Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Sound'a'Roundus: Daniel Newheiser's Top 13 Albums

Today we look at the baker's dozen (plus two) by Daniel Newheiser, a smooth character whom I still don't know why he would associate with a guy like me, but people make strange choices in their life, and who am I to judge? Mosey on down to Daniel's website to hear some really well-done tunes, or his Youtube page to see our hero frolicking with people in penguin suits. Strange life choices, as I said. As per Daniel's request, this list is set up a little differently than usual, so enjoy a straightforward #1 to #15, without further ado...


I’ve dreamt of writing this article for 15 years.

I've wanted to be a musician my whole life and since I wasn't a part of a community of musicians growing up, I learned about music from lists just like this one. My parents weren’t very into records and I didn't have a group of friends that wanted to discuss music, so my musical education was dedicated to reading lists and reviews of albums on and

Just like how everyone has a secret acceptance speech in case they win an Academy Award, I spent many hours contemplating what I would say when I was asked to weigh in from my lofty perch of experience.

I imagined this would be a life affirming experience that would give a sense of importance and legitimacy to my life's work.

Unfortunately, as I write this, I realize that this won't really be the case for a couple of reasons:

1. No one really cares.

When I was reading the Rolling Stone list of top 500 albums and carefully studying every review, I was completely engrossed in the education I was receiving. Unconsciously, when I was imagining myself putting together a list like this, I was imagining a hoard of adoring fans that would be lapping up my opinions just like I did from my heroes.

Unfortunately, on the internet, opinions are more common than people wanting to hear them. Anyone can read thousands of lists like this one from people famous or obscure. Because of this, few people read these lists, while many are creating them.

I barely read my friend Chris Bollweg's list and we've been friends for 8 years and bandmates for just as long. My chances of anyone caring about these words are pretty slim.

2. I feel like a magician revealing his tricks.

Trent Reznor, Ludwig Beethoven, and Robert Johnson taught me about the importance of mystery in music. Everyone loves music that seems like it came direct from the ether. Just like a magician's audience, they love talking about how the trick is done, but they're even more pleased when they discover they can’t.

No one wants to feel like they could have written their favorite song. They want to feel like it was supernatural intervention that created a work of perfect art.

I think everyone who is into music has experienced being a fan of a band or a song until they discover how derivative the music is. For example, if I was 10 years old and wasn't familiar with the history of popular music, I would be astounded by the quality of the One Direction song "You Don't Know You're Beautiful." It's got a great guitar riff, great idea for a song, great production, etc. If they were the first group to come up with all those elements they would be a band as great as The Beatles.

However, the song is so obviously derivative, it causes anyone with even a passing knowledge of popular music to roll their eyes when they hear it.

I remember the first time I heard “YDKYB”, I stopped in my tracks and said to the person next to me, "...they're not really going to just rip off the 'Louie Louie' riff like that are they?"

They did.

I mean seriously:

What makes this exercise really scary is when it tarnishes your favorite songs:  

It’s a common experience for 16-year boys across America to realize that Led Zeppelin stole a lot of their lyrics from old blues songs. Contempt soon follows.

I have a degree in music from one of the best music schools in the world (USC) and have devoted my life to studying great musicians and I can tell you: there are no real magicians in music.

Everyone from Mozart to Jimi Hendrix has a formula. I could take any musician in history and play you four songs that influenced them and you would say, "Oh. That's how they came up with that."

Fortunately for Jimi and Wolfgang, the influences they were drawing from are obscure enough that people don't know them. But One Direction isn’t so lucky.

Amateur poets borrow; mature poets steal” -T. S. Elliot

My point is, if I give the public the naked elements of my influences, I'm hurting my chances of astounding people.

I've been advised by many famous musicians (David Foster et al) and my teachers to not even admit that magic doesn't take place. It hurts the cause of all artists and hurts the public.

However, I have an answer to each problem:

1. I know at least Ivan (and my fantastic A+ brother, Mark) will read this so it gives me some gratification to know my choices are appreciated by at least two people.

