“From Hell” tells definitive Ripper tale in comic form

When most people think of comic books, radioactively powered super-men battling large-headed megalomaniac super-villains in futuristic cities of bright color spring almost immediately to mind.

But comic scribe Alan Moore doesn’t think like most people. The British author behind famed comic projects like “The Watchmen,” which mixed hero archetypes with realism, and “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” which took the heroes of Victorian-era England and set them against the threat of Dr. Moriarty and Fu Manchu, has taken on a bit of creative non-fiction with his work “From Hell.”

With the help of artist Eddie Campbell (who also writes and draws “Bacchus” and the autobiographical “Alec” for Top Shelf Comics), Moore has tackled a story of myth and uncertainty and has created, perhaps, the ultimate version of a classic legend – the legend of Jack the Ripper.

With meticulous research behind them, Moore and Campbell set about creating their epic comic series in 1989. Now, over 10 years later, they have collected the story into a telephone book-sized graphic novel, and their tale is being released this fall as a feature film starring Johnny Depp and Heather Graham.

The story starts with the romance of a young man in the care of artist Walter Sickert, and his eventual sexual liaisons with a local candy shop girl. It all sounds simple enough, until it’s discovered that the young man is Prince Albert, son of the Queen of England.

Enter Sir William Gull, the Queen’s chief medical advisor and a devout Mason. Gull is hired by the queen to “take care of” the mother of the Prince’s illegitimate child, and the prostitutes that she has befriended.

Unbeknownst to the Queen and everyone though, Gull is a little off the deep end with delusions of Masonic grandeur and his desire to become a legend in the 21st Century. Thus begin the mysterious Murders of Whitechapel by the man known as Leather Apron, or better, Jack the Ripper.

In Moore’s tale, we see the story unwind through the eyes of prostitute Mary Kelly, who watches her friends slaughtered while walking the streets and pubs of Whitechapel nightly.

We see it through Inspector Abberline, the Scotland Yard policeman who has been assigned to the case who futilely goes to autopsies, interviews witnesses, and even pursues leads from John Merrick, the Elephant Man, to Buffalo Bill Cody’s Traveling Western Show, always one step behind the killer.

Lastly, we see it through Gull himself, who describes his ambitions and aspirations in detail to his half-willing accomplice Netley, perhaps knowing, perhaps not that we as readers are along for the ride.

It’s detailed, moreso than many speculative books of it’s kind. In fact, the book comes complete with 47 pages of annotations supporting the author’s conclusions and speculations, and referencing the details of the real lives of the characters, the places and the events that take place.

“From Hell” stands as one of the greatest literary accomplishments in comic book form since Art Spiegelman’s “Maus” told the story of the holocaust through anthropomorphic mice and cats. And perhaps the story is the truest telling of the Jack the Ripper story yet.

Only “Jack” himself knows.