"It is beginning, Netley. Only just beginning. For better or worse, the twentieth century. I have delivered it."
— Sir William Withey Gull
From Hell is a comic book series written by Alan Moore and drawn by Eddie Campbell, speculating about the identity of Jack the Ripper. The series was published in 10 volumes between 1991 and 1996, and an appendix, From Hell: The Dance of the Gull-Catchers, was published in 1998. The entire series was collected in trade paperback, published by Eddie Campbell Comics in 1999.From Hell takes as its central premise Stephen Knight's theory that the Ripper murders were part of a conspiracy to conceal the birth of an illegitimate royal baby fathered by Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence. Moore himself has written that he found Knight's theory to be rather unlikely, but felt it would serve the purpose of his story, which uses the killings to explore and deconstruct Victorian society. As he wrote the story, Moore came to believe that the murders and the media spectacle it created in its time marked the beginning of the 20th Century.It was adapted into a film of the same title in 2001, starring Johnny Depp as Inspector Abberline.
This Graphic Novel contains examples of:
A God Am I: In Gull's last moments of life, he seems to believe that he's becoming a God. It might just be the hallucinations of a depraved, dying mind. Though what we see near the end indicates otherwise-he sees Mary Kelly alive and she sees him and tells him to "go back to hell".
Ancient Conspiracy: One which goes even beyond the Freemasons and the Illuminati, and stretches back to the beginnings of human belief when female worship was supplanted by male worship. Gull sees the whole of human history as being a conflict between men and women (with himself on the side of the former, naturally).
Moore makes no secret of the fact that he doesn't really believe Knight's theory, but damned if it doesn't make for a great story.
In the story itself, the original letter sent to the police that describes its sender as "Jack the Ripper" is shown as nothing more than a fabrication created by a hack journalist, as one theory has it.
Gull sees his murders as a ritual binding the lunar or irrational influence on human minds. He succeeds, only to be horrified at the future, where people are surrounded by the fruits of the rational mind but feel no wonder at all.
Not to mention Queen Victoria and the masons, who certainly didn't expect something so gruesome when they asked Gull to take care of their problem.
Bigger Bad: Queen Victoria, who orders the murders, and the Freemasons who help cover Gull's tracks.
Bonus Material: Part of the experience of reading From Hell is going through the two appendices, one being an in-depth explanation of themes and scenes, the other being the Dance of The Gull Catchers, a brief history of Ripperology.
The British Empire: Depicted as being in a state of decline, with references to General Gordon's death in the Mahdi uprisings.
Connect the Deaths: A premeditated attempt at that. Gull in his insanity takes Netley through a tour of London and its famous landmarks, focusing on the architecture of Nicholas Hawksmoor which he believes had strong masonic resonance and would set the scene for their killings.
Conspiracy Kitchen Sink: Royal cover-up, Masonic involvement, police complicity, ritualistic murder, paganism, time travel and baby Hitler. It's all here.
Contract on the Hitman: The conspirators contemplate having William Gull killed when his mental illness reveals him as a liability.
Contrast Montage: The life of William Gull, Queen's surgeon, versus the life of Mary Kelly, prostitute.
Crapsack World: Whitechapel is a pit of criminality, depravity and poverty. England is a decaying empire afflicted with corruption and weak rulers. Even our modern times are dull and banal.
A Date with Rosie Palms: A particularly tragic and depressing example, during which Netley has a brief moment of remorse and self-loathing at his part in Gull's murders.
Deconstruction: From Hell deconstructs perceptions of the Victorian era, especially the late Victorian period, showing where many of our 20th Century obsessions (detective fiction, sensationalist tabloid journalism, serial killers) originated.
Decoy Protagonist: The first chapter deliberately fools the audience into thinking that the protagonist is either Prince Eddy or Walter Sickert, only introducing Gull—the closest thing in the novel to a true protagonist—in the second chapter. As the later chapters gradually make clear, Walter and Eddy are both solid cases of Small Role, Big Impact, and they drop out of the story when The Conspiracy and the resultant murders grow beyond their control. Likewise, Mary Kelly appears to be a minor character in the first chapter (she first appears as Sickert's maid), but she later turns out to be the most developed of the Ripper's five victims.
Disposable Sex Worker: Very much averted. All of the victims are given significant amounts of characterization and the main characters definitely do not forget about their murders, even if the government does. From Hell is something of a deconstruction of this trope. The point of The Dance of the Gull-Catchers is that nobody actually cares about the prostitutes killed, or the continuing exploitation and objectification of women in modern times, only the fame for being the guy who solves the case.
Dissonant Serenity: Part of what makes Gull so unnerving is his calm and dispassionate exterior. As he butchers his final victim, he conducts himself as if conducting... well... an autopsy.
