Perhaps no comic book writer has been more influential and highly venerated as British author Alan Moore. Widely considered to be one of the greatest, if not THE greatest, comic book authors in history, Moore has redefined the limits and expectations of the medium. He began working in underground British magazines like 2000AD and Warrior where he established himself as a consummate innovator. He later moved on to work at DC Comics where he wrote some of the most famous comic books and storylines in history. Later, he moved away from mainstream comics and did large bodies of work for independent comic book companies like Image comics and America’s Best Comics. Many of Moore’s works have inspired major movie blockbusters (a practice which Moore personally abhors). Known for his extreme anarchist political views and propensity for practicing magic, Moore is also one of the medium’s most eccentric personalities. I have arranged ten of Moore’s most influential and popular works here in chronological order from when they were first released.
PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS LIST ONLY CONTAINS COMIC BOOK RUNS AND COMPLETE GRAPHIC NOVELS. During his career, Moore wrote a number of stand-alone comics and one-shots that are rightfully respected as classics in and of themselves, particularly at DC Comics. So let me list some honorable mentions for Moore’ more celebrated stand-alone issues.
–Superman Annual #11: For the Man Who Has Everything (1985)
–Detective Comics #549-550: Night Olympics (April-May 1985)
–Green Lantern #188: Mogo Doesn’t Socialize (May 1985)
–Superman #423, Action Comics #583: Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? (September 1986)
–Secret Origins #10: Footsteps (January 1987)
–Batman: The Killing Joke (March 1988)
–The Maxx #21 (January 1996)
10. V for Vendetta
V for Vendetta #1-10 (March 1982 – May 1989)
One of Moore’s earliest works, V for Vendetta has nonetheless become one of his more enduring and popular works. It takes place in a post-apocalyptic Great Britain after the rest of the world had been consumed by nuclear war. A powerful and corrupt fascist government has taken over through a brutal campaign of oppression and murder. Among the subjugated is Evey Hammond, a young woman who is arrested by secret police after trying to prostitute herself. She is saved by “V,” an anarchist revolutionary terrorist who wears a Guy Fawkes mask. Together, they embark on a campaign of terrorism to free Great Britain from oppression by murdering the people responsible for their subjugation and those behind the mysterious government concentration camps that seem to swallow up all opposition.
The story is notable for containing many important motifs that would reoccur many times throughout Moore’s career such as fascist societies and the role of superpowered (or super-enhanced) individuals within them. The comic was adapted into a highly successful film in 2006 (which Moore distanced himself from) that starred Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving. Viewers of the movie may be surprised to find upon reading the comic how infrequently “V” actually appears. The comic is much more interested in the plight of Evey and a number of other supporting characters who did not make it into the film.
9. The Ballad of Halo Jones
Book One: 2000AD #376-385 (1984)
Book Two: 2000AD #405-415 (1985)
Book Three: 2000AD #451-466 (1986)
Much of Alan Moore’s earliest work was for the weekly British comic book magazine 2000AD. Of the series that he worked on for this magazine, The Ballad of Halo Jones was by far his best. Written in weekly five-page installments, The Ballad of Halo Jones followed the science fiction adventures of Halo Jones, a woman living in the 50th century. The series was originally planned to be divided into nine books which would follow the course of Jones’ life. However, only the first three were ever written. Halo Jones was a brash and daring character who was essential to comic book history. Before her, there hadn’t really been a prominent female protagonist in 2000AD comics. Jones wasn’t anything special at the start of the series.
She wasn’t a trained assassin, space marine, or femme fatale (although she did serve as a soldier in an interstellar war in Book Three). She was an ordinary woman caught up in extraordinary circumstances. Yet she managed to become a galactic legend through her exploits. The Ballad of Halo Jones was also remarkable for the incredibly detailed universe in which its characters lived. Fair warning to new readers: the first book can be a bit difficult to understand and get into for those not familiar with science fiction. But keep with it. The series contains some of the best science fiction this side of Star Trek and Doctor Who.
8. Swamp Thing
Swamp Thing #20-58, #60-61, #63-64 (January 1984-September 1987)
Alan Moore’s run on Swamp Thing, a DC horror character who was a humanoid plant, is widely seen as the moment when Alan Moore moved from obscurity to mainstream success within the comic book community. At the start of his run on Swamp Thing, he completely wiped aside all of the prior stories and character development associated with the character.
He essentially “re-vamped” the title, giving him a fresh start on a character that was free from continuity problems. Moore would later reuse this tactic during his run on several other series. In Swamp Thing, he completely revolutionized the character’s origin story. To keep things simple, it can be explained like this: originally the Swamp Thing was Alex Holland, a scientist who was caught in a lab explosion and transformed by chemicals and the swamp that he fell into.
