By Carter Glace, Contributing Writer
Last week, the bomb dropped. It was ultimately inevitable, but still surprising to see on paper. During a press conference promoting his latest novel — “Jerusalem” — Alan Moore seemed to announce that it would be one of his final works, after finishing a few issues for Avatar press and the final League of Extraordinary Gentlemen book, he would be largely done with comics.
I am simple out of my depth when it comes to explaining the gravity of losing one of the industry’s few true titans, but I will try my best to give Mr. Moore’s work justice.
For good and ill, no creator has had the impact in the medium of comics than Alan Moore. If we were to just look at his non-superhero work, he would still probably be regarded as a legend. Between “From Hell,” “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” “Promethea” and “V for Vendetta,” Moore became the modern torch-bearer for the idea that comics were a serious literary from, capable of telling interesting, nuanced and intellectual stories. Without him, the idea of holding graphic novels as equal to literary novels would not nearly be as acceptable in the mainstream.
But as you probably know, it’s his work in the superhero genre that elevated him to a medium evolver. With “Watchmen,” he created one of the greatest superhero comics ever written, a deconstruction of the genre focusing on the implications of superpowered people and costumed vigilantes interfering with world events. With the extraordinary “Miracleman,” “What Ever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow” and “The Killing Joke,” he created an entirely new era of revisionist pieces, sometimes dark and gritty, but always mature and thoughtful.
While losing that kind of transcendent talent is somewhat hard to wrap your head around, his explanation is surprisingly human and easy to empathize with. For someone famous for fiery and hyperbolized rhetoric against the industry, his explanation for retirement is a belief that he’s achieved all he can, and continuing would result in his work deteriorating. In his words “I think both you and I deserve better than that.”
I most certainly think Moore deserves better, because as far as I’m concerned, few creators have had their legacy so tarnished both by the comic industry and pop culture at large.
I’m not going to harp on the various adaptations of his work, because god knows he’s done a thorough enough job. But needless to say, the are almost universally range from bad to awful, and in the wake of Zack Snyder’s “Batman v Superman,” it feels like the positives the Watchmen film had were accidental.
Rather, I am talking about how his iconic works have been boiled down to their violence and grittiness, completely ignoring the context and point of said darkness.
The ultimate example of this comes with “ Watchmen” which ushered in an era of violence, darkness and grit to the superhero industry, creating a dark age that we are only just getting out of. But that completely misses the point of the work, that Silver Age heroes shouldn’t exist in the real world because the implications of having actual super humans and vigilantes running around are horrifying. Moore himself has bemoaned this issue several times, but I can’t begin to fathom how defeating it must be to have your magnum opus not only completely misunderstood when its intentions are so explicit, but said misunderstanding to become the blueprint for the entire industry.
The same can be said about “The Killing Joke,” that tried to make the darkest possible spin on a Joker vs Batman one off that had become so prominent in the Silver Age. While I still argue it holds up well today, it is impossible to get around the somewhat horrifying sexism on display, making it one of many notable works that defined their era but now should be discussed and analyzed with a more nuanced and critical lens. But instead of doing that, the industry continued to prop it up as sacred text, making it a textbook for how Batman should be written. Moore himself has disowned the work, partially because he views it as shock for shock’s sake but also because he was somewhat mortified that DC’s publishers were perfectly fine with him having one of their leading ladies be crippled and sexually assaulted.
I emphasize with Alan Moore’s explanation. When he talks about how he fears his ideas suffering and retreading old ground, I believe it because the industry has been desperately trying to do it for him. Even before he left, comics seemed to realize that there would never be another Alan Moore, that his maddening mix of old literary sensibilities, subversive underground tastes, scholar’s understanding of the medium and genius bordering on madness was truly once in a millennium. So the entire industry tried to make works like his, but only on a surface level. Any nuance or depth was replaced with more violence, more needless rage, more grit. The hollow, tasteless imitation nearly killed the whole industry, and has inadvertently sullied Moore’s genuinely important, classic and subversive work.
After “Batman v Superman” underperformed, the creative tried to save face by explaining that people simply weren’t interested in deconstructionist superheroes. No. What you did was not reconstruction. When Alan Moore did dark, gritty heroes, that was deconstruction. That’s when it was special. When the entire industry is doing it, you’re just being mainstream.
One of the final things Moore mentioned in his presser is that he is tired of seeing the same Silver Age heroes used over and over because he believes that this century deserves its own culture. I would argue that we’re already on our way there. Yes, we use the same heroes, but Spider-man is now Miles Morales, Ms.Marvel is Kamala Khan and The Incredible Hulk is Amadeus Cho. We are facing a Renaissance of new characters bringing in a fresh, exciting and unique tone that couldn’t exist outside of this decade. In the last few years, I genuinely understand why Moore says he reveres this medium.
As it turns out, Moore is leaving to experiment with other mediums at the perfect time. Because as the medium finally evolves past trying to emulate him, people will once again appreciate the unique, subversive and frequently brilliant works Moore created. Once again, people will appreciate that there will never be another Alan Moore.