In his appendix, Moore when describing the final murder of the last victim came to the conclusion that the mutilations while ghastly were free of cruelty, since the victims were already dead and so did not endure any pain. When wondering how to get into Gull's mind to portray the mutilation, he relied on the real life doctor's descriptions of his childhood memories of picking flowers and grass, believing that Gull in his madness approached human viscera with the same childish spirit of inquisitiveness.
Campbell's subdued artwork, the rigid page layouts, the loose handwritten lettering and the time period all conspire to create a more or less constant illusion of serenity; observe for instance Abberline's apoplectic verbal assault on a fellow copper, carried out in what seems at first glance to be calm and reasonable tones for a full page, until we see the cop shivering and wiping the sweat from his face.
Door Stopper: The collected edition would probably kill you if it fell on your head. And it's a paperback. Though its basically five hundred pages.
Faking the Dead: The last chapter implies that Gull killed the wrong woman in place of Mary Kelly, who escaped to live a life of anonymity back home in Ireland. Or maybe not...
Fainting Seer: Robert Lees has dramatic seizures, complete with convulsions and cryptic phrases which he chokes out.
Fan Disservice: Towards the end, there's a rather graphic three-way sex scene between Mary Kelly, her boyfriend Joe, and her friend Julia. It's hard to find it arousing, though, since Mary Kelly only goads Joe into it so that she'll have something to take her mind off the fact that four of her close friends have just been horribly murdered, and she knows damn well that she'll probably be next. Not even Joe can get into it, since he quickly senses that Mary Kelly is deeply troubled by something.
Fate Worse than Death: Even in a book full of grisly murders, Annie Crook's fate is absolutely horrifying. She's forcibly taken away from her husband and infant son and dragged to an insane asylum, kicking and screaming all the while, where Gull successfully manages to make her insane by slicing out her thyroid gland. When Sickert sees her again, she's a gibbering lunatic wandering through the streets in the rain, with apparently no memory of ever having a baby.
Footnote Fever: The collected editions has a detailed set of annotations written by Moore himself going into exhaustive detail about the painstaking research he had conducted, pointing out every bit of Artistic License he had taken and the factual basis for even the most minute subplots and connections.
Framing the Guilty Party: Lees tries to frame Gull as Jack the Ripper, which turns out to be quite true. Lees actually had no idea that Gull was in any way connected. Lees was just trying to get revenge for an insult. He is still distressed by it years later.
This also relates to the fact that he claims to have fabricated psychic powers...but his insights always proved true, despite him "making it all up."
Gainax Ending: The last chapter (not including the epilogue) features Gull going on an elaborate spiritual journey, traveling back and forth in time, before seemingly reaching the source of all enlightenment... only to be confronted by a woman who may or may not be Mary Kelly having fled to Ireland who tells him to go back to hell.
Giggling Villain: Gull likes to punctuate his sentences with light laughter when he is in a good mood, to the point that it's a Verbal Tic.
Go Among Mad People: Annie Crook suffers a particularly unsettling case of this. She is a sane woman in an asylum...until Gull makes her insanity authentic by surgically removing her thyroid, thus ensuring that no one will believe her stories about having her baby taken away from her.
Netley undergoes this during their tour of London chapter with the former starting to realize that he is Alone with the Psycho as he starts talking about all kinds of masonic symbols and associations that connect London together. When he tries to back out, Gull forces him to look at the horse's herald and realize that it too had an emblem and this scares Netley into serving Gull.
The appendix "Dance of the Gull-catchers" describes the Jack the Ripper killings as something that makes people crazy since the crime is impossible to solve. Moore compares it to a Koch snowflake, a mathematical fractal curve which suggests that a fixed and finite location in space-time, Whitechapel London in the late 1880s can have an infinite number of curves, sides and tangents which makes seeking a solution to the Ripper killings an impossible effort.
Hallucinations: These play a large part in Gull's story. Or maybe they are more than hallucinations?
Historical Person Punchline: In one scene, Abberline has a brief conversation with a young boy named "Alexander" who believes in magic, and flat-out tells Abberline that he's wrong for doubting the supernatural. Though the scene itself doesn't quite make it clear, the appendix reveals that the young boy is a young Aleister Crowley, who was born "Edward Alexander Crowley" before changing his name to "Aleister" as an adult.
Queen Victoria is given one, ordering first a lobotomy of the prostitute Prince Albert has impregnated and then giving mandate to Gull for the murder of five prostitutes as a cover-up. In his appendix, Moore noted that this was something he especially relished as a Take That to the popular image of the Queen, though Eddie Campbell wasn't entirely on board with it.
Dr. William Gull is a real life doctor and highly respected professional who was also by all accounts an ordinary decent gentleman. There is no real evidence linking him to the Jack the Ripper killings or, as Moore portrays him, a kind of Masonic shaman who regarded the killings as a quasi-magic ritual. Moore admits as much, and said he accepts the Gull hypothesis as an assumption and story-telling convention and doesn't really think that Gull is the real culprit any more than the myriad other suspects suggested over the years.
