I own very few graphic novels, and this one about Jack the Ripper and his crimes I’ve had for years but never read it. Someone gave it to me, but it seemed unappealing because I’ve grown tired of the serial killer who mutilates women. I can stomach it if it is more about the discovering of the murderer’s identity than the actual deeds themselves, which this book, as I understood it, was not about. To just dive into the sick psyche of such a man, and to take an in-depth look at the horror he inflicts does not interest me otherwise. I read a lot of crime fiction but I do it for the chase, the riddle, the mystery, not for the debasement of women by a madman who hates them.
Of course, I’m aware of the gist of the true story but not in any great detail, so I don’t know what exactly is fictional and what not in this version. The world created here is as bleak and depraved as one can imagine; it’s full of racism, antisemitism, and misogyny, and Moore and Campbell seem to like wallowing in the seediness and desolation of the place immensely. We know the identity of Jack before the first murder even happens, so there is no great mystery. The twist or innovation is that Jack is a sanctioned murderer because people in high places want to get rid of these women for political reasons. However, when the murders are as gruesome as they can be, the attempts to question these methods are laughable and mostly pro forma. Those people are obviously the evil ones, high up, looking down on the peasants and playing chess with their lives.
Jack is mostly a tool, driven by delusions and madness, but he has been a sociopath all his life. I understood all of this by looking at his life story, which is shown in great detail, and the first few murders, and still Moore and Campbell turn it up to eleven with the violence. The murder and mutilation of the fifth victim are sickening and drawn out over pages and pages and pages. It is utterly unnecessary and made me put the book down. I thought about not finishing it, but I hate that even more, so in the end, I picked it up again.
There are a lot of frills around the main story, like an in-depth look at the Freemasons, their symbols, architecture, and whatnot. This felt superfluous because it is just not that important to the story. These parts could easily have been whittled down, especially when the story veers into some very weird philosophical diatribes and conspiracy theories. Also the inclusion of events and historical figures, like meetings with Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man, or an encounter with performers of the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show come across as somewhat self-indulgent. Other parts were just too clever by half, like Polly Nicholls coming out of an establishment called ‘The Frying Pan’ and promptly getting murdered. Come on now, are you kidding me? This makes it seem like the creators were just too much in love with their own smartness.
That’s a lot of criticism, but that still doesn’t make it a bad book. It is very well-researched, I liked the illustrations a lot, and many parts are as absurdly ingenious as others are clichéd and off-putting. The story itself is interesting, even if the mystery of Jack’s identity is taken out of it. If they had lowered the shock value by dialling down not only the gratuitous sex and violence but also the often rambling exposition for the secret societies stuff, it would have been so much more effective. I recognise that I am not the audience for it, and many others will hail it as a great work. As I see it, it strives for greatness very hard, but by forcing the issue, it goes overboard in a way that prevents exactly that which it is so desperately trying to achieve.
CBR11 Bingo: Illustrated