Past and Future Visions
So I did a thing, and I didn’t realize this is what I was doing when I was doing it. From a conversation about Jack the Ripper I had with a friend, I picked up the graphic novel From Hell (Top Shelf 2009), written by Alan Moore. And I also picked up the graphic novel Archangel (IDW 2017), written by William Gibson. And to look at the surface level of both of these you would think they have nothing in common. And from a deeper level, I would agree. I really liked one of them and the other I felt was boring as heck.
So now, let’s unpack this a bit. What we have with both of them is fictitious histories or alt histories. This is important to understand and I will get into the details. I also want to say I learned something in all of this as well. The title From Hell comes from one of the letters written by what is believed to be the actual killer from Whitechapel. There were a number of letters written adding to the confusion of the case at the time. But I digress.
Both stories are centered around real events. There was a killer running around London in the later part of 1880s and there was a bomb dropped on Hiroshima to bring an end to World War 2. Each of the stories are giving us a bit of world history but in both of them there is an alternate reality or fictitious approach to the history we are given.
It was never publicly known who Jack the Ripper actually was. The graphic novel plays on one of the possibilities and makes a plausible case for who it might have been. But we have no way to know for sure who it actually was. The plot of Archangel revolves around a split time line where people are going into the past to try and recreate the world. Definitely an alt history that we can tell is a falsehood. But for both stories it is in the interplay of historical nuance that gives us the stories.
And for me, that is pretty much where things ended. I actually found the storyline for From Hell to read a bit like a historical document (yep, bored the snot out of me). There was a bit of interest in seeing how the killings might have played out. But at the same time, I found a number of places in the story where I just needed to skip over so much fluff. It was a distraction for the overall pull of the story. There was so much build up to how insane the killer would become that I really felt nothing for the character. I was indifferent and didn’t really care to know what would happen to him by the end of the story.
Now on the other side, Archangel hit me with a time travel thriller that kept things moving. We were able to learn about the villain through action and conversation within the story. When I came to the end and found that the hero of the story was on a suicide mission to save the timeline he didn’t come from originally, it all fit the story.
I find that I want to see the From Hell movie. From what I understand, they changed the perspective of the movie and told the story through one of the different characters. Aside from it being a Johnny Depp movie (I have liked most of the stuff I have seen him in), I think that change was necessary to really pull it together. Otherwise it rambles a bit and doesn’t really become more than just a history piece. I mean, there isn’t anything wrong with it if you like that sort of thing. It just didn’t grab me enough to make me want to bother with it.
There was a section of one of the chapters where the killer spent a day riding around with his coachman. Through the whole run he was explaining the Masonic connection to the supernatural and how the layout of London fit within this connection. It was a visual tour with biased tour guide for the reader. And in retrospect I can see it as a set up for the future insanity of the killer.
And the insanity play is something else entirely as well. Through the perspectives we are shown what Dr. Gull(the killer) experiences as well as how the people around him interpret what he is saying. Which is to say, that maybe his ritualistic killing actually gave him visions (in this case visions of the future) but the people around him don’t have the benefit of understanding what the heck he is talking about.
In the end, it felt a bit forced to me. There was quite a bit of tedious build up that funneled my experience. Sure that happens in any story. It’s when we can see the strings in the background that destroy the perspectives we hope to enjoy. It might be that this was a historical narrative that we have a general knowledge of. I liken it to the idea of the movie Titanic. The boat sinks, I know this and don’t want to spend a couple hours of my life being told the story of the boat sinking. Anything else in there is conjecture based on the memories of someone who may or may not be reliable.
But I digress…
Let’s see about wrapping this up. I liked Archangel. It may be that I have always had a soft spot for time travel and the idea of divergent time lines. That makes for the possibility of history being even more complicated than it already is. From Hell, on the other hand, made for a boring look at history that may or may not have happened. I have yet to see the movie and it is a hope that the change of perspective in the movie will bring out a more engaging story.
With that said, your tastes may not closely match my tastes. It’s entirely possible your reactions to the stories could be completely different than mine. But that is something for a different universe to decide…
If you enjoy these stories, consider leaving some coffee money in the jar or you could buy a book or two. Either way helps keep the stories flowing.