Info Dump: An early chapter is basically Gull traveling around town with his sidekick lecturing him on the secret Masonic/pagan symbolism of London landmarks.
Inspired By: Alan Moore extrapolated the story from Stephen Knight's theory on the Ripper murders. The idea of conducting an "autopsy" of the period also stemmed from Douglas Adams's Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, in which to solve a crime holistically, one would need to solve the entire society in which it occurred.
It Will Never Catch On: While interviewing the Wild West showman "Mexico Joe", Abberline scoffs at a book of prophecies that predicts that Russia and the United States will be the most powerful nations on Earth one day.
Kidney in the Mail: Truth in Television, after the death of Catherine Eddowes, Gull removes her kidney post-mortem, has Netley write the famous "From Hell" letter and sends it by mail to George Lusk of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee. Of all the many letters claiming to be from the killer, this is unsurprisingly, the only one serious researchers consider to have sound claims as coming from the real culprit.
Mad Doctor: Gull, who begins to have hallucinations after a stroke, though he seems inclined to cruelty from early on.
Meaningful Name: In the second appendix, Moore points out that Gull is a word for a person easily fooled (from where we derive "gullible"). Gull, of course, is fooled into believing he actually killed Mary Kelly. Twice.
Never Suicide: Needless to say, the police don't inquire too closely into the death of Montague John Druitt.
Nothing Is the Same Anymore: How Abberline feels when he sees the body of the final victim, mutilated beyond reason. He tells his deputy that he feels all of them, that is the whole of Victorian society, died in that room.
Readers Are Geniuses: The work is teeming with references to historical figures and events, a lengthy exchange on fourth dimensional theory, psychogeography, Masonic ritual and Pagan mysticism and the Illuminati. Reading the appendix is not just recommended. It's a necessity.
Gull delivers one to Lees, which ironically prompts Lees to try to frame him for the Ripper murders. Gull starts to deliver a real apocalyptic one to the Masonic Council before his dementia catches up with him and he trails off in confusion.
At the very end, Gull receives a long awaited one from Mary Kelly who's Not Quite Dead while he's in the astral plane. She sees him and tells him that he's a monster and he will not hurt the children she's raised in Ireland, telling him in no uncertain terms to "go back to hell."
Reverse Whodunnit: The Ripper's identity is revealed in the opening chapters. It's not so much a Whodunnit? as a Whydunnit? or not even that. Moore examines the Jack the Ripper killings as a medium to portray all of Victorian society, and indeed as the real end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the far Darker and Edgier 20th Century.
Scotland Yard: The highest brass as well as a few grunts are a part of the conspiracy, some more willing than others.
Shown Their Work: The comics includes lengthy annotations section detailing the research he put into making the comic, and the truth (or not) behind the more fantastic elements. Indeed even the moment when Dr. Gull collapses on the meadow was based on a real life incident. More to the point, the minutiae of London of that time is portrayed with a lot of accuracy.
Slasher Smile: The one which Gull flashes especially for Netley at the conclusion of their psychogeographical trip through London is horrible.
Spared by the Adaptation: The final chapter seems to reveal that Marie Jeanette Kelly (one of the Ripper's five historical victims) actually survived and fled to Ireland, and that Gull mistakenly killed her friend Julia instead.
Stylistic Suck: Gull and Netley's letter to the police. Gull has the barely literate Netley write it so as to protect himself.
Surrounded by Idiots: Gull is a highly educated physician with keen interests in history, mythology, mysticism and art, and a tendency to deliver long lectures about each subject at the drop of a hat; his "minion", Netley, is a barely-literate coachman just trying to squeeze out a few extra pounds. The book derives a few welcome moments of Black Comedy from the two's interactions.
Gull: Netley, do you know what your foremost distinguishing feature is? Netley: Why, I... I can't think, sir. Gull:Precisely.
Title Drop: Gull very pointedly insists that Netley begin their letter "From hell."
Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Nobody really knows the truth behind the Ripper murders. There are a lot more credible theories than the one presented in this story, though. Moore himself has openly stated that he doesn't believe a word of the theory he uses, rather he wanted to deconstruct the entire Ripper killings as a post-modern myth by exploring the events with a fully formed hypothesis rather than a new attempt at solving the unsolvable.
Wham Shot: Late in the book, there are two panels where Gull briefly glimpses a television set playing inside a house and a steel-and-glass skyscraper in the middle of London. Both shots abruptly make it clear that this book isn't quite the by-the-numbers work of historical fiction that it initially seems.
Wife Husbandry: Walter Sickert allegedly helped raise Alice Crook after her mother was lobotomized by Gull, then when she came of age fathered a child with her, said child being Joseph Gorman, the man who told Stephan Knight about the putative conspiracy theory that Moore based the comic on.