Alan Moore, like Jack Kirby before him, was capable, when not at the top of his game, of being quite extraordinarily bad - not just, like the King, bad out of tiredness and lack of interest, but out of complete wrong-headedness, out of taking the wrong approach and insisting with it. A lot of his worst stuff is to do with sex. Moore is not really any good with pornography; even if you take the view, as I do, that achievement in pornography is intrinsically the lowest kind of artistic achievement and barely excuses the waste of talent, nonetheless there are several authors, from Crepax to Manara and to Eleutieri Serpieri, who have done better, much better than Moore. Lost Girls
is shamefully bad, and it has in common with The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
that Moore gets literary characters from earlier writers embarrassingly wrong - his Dorothy Gale, with her cliched and insulting American accent, makes L. Frank Baum's sweet little dreamer into a vulgar slut, and his Alice is little better. The reason why Crepax and Eleutieri Serpieri's best pornography works, is that their "heroines" don't have that ultimately depressing kind of vulgarity that makes it unimaginable that Dorothy should ever have dreamed of Oz or Alice ever seen a rabbit with a pocket-watch.
Bad though Lost Girls
is, though, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
is worse. It is the nadir of Moore's writing, and the nemesis, alas, of his justifiable ambition to rethink and rewrite the basics of popular literature.
At the heart of the failure is one simple fact: Moore gets every single character wrong, and, I think it may be said, does so for a reason. Mycroft Holmes is not, and cannot be, a spymaster, an executive, a man in charge. And the reason is obvious: his indolence and lack of ambition. His enormously fat body is the token of a mind that will not bother, will not shift, even though its natural talent still takes pleasure in feeding on and understanding millions of facts. Holmes is an infallible adviser when his advice is sought, but he does not bother even to straighten out someone's course if he knows that someone is moving to disaster - unless the someone asks for his advice. The notion of Holmes searching out and organizing an elite squad of adventurers, like Nick Fury does in the forthcoming Avengers movie, is as absurd - as his brother Sherlock would put it - as to find a London tram in a country lane.
Now this kind of learned indolence was perfectly understandable to an English reader of the 1890s. It was natural - if extreme - to the more intelligent members of an upper middle class that lived largely on inherited income and saw no great need to work for a living. It is quite clear that Sherlock Holmes, as much as his brother, sought out his job not to make a living but because it pleased and fulfilled him. Moore got Mycroft Holmes wrong, as he would have Sherlock, because he missed his whole social background.
The mistakes about Captain Nemo are of another order. First, he is way out of his time. In 1890 Captain Nemo, a veteran of the 1858 Indian war, would be dead, or at least too old to feature actively in any adventure. It is also unimaginable that this man, who experienced the English as a destructive swarm of enemies across his beloved land, committing any amount of war crimes, would ever collaborate with them on anything; his whole purpose was to become what we now call a terrorist, driving the then dominant British marine from the seas with his submarine. And the heavy Indian costume in which Kevin O'Neill dresses him is also wrong: in the Verne novel, the French adventurers don't know the Captain's nationality till he tells them, for he has adopted a wholly Western mode of dress and behaviour. I think it would be impossible for anyone but an Englishman to imagine a man who has suffered at the hands of the English as Nemo has suffered, and whose nation has suffered as India has, has being reconciled with them; as well imagine Giuseppe Mazzini entering the Austrian service, or the exiles of modern Poland shaking hands with General Jaruzelski. (Yes, some people would do such a thing - but why call them heroes?) In using Nemo, Moore is simply being self-indulgent, or rather nationally indulgent, allowing himself the kind of fantasy that belongs in bad fanfic.