2. Since very few will read this I don't think there's much danger in revealing my secrets. There are thousands of books explaining how magic tricks work, but most people don't go to the effort to find the answers even when they're curious, so I think I’ll be ok.

So I shall continue.

Here's my list:

1. Nine Inch Nails - The Fragile 

My concept of perfect music. I cried the hardest I have ever cried in my life the first time I heard this album. For 6 years I would only listen to this album once every three months because it was so precious to me. It felt like going into the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle and I didn’t want to abuse the privilege.

It's all in there. Perfect songwriting, perfect production, perfect vocals, perfect overall concept of the album.

2. Jon Foreman - Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall

When I first heard this I cried for a different reason: Someone had done what I had been dreaming for years of doing before me. Similar to above. Absolute perfection.

3. Nickel Creek - Why Should the Fire Die?

This could have, and should have been the biggest album in the world. This album should have impacted the culture as much as Adele's 21.

Unfortunately, they had already been labeled as a "bluegrass" band by their label, the public, and the music industry so this album never reached the audience it deserved. As a bluegrass album it disappoints as much as fans of Inglourious Basterds would be disappointed by Shindler's List.

If I had any power I would re-release this album today and watch it conquer the world.

4. Drive by Truckers - Decoration Day
(Standing in for Daniel's preferred choice, Deeper In)

An astounding collection of songs perfectly performed. I have yet to play a song from this album to someone and not have their jaw hit the floor. Just one song from this album would be worth spending your whole life creating.

5. Beach Boys - Pet Sounds

It's Pet Sounds. Come on. Everyone knows it’s the best.

The production alone, or the songwriting alone would deserve a place on this list. The combination of the two is amazing.

6. Big L - Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous

This is the best rap album you haven't heard.

7. Clara Ward - Meetin' Tonight

I wish I could make people go bananas like she could. Perfect gospel singing.

8. George Strait - Complete Discography

My all time favorite musician. I put this on here without a specific album because they're all excellent. I can put all 32 albums on shuffle and not skip a song until the playlist runs out. I think this is the highest aspiration for a musician.

He’s the person I'd most like to talk to from history. I’d rather have 15 minutes with him than any person living or dead.

9. Rage Against the Machine - First three albums (Favorite Track: Know your enemy)

The same as George Strait: one long barrage of awesome.

Among the most amazing things for me about Rage, is that no one really followed them stylistically. They were extremely popular and "rap rock" became a major style in music, but no band that I’m aware of sounds anything close to them, even today. Very rare for such a popular band.

10. Taylor Swift - Fearless

If you don't like this record it's probably because you think of it as a country record or as a bubblegum record. Don't do that.

11. The Wonder Years - The Upsides (Favorite Track: All my Friends are in Bar Bands)

My current all time favorite band. If I had a wish today, it would be to open up for them on tour this fall. (Soupy, if you're reading this: call me.)

12. Smashing Pumpkins - Siamese Dream
(Bizarrely, this song does not appear to be available in an album version in Youtube. So here it is live.)

A magical experience. The best loud record ever recorded.

13. Ry Cooder - Into the Purple Valley

Ry Cooder is an astounding musician. I think he has the best ears in music. We should be best friends.

14. Minor Threat - Minor Threat

This is on here not so much for the actual record (which is fantastic) but for all that it represents. Nothing is quite like being 14 and feeling like you're part of something bigger than yourself. Minor threat gave me that.

15. Great Big Sea - Turn

The first band that was ever my favorite band. I still listen to these songs and wonder why I've ever tried to learn about any other kind of music. I should have just tried to make music exactly like this.

As I get to the end of this, I'm realizing how many important albums I'm leaving out (The Franco Corelli recording of Gounod's Faust, anything by Charlie Parker, Jorge Ben's Afrobrazil) but I think this list mostly represents who I really am, which for me was the goal of this exercise.

Thank you for reading this. I hope it has been enjoyable, and I hope that someday an album by Daniel Newheiser will make your list and mine.

