Illustration by Sean McCabe
Video: Alan Moore's From Hell
James Parker shares a climactic scene from the film adaptation of Alan Moore's Jack the Ripper story
When time travel has reached the mass-transit stage, and we’re all trundling in bored herds up and down the escalators of history, it will be a banality verging on bad manners to complain of “chrono-lag.” By then, you see, everyone will have it—the fourth-dimensional halo around the vision, the rumor of the dead in one’s ears, and so on.
For the moment, though, sensations like these remain the preserve of the artist. Indeed, a susceptibility to being steeped in time, as a long-haul flier is steeped in distance, can give a writer a serious creative edge: Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five was born of it, as were most of the novels of Philip K. Dick. “Time is the substance of which I am made,” wrote Jorge Luis Borges, whose stories seemed to issue from the lucid core of a particularly nasty intertemporal hangover.
He could just as well have been writing about Alan Moore, latest and most wizardly (more on this later) of the literary time-tamperers, whose shadow over pop culture is currently longer than those of Vonnegut, Dick, and Borges combined. The recent film adaptation of Watchmen, an ’80s comic-book series with the top-to-bottom social sweep of a 19th-century novel, is the fourth movie in a decade to be based on Moore’s work. The previous three were From Hell, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and V for Vendetta; Moore also invented the character on whom 2005’s Constantine was based, and his nightmarish take on the Joker, in the 1988 Batman comic book The Killing Joke, was cited by Heath Ledger as a model for the performance he gave in The Dark Knight. Moore is still short of Dick’s record—nine movies and counting—but he’s made a healthy start; his output is comparably voluminous, and unlike Dick (who died in 1982, just before the release of Blade Runner), he’s still in his prime.