If you’re the kind of person who enjoys movies or you occasionally dabble into the world of comics, chances are the name Alan Moore rings a bell.
“Isn’t he the guy who wrote Watchmen?”
“Hey! That’s the V for Vendetta guy.”
“Didn’t he write the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen?”
“He’s the writer of the Killing Joke, isn’t he?”
If your response was anything like that, then you would be correct. Those are some of the most famous works by Alan Moore, but they aren’t his only works and they definitely aren’t his only good ones. So, I’ve put together a short list of Moore stories I think are worth a read…
- Brief Lives
One of the most interesting things about Alan Moore is his signature use of nihilistic humor. And Brief Lives is one of the best examples of an Alan Moore style dark nihilistic comedies. The story revolves around a proud alien empire of spider people who send a fleet to conquer a planet. Typical Empire stuff. However, the planet is almost entirely deserted except for two giant statues…or that’s what they appeared to be. The Giants are actually trapped in a different scale of time than the spider empire. Time travels much slower. To put into context how slow…from the soldier’s point of view, it takes 10 years for the giants to blink their eyes.
Naturally, the Spider people become annoyed. Sure, they conquered the planet, but the only inhabitants never even noticed. The soldiers spend the next thirty years trying to let the Giants know that they’ve been conquered, but nothing works. The story ends with everyone dying of old age or suicide. From the giant’s perspective, the empire’s entire thirty-year struggle resulted in a puff of smoke they barely noticed because they were too busy wondering why the sun was zipping around them countless times a second.
Imagine someone trying to murder you, then imagine that someone dying of old age by the time you blinked three times. And to you, a strange pile bone dust appears at your feet.
- Secret Origins: The Phantom Stranger
The Phantom Stranger was a hero whose origins had previously been unknown before this Alan Moore story. I’m not sure how the character had been portrayed before, but in this story, we get a taste of the other element common to Moore’s writing…hope.
We see this in Watchmen when Dr. Manhattan learned what a miracle life truly is when he discovered Lauri’s origins. And we see it again here when we learn that the Phantom Stranger was once an Angel who remained neutral when Lucifer lead the rebellion in heaven. The story is painted in parallel with a rebel street group. A disagreement had occurred amongst some of the members. The splinter group attempts to recruit a young member to their side. Of course, Lucifer is defeated. The Angels who followed him are cast into hell and transformed into deformed demons. Likewise, the street group has their own little war, with the splinter group getting beaten – deformed by scars and missing teeth. And just like the Phantom Stranger…the young member from earlier decided not to take sides. But because neither remained loyal or took a stand…they were shunned by both sides.
The young gang member is beaten by the splinter group. That’s when The Phantom Stranger arrives to give him comfort. So, in the end, the choice they made cursed them forever…but it isn’t the end. Not by a long shot.
- Mogo Doesn’t Socialize
Mogo is one of two Green Lantern stories that break the norm with Alan Moore style nihilism. The story stars the great warrior Bolphunga the Unrelenting and his goal to vanquish the Green Lantern known as Mogo. Up to this point, Bolphunga had made a name for himself vanquishing some of the toughest enemies around. He tracks Mogo down to a planet and lands. He commences his search, but it’s only after he spends time trying to locate Mogo amidst the jungle-like surroundings that Bolphunga realizes he has no idea what Mogo actually looked like.
Bolphunga spent years on the planet. He drew up maps to mark the area. But one-day Bolphunga looked at the map he’d created and discovered something so terrifying that it scared him off immediately. As it turns out, Mogo wasn’t a humanoid or animal. Mogo was the planet. The jungle made up the power ring.
So, Bolphunga and all his terrifying might met an opponent that made him meaningless in comparison.
Hal Jordan originally inherited his Green Lantern Ring from another lantern named Abin Sur who’d crashed landed on the same planet Jordan also happened to land on. Abin Sur then dies soon after passing on his power to Hal Jordan. Tears give that encounter a far more sinister context.
Abin Sur went on a rescue mission to a planet that once belonged to the now defeated Empire of Tears. The demon-like creatures are imprisoned among the buildings. Abin Sur engages with them, in the hopes of discovering the location of the person he had been trying to find. Sur is offered three questions. The first, he uses to find the location of the person he was hoping to rescue. The information he’s given is proven true, and Abin Sur is able to succeed in his mission. If things had been left at that, then Hal may have never become a Green Lantern. But Abin Sur still had two questions left, and he decided to use them.
His second question changes his fate forever. Abin Sur asks what perils await him in the future. The demon answers death. They say that Abin Sur will die because one day his power ring will fail him when he needs it most. At first, he dismisses the idea, but the seed of doubt had been planted. He decides to fly a ship on missions, instead of traveling via power ring. At the end, he crashes to his death because he’d entered an atmosphere where his ship could not function. As he crashes, Abin Sur laments that had he trusted his ring this wouldn’t have happened.
- The Big Chill
This piece, in my opinion, is peak Alan Moore. The Big Chill is a perfect and clear example of the duality of Alan Moore fiction. Nihilism coupled with hope. The story’s concept concerns the ending of the universe. The stars are dying out. The last species in existence are going extinct. All that’s left is a small group of people ready to embark on an endless journey with no destination. About 99% of the story is filled with the Kafka style dread that Alan Moore is known for. Nothing gets better. Many people decide to just give up and die. The end seems to signal the end of hope as the last characters are consumed by a Lovecraftian monstrosity.
Then there’s a twist. As Majestic is consumed, it’s revealed that with his consumption, the universe has returned to a small compact state. But is still doesn’t end there. Majestic finds it dark. And finally, he has a thought: “There really should be light.”
And the universe springs to life…
The Big Chill is one of the Moore stories I keep referring back to. Perfect hopelessness and perfect hope. In my opinion, it’s up there with Watchmen and V for Vendetta.
And even though, I covered most of the major parts of each story, I hope you check these works out for yourself. Apart from the stories, the craft is on point. These stories are more than mere stories…they’re an experience.