Thank you,



Dig on Daniel's own "All I'm Missing is You" and see you soon for more of whatever it is you people read this stuff for.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

More Moore part 27: In Pictopia

"In Pictopia" (1986)

I would say that, when you talk to a comics layperson about the works of Alan Moore, the prevailing thought for the uninitiated is that Mr. Moore does comics which deconstruct superhero stories. Out of what can be termed his 'major works,' two of the most read, that being Watchmen and Miracleman (as it is now apparently officially called) deal explicitly with taking the basic superhero comic archetype and turning it on its head, especially in adding elements of fantastic realism, a move which has served to change the genre irrevocably since their publication. Surprisingly, Moore actually produced a third work in the superhero deconstructionist genre, one which retains many of the tricks he used in Watchmen and Miracleman while bringing its own sensibilities to the game. The most likely reason why "In Pictopia" isn't vaunted in the same pantheon as Moore's other superhero work is a question of length and availability: unlike the grand novels of the other work, "In Pictopia" is among Moore's shortest pieces at a paltry thirteen pages, and has only been reissued as part of a book of Moore ephemera, available originally in a Fantagraphics benefit book entitled Anything Goes. And yet, we have already seen how well Moore takes to the short story genre, and "In Pictopia" is no different, a by-turns blackly humorous and darkly depressing work which examines the state of comics at the end of the '80s, is surprisingly prophetic in its words. Watchmen may have revolutionized the genre by offering up a high-profile example of the art form in its most nuanced, intellectual, and dense, but it is "In Pictopia" where Moore seems to realize that, even as he is altering the comic landscape, sacrifices will be made.

The protagonist of "In Pictopia" is Nocturno the Necromancer, a down-on-his-luck conjuror and riff on Mandrake the Magician, '30s comic strip character. As he will do over a decade later in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Moore packs "In Pictopia" with references, in this case of older strip comics. Nocturno's next-door neighbor is Sammy Sleepyhead, a Little Nemo analogue who keeps the Necromancer up all night by falling out of bed and shouting in his sleep, while downstairs a Blondie knockoff named Red prostitutes herself to a Popeye parody while her husband Deadwood is away. Such is the life in the Prince Features tenement block, while comic strip characters of days past struggle to make ends meet in an environment that has forgotten about them. Nocturno does very little throughout "In Pictopia's" thirteen pages, acting more as a tour guide for the reader to see the squalor of life in the funny pages. Of course, just like any good metropolis, there's an income disparity, as Nocturno fantasizes about life on the other side:

“I used to dream about moving to the color section uptown, just for a few dawns and sunsets, but I know it’ll never happen. Only superheroes can afford to live in color.”

Solace from the endless drudgery of the Prince Features life is found in Funnytown, there the kiddie comic animal people live, a quarter stuck in the '50s where there is "No urban violence that isn't in some way amusing" that soon has Nocturno shaking his funk, if only temporarily. Past Funnytown he finds the edge of the city, a chain-link fence with a placeless industrial darkness beyond. It is at this fence we are introduced to Flexible Flynn, a Plastic-Man analogue and the only superhero willing to to seen consorting with the bums from the strip comics. Flynn speaks to Nocturno of strange changes happening in the city, of characters vanishing without a trace, and of dark new superheroes appearing, superior and apathetic, roaming in gangs. Pictopia is changing, becoming bleaker and more fierce, and Flynn doesn't know what role he or Nocturno or anyone will have in the coming world.