The same, from a slightly different viewpoint, may be said of his treatment of Dr.Jekyll and Mr.Hyde. Mr.Hyde is not the Hulk. He is not actually stronger or in any way more powerful than Dr.Jekyll; in fact, he is shorter, and so stupid in any way that matters that he makes himself noticed and eventually hunted by common citizens. His difference is quite simply his total unconcern with others. He is defined by the fact that if he wants to go in one direction and there is a little girl in his way, he will simply trample the little girl and go on, barely thinking of what he has done. He is the ultimate psychopath, and that is what makes the scenes featuring him so memorable. Moore should have left hims strictly alone: the notion of Mr.Hyde as part of any team is as preposterous as taming a man-eating tiger. The question is, how can such an obvious mistake have been made? Apart, of course, from the same bad fanfic reflex I spoke of about Captain Nemo. And the answer is, in this case, difficult to get. The closest I can come, I think, is to suggest that Moore underestimates evil itself. Not that he can't do memorable villains; his TAO, from his run on WildC.A.T.s
, may just be the best supervillain ever conceived, and many others make you shiver with horror and disgust. But he underrates evil in the abstract. In Swamp Thing
#50, he inexcusably claimed to be able to carry out a Hegelian synthesis of good and evil, something that denies the very definition of evil. And the characteristic of Mr.Hyde is quite simply that he is evil; perhaps Moore hasn't taken his complete disregard for others seriously enough. Or perhaps he just wanted to have another big character in his roster, fanboy style.edited in
: Allan Quartermain, the South African bush hunter, is found in an opium den in Egypt, smoking his life away. Well, I suppose anyone can become an addict, but of all people, Quartermain is the least likely. He is a staunch, enduring man, of very modest background and endless endurance, a working-class, salt-of-the-earth type displaced to the frontier of the British Empire and enduring an extraordinary series of adventures just because they are the kind of things a man is apt to endure in that kind of part. He is, in fact, a British Imperial version of the slow-talking heroes of the classic American western, and must reflect Rider Haggard's own experience of frontier people. Now the point is whether you can imagine a John Wayne hero - or Henry Fonda's Wyatt Earp in My Darling Clementine
- wasting his life away in an alien big city's opium dens. I can't - he wouldn't even enter the city in question.
As I never read The Invisible Man
, I won't deal with this character, save to say that a character who uses invisibility for nothing better than to tup a number of dubious maidens does not strike me as very interesting. Invisible and not much of a person. Plus, we are once again faced with the fact that Moore is no good with sex.
Bad though the treatment of all these characters is, much the worst - and, in my view, the reason for the failure of the whole mini-series - is Mina Harker. It is bad enough that Moore has completely destroyed the central point of Bram Stoker's masterpiece. So Mina was not saved after all, and she is a vampire; just another victim of Dracula's, like so many before, and probably so many afterwards. The whole point of the story was to oppose, to resist, to fight, and to destroy, this ancient and apparently ineradicable evil; and to save Mina. And here is the second and worse point. This Mina is a bitch, pure and simple. She belongs with the woman-hating products of writers far, far below Alan Moore, and strongly suggests that you cannot have a woman in authority without her behaving like a victim of permanent PMS. This is the exact opposite of what the real Mina was about. Part of the greatness of Dracula
, a great masterpiece by a writer of no great talent, is that he completely solves the conundrum at the heart of much Victorian fiction: if you are fighting for a woman's sake, then the woman must be worth fighting for. Mina is emphatically a woman worth living and dying for. She is loving, warm-hearted, intelligent, quick to understand and to adapt, physically and mentally fearless, and has an absolutely colossal moral courage. She deliberately dives into Dracula's darkness, risking her life and soul, so that her friends can pursue and destroy the monster. From about half-way through the novel, she is their real leader, much more than Van Helsing; and there is nothing strange or excessive about the fact that one of the heroes is relieved, as he dies, to see the physical sign that the menace has passed from her. For this they all had fought, and evidently even to die in this cause was good enough.
Clearly the idea of men defending women is out of fashion, but unless you understand it you will not understand any amount of fiction from the Iliad to Snow-White and the Seven Dwarves
(in which Disney and his team of geniuses comprehensively failed to do what Bram Stoker had achieved
). A man must be willing to die for his woman; or, if he obeys the Western notion of chivalry, for any woman who is not demonstrably guilty or treacherous. (Even the obvious instance doesn't follow. In La Traviata
, Violetta is a high-class tart, and Germont senior despises her lifestyle, but he is revolted when his son treats her roughly in public, and upbraids him before a crowd of his friends: women, all women, are to be treated with respect.) Dracula
is one of the most successful avatars of the concept: a handful of brave and upright men gather together to save one woman and avenge another (Lucy Westenra). That is the story, that is the concept, that is the core of values at the heart of Dracula
; and because Moore did not understand it, he was unable to render any of Mina's interest. Just as, because he did not understand the world of the Victorian upper middle classes, he miscast that idle and unclubbable fellow, Mycroft Holmes, as a hard-driving modern executive. The error is the same: provinciality, possibly compounded with Moore's well-known political beliefs
, leading to distorted and ultimately uninteresting versions of characters that only made sense in their own background.