Moore redid his origin so that he was a plant elemental that THOUGHT that it was Alex Holland after he died falling into the swamp. Moore would go on to pen one of the greatest runs in comic book history, innovating the character like never before or since imagined. During his run, he traveled the globe, went to Gotham and defeated Batman, went on adventures in outer space, and pioneered the depiction of sex in comics during a scene where he “mated” with his girlfriend. Moore’s run was so highly celebrated that to this day many believe that he is the only author capable of properly writing the character.
Marvelman #1-16 (August 1985 – December 1988)
Marvelman, alternatively known as Miracleman due to a copyright dispute with Marvel Comics, was originally a British version of Captain Marvel who had his own series that ran until 1963. Nineteen years later, Moore relaunched the character with a new twist: Marvelman’s civilian identity, Michael Moran, hadn’t transformed into his alter-ego in years. He was no longer a superhero and was living in a confining and ultimately loveless marriage. In fact, he didn’t even know that he was a superhero. When he accidentally returns to his identity as Marvelman, he discovers that he was the result of a secret military research program that tried to create superheroes with the use of alien technology. Also, he discovers that his old sidekick, Johnny Bates (Kid Marvelman) also survived, but had become a murderous sociopath. The two clashed until Kid Marvelman was eventually defeated. Marvelman then proceeded to turn the world into a Utopia in his image.
This was one of Moore’s first times actually writing a proper superhero. In his run on Marvelman (which was later continued in a phenomenal run by Neil Gaiman) he explored several themes and ideas that would become prevalent throughout his work: the deconstruction of the idea of the superhero, the superhero as a tyrant, the superhero as a god, and the adaption/continuation of classic, and fantastical, superhero storylines and tropes into the modern world. Moore’s run was greatly celebrated but also widely condemned for its extreme graphic imagery (there is a realistic childbirth scene in one issue) and violence. For example, in Marvelman #15 Kid Miracleman’s child alter-ego is sodomized by his grade school classmates. In revenge, he turns to Kid Miracleman who proceeds to kill destroy London, killing 40,000 in one of the most graphic and disturbing portrayals of violence in the history of the medium. Despite this, Moore’s Marvelman is considered to be one of the his finest explorations of the superhero genre.
Watchmen #1-12 (September 1986 – October 1987)
If I was arranging this list in the order of how great, influential, and beloved each entry was, Moore’s Watchmen would easily be number one. There is simply no comparison. Watchmen is Moore’s ultimate masterpiece, a triumph of the deconstructionist and superhero genre. The story begs the questions of what would happen if superheroes were real. Who would be superheroes? What kind of personal problems or motivations would make somebody dress up in a colorful outfit and fight criminals? And what would happen if a TRUE superhero, one who had ACTUAL powers, existed in real life? Summarizing the story of Watchmen is incredibly challenging. To keep things as brief as possible, it is about a group of vigilantes and one superpowered god-like figure who find themselves in the middle of a conflict that could end the lives of millions of people. Moore used the superhero genre to explore ideas of personal identity, postmodernism, and the role of power in society.
The characters, particularly the Objectivist street vigilante Rorschach and Doctor Manhattan, a scientist with god-like powers and control over matter and energy, have become touchstones within the superhero community, even though they have never been used outside of their original series. Watchmen was also responsible for jump-starting the weakened comic book industry in the late 80s alongside the seminal The Dark Knight Returns. It is also responsible for inadvertently changing the tone of comics to being dark, gritty, and violent for nearly a decade by cheap imitators. The 2009 film adaptation of Watchmen was both highly successful and incredibly controversial as it was disowned by Moore and changed the comics legendary ending. Despite the film, Watchmen remains Moore’s crowning achievement and easily one of the greatest series in comic book history.
5. From Hell
From Hell #1-10 (1991 – 1996)
One of the things that Alan Moore is famous for was the popularization of the term “graphic novel.” Many of Moore’s works are meant to be read as a whole, as they tell one story broken up over several issues. One of the finest examples of this is his 572-page From Hell, a dramatic presentation and exploration of the Jack the Ripper killings. Without ruining the story, Moore presents the idea that the Jack the Ripper killings were part of a conspiracy to cover up a royal scandal. But where Moore really shines is in his presentation and exploration of unique and challenging ideas.
Moore used the comic to express his views on the Victorian society in which the murders took place. In a sense, the city of London and Victorian society are bigger and more important characters than the actual killer and his victims. But From Hell is also a very technically accurate work. Moore went to great pains to research the story and his subjects. The collected version of the story contains over forty pages of notes and references for the sake of historical accuracy. The film was later adapted into a widely despised film version in 2001 that was reviled by Moore and audiences.