Heading home after the conversation with Flynn, Nocturno finds one of these gangs of new heroes beating a resident of Funnytown. The heroes, bored of fighting crime much like the new heroes of somewhat similarly-themed Kingdom Come, have turned to casual, banal violence to pass the time, and since Funnytown residents pop back from injury quickly and easily, they have taken to selling their bodies for violence for a few extra dollars. The whole scene is disturbing and uncomfortable, the Funnytown character literally prostituting himself to be beaten mercilessly, and much praise must be given to the colorist Eric Vincent, who paints the Prince and Funnytown characters in muted, faded newspaper colors while the superheroes are bright and vibrant. Back at the tenement, desperate for human interaction, Nocturno attempts to buy Red's services, only to find her being violently accosted by a pair of helmeted thugs not unlike Judge Dredd from 2000AD. Reports are given of political caricatures of Nixon and Hitler running for office in a dead heat, while Nocturno hunts out Flynn again, the voice of reason and the only person who can make sense of things while the new heroes seem to be overtaking Pictopia totally. Nocturno finds Flynn in a crowd, but the man that turns to face him is someone different: rippling muscles, tight suit, dog collar, face twisted into a grimace. This is Flexible Flynn, grim and dark and updated for the '80s.

Flynn has been replaced.

Nocturno has nowhere left to go. He ends up in Funnytown only to find it razed, workers bulldozing the land. When Nocturno inquires about what happened to the residents, one of the workers gives it to him straight:

"People? There weren’t no people livin’ out here. Just some stray dogs and stuff. They’ve been painlessly destroyed./Take my advice, buddy, an’ keep out of it. This city’s changing, and some things just don’t fit the continuity no more."

And we are left with Nocturno at the perimeter fence, his world fallen apart, while the encroaching blackness comes closer.

Funny, huh?

But is is funny, in a way, and that is mostly thanks to the art by Donald Simpson. Simpson's art is lumpy and soft and his characters, especially Flynn pre-reboot, look like they belong in an issue of MAD, and considering Moore's love of Harvey Kurtzman, this is likely intentional. While "In Pictopia" certainly has a malaise of desolation around its thirteen pages, the fact that the work is populated by pastiche characters means there is a lot of opportunity for humor. Moore and Simpson's parodies of Popeye, and the Katzenjammer Kids, and Dick Tracy are funny because they're characters we recognize being given a parodic treatment. It's funny to put characters we know into unusual situations, even if they're violent or turning tricks in an alley. Or hell, maybe I'm just a monster.

"In Pictopia" is a wonderful work, another killer short story that anticipated the next decade with an impressive accuracy. I have read people say that it's dated, that it blew the grim and gritty wave of comics out of proportion, that it treats as a terminal disease what eventually became simply a passing illness. But even if the bleakness of the '80s and '90s didn't kill nostalgia forever, it kept them in the dark for a long time, and "In Pictopia" is at least an affirmation of such. If you're curious to see the comic medium going through throes of change in the mid to late '80s, "In Pictopia" could be thought of as ground zero, a place where the old was unceremoniously ousted and the new began to take up residence, with only the author himself, the one who began the revolution initially, to mourn the dead. Now we'll just have to wait and see if Moore remembers his own lessons when he starts penning Spawn stories for Image about a decade after "Pictopia" was written...


Best quote: "I've been standing here ever since, just watching the horizon with its churning darkness; its smoldering, sulphurous light./It's not like a stormfront at all, really. It's more like a vast, creeping, industrial mass, wreathed in factory smoke and lit only by furnaces./Sometimes, it looks as if it's getting closer.../...But that may be an illusion, born of the distance."


Up next: Moore's lost work. Big Numbers

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

More Moore part 26: D. R. & Quinch

D.R. & Quinch (1983-85)

As you can tell from those dates up there, this is somewhat of a 'lost issue' of More Moore. I had D.R. & Quinch planned but somewhere along the line I totally forgot about it until halfway through my From Hell writeup, which chronologically came about a decade later. D.R. & Quinch was one of Moore's works from British boy's mag 2000AD, along with "Skizz" and The Ballad of Halo Jones, and so should fit right in between those two works. As it is though, D.R. functions perfectly as a palette cleanser after the monstrous, occult blackness of From Hell, so even though I'm probably a few months late with this one, its laughs bring some welcome relief.

