monster movies), Moore examines the seedy underbelly of the cinematic landscape. The companion pieces from Ennis, Brooks, and his fellow contributors are a bit on the disappointing side, but Moore’s script and O’Neill’s crisp black-and-white art offer a worthwhile deconstruction of Hollywood.
The Ballad Of Halo Jones (with Ian Gibson)
One of Moore’s first recurring series came with 1984’s sci-fi comic strip, The Ballad of Halo Jones. A cult favorite among dedicated fans of Moore’s work, the comic contains yet another poignant examination of a distinct genre by Moore, in this case analyzing science fiction through a more humorous creative lens.
Set in the 50th century, The Ballad of Halo Jones follows the titular 18-year-old character, a hard-working, industrious young woman struggling to get by. Over the course of her life, Halo travels through the galaxy, serving as an interstellar flight attendant, fighting in an intergalactic war, and battling her psychopathic A.I. dog as she tries to find her place in the universe.
Though often credited as a highlight of 2000 AD – the magazine that first published The Ballad of Halo Jones – a creative dispute between Moore and his publishers cut short any possibility of Halo Jones making her long-awaited return. As a result, readers can only wonder what might’ve been if Moore had continued his decade-spanning exploration of Halo’s life.
Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? (with Curt Swan)
In 1986, DC Comics made the bold decision to round out the mythology of their most famous hero with one final, epic story. Looking for an ideal writer to handle such an important assignment, the company turned to then-rising star Alan Moore, fresh off the success of his previous DC releases, V for Vendetta and the Superman short story, “For the Man Who Has Everything.”
A decade after Superman’s disappearance from the world, a reporter for the Daily Planet interviews Lois Lane, hoping to shed some light on the Man of Steel’s abrupt departure. As the interview unfolds, Lois reminisces about her final interactions with Superman, as well as his fateful battle with the joint forces of Brainiac and Lex Luthor.
With critical help from Superman’s veteran editor, Julian Schwartz, Moore reveled in the creative freedom granted to him by DC for “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow.” Adding cameos and supporting appearances from prominent and little-known Superman characters, it’s the ultimate Superman adventure, rounding out the character’s canonical story in the best way imaginable.