Supreme #41-56 (August 1996 – February 1998)
Originally, Supreme was created by artist Rob Liefeld as a violent, arrogant version of Superman for his independent comic book line Image Comics. However, after 40 issues he handed to reigns of the character over to Alan Moore…and nothing was ever the same. Much like his work on Swamp Thing and Marvelman, Alan Moore wiped aside all pre-existing character continuity for Supreme. Hilariously, Moore is reported to have said that before he took over, the comic was “not very good.” He then reinvented Supreme not as a violent clone, but as a loving tribute to Silver Age era Superman. Heavily influenced by Mort Weisinger, the mastermind of Superman during the 50s and 60s, Moore used his run on Supreme to explore the Superman mythos. The comic became a masterwork of comic book meta-fiction, as each issue explored cliches and gimmicks that made the old Superman stories so endearing.
In one of the first stories he penned for the character, Supreme discovered that he was literally just the most recent incarnation of a character that had undergone several revisions. All of the past versions of Supreme lived in a specific reality called the “Supremacy.” Moore would also go on to reconstruct the Supreme family, incorporating such characters as Supreme’s sister Suprema (a tribute to Supergirl) and his dog Radar (a tribute to Krypto). By the end, Moore had retconned Supreme with a fantastic mythos that stretched back several decades.
3. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
TLOEG Vol. 1 #1-6 (March 1999 – September 2000)
TLOEG Vol. 2 #1-6 (September 2002 – November 2003)
TLOEG The Black Dossier (November 14, 2007)
Forget that terrible movie with Sean Connery. Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is the real deal. Quite simply, TLOEG is, as Alan Moore describes, the Justice League of Victorian England. Imagine, if you will, a team of heroes sworn to protect England from the strange and supernatural consisting of Mina Harker (from Bram Stoker’s Dracula), Allan Quatermain, Captain Nemo, Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, and many other famous British literary figures.
Over the course of their history, TLOEG has battled many of Great Britain’s worst and most powerful adversaries, even fighting off an invasion from Mars by the Martians from The War of the Worlds. Countless literary figures pop up throughout its pages, ranging from Dr. Fu Manchu to Dr. Moreau to James Bond. The series has been an outlet for Moore to explore many of his favorite stories and characters throughout fiction. In fact, Moore’s universe for TLOEG has been rumored to contain every single world and character of fiction as we know it. While it is advisable to have a good knowledge of literature (particularly British) to appreciate TLOEG, it is by no means a prerequisite for reading. TLOEG remains a highly accessible work for new readers. As of right now, TLOEG Vol. 3, wherein the League bops around the 20th century, is being released chapter-by-chapter.
2. Tom Strong
Tom Strong #1-22, 36 (April 1999 – March 2006)
Many of Alan Moore’s works are brooding, dark pieces that are brilliantly written, but somber and bleak in tone. So enter Tom Strong, an optimistic bi-monthly comic released by America’s Best Comics. Tom Strong was a self-proclaimed “science hero” who, although lacking superpowers, boasted super-strength, a genius level intellect, and increased longevity. Grown in a high-gravity chamber on the West Indian island Attabar Teru after his parents were marooned there, Tom Strong was raised to be the perfect human specimen. He explores the outer reaches of reality and science along with his wife Dhalua, daughter Tesla, a steam-powered robot named Pneuman, and a gorilla who had been implanted with increased intelligence who could talk.
Moore used Tom Strong to explore a variety of genres and stories including the Old West, adventures in Outer Space, and time travel. But Tom Strong also focused heavily on the concept of alternate realities. In many issues Tom would find himself at odds with creatures from other dimensions and alternate versions of himself. Although the series was later taken over by other writers who all did excellent jobs keeping pace with Moore’s earlier issues, Moore returned to pen the final issue that tied in with the larger universe of America’s Best Comics in a crossover with the number one entry on this list.
Promethea #1-32 (August 1999 – April 2005)
The final entry on this list, Promethea is Moore’s latest great work, a comic that explores not only the comic book medium, but the concept of fiction altogether. Released by America’s Best Comics, Promethea is the story of Sophie Bangs, a young woman living in New York City who discovers that she is the latest vessel for Promethea, a mysterious being of great power and magic who reappears frequently throughout the literature of many different cultures. She goes on to explore the realms of magic by climbing the Tree of Life and encountering such figures as the demon Asmodeus.
Moore uses Promethea to exposit his views on philosophy, religion, mysticism, and fiction. This incredibly diverse series greatly features mystical subjects such as the occult, Gnosticism, and the Qabalah. The series concludes with a massive crossover with other America’s Best Comics characters wherein Promethea accomplishes her ultimate purpose: to bring about the Apocalypse. It serves as a fitting conclusion to the different series that Moore penned for the America’s Best Comics label.