D.R. & Quinch is Moore's take on "O.C. & Stiggs," a pair of miscreant youth who first appeared in the pages of The National Lampoon and later were made into one of Robert Altman's worst movies. O.C. and Stiggs were degenerate teens writ large, sadistic engines of destruction that left nothing in their wake, and in Moore's homage to the duo, Waldo 'Diminished Responsibility' Dobbs and Ernest Errol Quinch are essentially the same, only in space, of course. In many ways, D.R. & Quinch feels like the evil half to Moore's other longform 2000AD work, The Ballad of Halo Jones; both deal with traditional teenage roles in a futuristic setting. But while Halo Jones is somewhat of a typical teenage airhead, shopping with her friends, D.R. and Quinch are the 'bad kids' in any '80s school movie, taken to absolutely ridiculous extremes. D.R., the green Skrull-like with the greaser pompadour, and Quinch, the doughy purple beast of few words, exist as pure id, curving a maniac swath through every situation they're in, with each chapter simply a new situation for the pair to wreck havoc in. And much unlike Halo Jones, it is astoundingly hilarious. There was at least one line in every chapter of D.R. & Quinch which made me laugh out loud, and Moore's humor is black as they come, each line dripping with irony and mayhem. To anybody that thinks Moore is always serious or can't write humor, D.R. & Quinch would be my exhibit 'A' to refute those arguments, and it is by far the most entertaining work he did for 2000AD.

Each chapter of the work has a punny, 'Beach Blanket Bingo'-style title, like "D.R. & Quinch Go Girl Crazy," "D.R. & Quinch Get Drafted," or "D.R. & Quinch Have Fun on Earth." That last title is the first chapter and deals with the pair having malicious fun during man's evolution and ends with the Earth being vaporized after they make the continents spell out offensive phrases. When a judge gets on their bad side, D.R. swears a revenge that sees then start a galactic thermonuclear war just to get even. When D.R. attempts to impress a sweet, shy 'good girl' named Chrysoprasia, Quinch shows her home movies of his friend's vicious escapades that so unhinge the poor girl's mind that she becomes a firearm-wielding nogoodnik called 'Crazy Chryssie." The pacing never slows down, and the whole thing really feels like an after-dark Chuck Jones cartoon, all giggling insanity drawn with aplomb by Alan Davis, who had done the fist few chapters of Marvelman and will work with Moore again on Captain Britain.

All the chapters of D.R. & Quinch are beautiful works of mad genius, but the one that really shines through is the penultimate "D.R. & Quinch Go to Hollywood." That's Space Hollywood, of course, since the Earth was destroyed back in the first chapter, and it finds our boys stringing along a bunch of stereotypical Southern California-type aliens with a script they pilfered from a hobo in a bus station (a hobo that looks suspiciously like Moore with antennae). Maybe it's just because of my own experiences living in the LA suburbs, but the boys' Hollywood experience is near-constant amusement, as they convince powerful Hollywood execs of their 'artistic vision' (which requires women in crab suits and sixteen thousand oranges, among other things) and eventually leads to their leading man, a thinly-veiled (or not-at-all-veiled) parody of Marlon Brando who is "totally unable to read or write" being crushed by the oranges. The movie is released and the critics are wowed by the power of its avant-garde scope, even as the swindled execs chase them out of town.

D.R. & Quinch is far more entertaining than it has any right to be. It's a slight work by Moore from a publication that routinely got his lesser pieces. There's really not all that much to talk about in each chapter, other than the fact that Alan Davis' pencils are fantastic (and he does a damn good Brando caricature). There's absolutely no character growth at all, and the entirety of the script is rapid-fire irony gags somewhat like the movie Airplane! that relies on the fact that D.R. and Quinch consider themselves nothing more than lovable college kids even as they cause mayhem and destruction on nearly every page. But, even if it's a slight and stupid work from the medium's greatest craftsman, it's a damn funny one, and I enjoyed D.R. & Quinch far more than I expected to. It's no masterpiece, but if you want a really, really funny comic, you could do a lot worse. Honestly, I'd probably say it's better than Captain Britain.


Best quote:"After the library we demonstrated our deep humanity by visiting those less fortunate than ourselves at the 'Home for Distressed War Veterans'./This is where out maniac friend Pulger lives./Pulger did some fighting in the Ghoyogi Slime Jungles, which slightly affected his personality./I can honestly say that he is the most interesting adult that I have ever met."


Up next: The dark side of Toontown in "In Pictopia."

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

More Moore part 25: From Hell chapters 8-14

From Hell chapters 8-14 (1993-1996)

By the time From Hell reaches its halfway point, William Gull is losing his grip. Gull steps up his ritual murder in chapter eight, doing away with two women, while Moore lets the narrative slow and stretch each time. Long Liz Stride falls under the knife first, while each panel alternates between the gristly murder and William Morris reading a poem to an assembled group of Communists a few houses over. The second murder is the crux of the chapter, however, as it introduces and disposes of a new character within its forty-eight pages. Kate Eddowes, a prostitute who returns to London after a time away, is mistaken by Gull and Netley as Mary Kelly, the ringleader of the royal blackmail plot. As time slows within the panels, Gull leaps through the air to dispose of the innocent woman in a three-panel-wide action shot that is completely unlike anything else in the entirely of the novel. The panels remain silent except for Gull's grunts and gasps as he slices through his victim with an animalistic violence, long bloody strokes of action and movement like an ape messily devouring his prey. His deed done, Gull is seemingly stricken with another hallucination, raising his arms in triumph in front of a massive skyscraper before time returns to its normal pace and Netley shakes him from his stupor. The whole arc is horrific and disturbing, a kind of dreamy slow-motion within the confines of the medium, Gull losing himself as he slaughters a woman like an animal. His great task is losing its calm, practiced cruelty and drifting into an unhinged obsession.

While Gull is losing his grip on the real world, Abberline remains firmly within its realm, still one step behind his perpetrator. The action in chapter nine skips between Abberline putting pieces together in the autopsy and flashbacks of Gull silently disemboweling Eddowes. Abberline is accosted by a fourteen-year-old Aleister Crowley and given a brief lecture on magic, while Gull rebuffs Robert Lees, the psychic from the prologue, and acts catty with William Butler Yeats. The real Mary Kelly drifts into drink and sex and scares off her lover, while Prince Albert Victor, the bon viviant that started this whole mess to begin with, sulks, consumed with guilt over the mess his dalliance has created. Gull forces the semi-illiterate Netley, now a wreck after his complicity in the murders, to write the "From Hell" letter that gives the novel its name, and chapter nine ends with Gull sneaking into Mary Kelly's house under the cover of darkness. The final murder begins on the first page of chapter ten and lasts for a whole thirty pages, time slowing to a crawl as Gull slips in and out of reality, mutilating Kelly's body horrifically as spectres from his past address him like a homicidal Ebenezer Scrooge. The chapter goes for pages without the slightest dialogue before Gull mutters madly to the spirits around him, finding himself in a 1980s office building as he finally completes his ritual twenty pages in. He rails against the spirits his magick has unleashed, finally embracing Mary Kelly's destroyed corpse and leaving her heart in the fire. The whole scene is horrifying and effective, page after page of an elderly, upper-class man tormented by the future he hath wrought dissecting a working-class prostitute. It's the second amazingly effective moment in the novel, and the opposite of chapter four; whereas Gull's speech six chapters ago was endless droning by a strong, self-assured man, here he is mostly silent and clearly insane. By the time Gull is finished, he can give only an exhausted confirmation to Netley that they are indeed finished:

"I have been climbing, Netley, all my life toward a single peak. Now I have reached it. I have stood and felt the wind. I have seen all the world beneath me./Now there is only descent. Only the valley. Would that I had died there, Netley, in that light above the cloudline. I'm cold. Take me home."

The climax of Gull's life is also the climax of Moore's story; after the murder of Mary Kelly the rest of the world feels as exhausted as Gull himself, with chapter eleven, "The Unfortinate Mr. Druitt" dealing with the aftermath of the murders. As Kelly's body is discovered, the Freemasons and the royal family finally decide that enough is enough with Dr. Gull, and find a patsy in schoolmaster John Druitt while they decide what to do with their incapable doctor. Druitt himself comes off as an incredibly tragic character, a stooge in the royal machine that has no idea what's coming to him even as the reader does, making it all the more heart-wrenching when it happens. His life falls apart on-panel, sabotaged by the establishment just as much as the prostitutes were in the past ten chapters, and like them, Druitt is completely unable to do anything but die, drowning helpless and alone in the Thames, another sacrifice to Victoria and her court. Abberline finally agrees to accept the assistance of Mr. Lees, and Lees, angry at the way Gull treated him, offers up the royal surgeon's name as a potential candidate from a suspicious doctor. Gull, confronted and no longer in control of his faculties, admits to the murders.

Abberline learns of the royal bastard on a whim visit to the sweet shop that Mary Kelly worked in all the way back in chapter one, and while Gull receives a secret, Masonic trial, Abberline is told by his superiors in no uncertain terms that if he breathes a word to anyone about the royal web that had been weaved, he wouldn't reach retirement, leaving Abberline and Lees as helpless accomplices in the atrocities, just as we first found them in the prologue. And that sets up the final chapter, and the third really heart-stopping section in the novel, chapter fourteen, "Gull, Ascending."

Chapter fourteen finds Gull institutionalized, his death faked and under an assumed identity, in the final moments of his life. Languishing in a madhouse, a nurse and her lover rutting nearby, Gull has a final hallucination that takes up almost the entirety of the final chapter. Floating through space and time, Gull gives another pages-long, gorgeous, poetic monologue while he visits drifts back and forth throughout the 20th century, in a world birthed by his act of death magick. His spirit meets murderers such as Peter Sutcliffe and a young Ian Brady, it influences William Blake's demonic paintings, and it kills the shaken, wasted Netley, dashing his brains out on one of the obelisks they discussed decades ago. Gull moves through the galleries of his gods, past Jesus, Jupiter, and Horus, before we reach a strange, heavenly vista (which Moore keeps irritatingly mum about in his annotations) where what appears to be Mary Kelly, along with what must be Annie Crook and Albert Victor's daughter, in a cloudswept Irish landscape. Kelly commands Gull's spirit to "Clear off back to Hell and leave us be!" and Gull's spirit departs, leaving his body dead in the madhouse.

From Hell is magnificent. It is one of Moore's strangest, most idiosyncratic works, possibly the furthest he ever got from the nostalgia-based work that informs nearly everything else he ever did. It is nearly historical fiction, but it is historical fiction that plays with reality, a piece of 'fantastic realism' if ever there was one. To this reader, William Withey Gull is Moore's greatest creation, a giant not only of the medium but of all literature, a character worthy of standing alongside the greatest villains ever concocted. Gull's every word and every movement are awash in power, and nearly every other major character in the novel- Abberline, Lees, Netley, Druitt, Kelly, Stride, Crook, Chapman, Eddowes, and Nichols- are helpless pawns to the government, of which Gull is its public face, and which inexorably brings to ruin everything it touches. Gull is a force of nature, like a Cormac McCarthy villain, an avatar of death and destruction that slices through London's poor and falls to pieces when its job is complete.

Eddie Campbell's artwork is horrific, all movement, like an impressionist painting done entirely in pen. He lends every scene a sense of squalor, even the glittering hallways of Buckingham, and he makes the gore and grime of the murders almost unbearable. Color would do nothing to improve this work, and Campbell wisely keeps it black and white, even little grey, simple light and darkness illuminating the birth of the 20th century. This is not an easy work, but it rewards like no other, and Moore's annotations only suck you deeper into the world he and Campbell created. From Hell is brilliant, almost amazingly so, and it could be the pinnacle of Moore's work; scholarly, imposing, and worth every second.


Best quote: "I feel the tug of my ascension; my becoming. I go up into the sacred. I go up into the gold./They're waiting for me."


Up next: Wacky, bumbling aliens in D.R. & Quinch