With next week's movie coming out, everybody's rediscovering the awesomeness of Watchmen. But there are tons of other mind-expanding Alan Moore comics that you should also check out. Here are our favorites.
The Ballad Of Halo Jones. Moore was writing for 2000 A.D., Britain's long-running science fiction adventure comic best known for its Judge Dredd feature. Moore saw that most of England's "IPC girl comics were heading for that last great midnight feast in the dorm," and that 2000 A.D. had a bigger female readership than anyone realized. So he pitched a comic about an ordinary young woman — not "another Tough Bitch With A Disintegrator And An Extra Y Chromosome" — having adventures in space in the far future. The result is one of the most unique space operas of all time, featuring crazy adventures and silly humor and lots and lots of bleakness. (Jones' friends tend to drop dead on her on a regular basis, and in the final volume, she gets involved in a bloody space war.) The whole thing is available as a single hardcover volume from Titan Books.
Captain Britain. Moore started writing for Marvel Comics in the U.K., and took Captain Britain on a tour through alternate universes. This may be the first time that the Marvel Universe's "normal" version of Earth is referred to as Earth 616 in comics, and it also features an evil Prime Minister of England, who wants to round up all the superheroes and put them into concentration camps. I read these comics when they were reprinted as X-Men Archives Featuring Captain Britain a few years ago, and was amazed at how fresh and weird they still seem. They'll probably never be reprinted again, but those reissues can be tracked down, and there's also a collected edition. Also notable: Moore's work on Marvelman, aka Miracleman, which is even harder to find these days (and which I've never actually read!)
The Saga Of Swamp Thing. Swamp Thing was a low-selling horror comic when Moore took it over, and he transformed it into a supernatural/weird science epic that still helps to define all of DC's "mature" horror/supernatural comics, including all the Vertigo Comics line. My favorite is still the first volume, in which Swamp Thing discovers that he's not Alec Holland turned into a plant, after all — he's a plant that thinks its Alec Holland, thanks to a weird chemical accident. And he becomes the guardian of The Green, the spirit of all plant life on Earth, which is nearly usurped by the insane Jason Woodrue. All of a sudden the Swamp Thing has, not just pathos, but also a soul and real relationships, especially with the prematurely white-haired Abby.
V For Vendetta. This one, you've probably already read — but if you haven't, you should rush out and track down a copy. It's a dystopian future, and England has collapsed, giving rise to a new fascist regime run by a psychopath who's in love with his computer — literally. So it's up to the Guy Fawkes-masked anarchist vigilante known only as V to help topple the hateful oppressive regime, but his methods — especially his way of recruiting a successor — leave a lot to be desired. Just as much as Watchmen, V4V is a fantastic exploration of whether the ends justify the means, and the individual's relationship with a messed-up society.
Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow? Of all Moore's work on DC's main characters, this is my favorite. (Yes, more than "The Killing Joke" or "For The Man Who Has Everything.") DC was winding up its Superman stories, in preparation for John Byrne's classic reboot. So Moore had the opportunity to write the final Superman story, in which he shows how Superman's foes become darker and more horrifying, until finally Superman has to resort to the ultimate sanction. Superman disappears soon afterwards, and is presumed dead, but 10 years later, a reporter investigates. You'll have a hard time viewing other Superman stories the same way after reading this one. Luckily, it's collected in a single volume along with all of Moore's other DC Universe work — including the amazing Green Lantern short story about the aliens that don't have any concept of light or colors.
1963. Moore (with regular collaborators like Steve Bissette, Dave Gibbons and Rick Veitch) put out a six-issue miniseries of pastiches of early 1960s Marvel comics, with titles like Tales From Beyond, Tomorrow Syndicate and Mystery Incorporated. They feature made-up superheroes like Horus, and even though they claim to be stand-alone issues of different comics, they have a continuing storyline of sorts. Plus hilarious fake ads and crazy letters to the editor. It's Moore at his most goofy and fun, and paying homage to superheroes instead of trying to recreate them or drag them into the "real world." (And it's more fun, for my money, than Moore's later Tom Strong's Terrific Tales and Tomorrow Stories anthologies.) There's no collected edition, as far as I know, but I used to see the individual issues in the dime bins at many comic book stores. Amazon now has them all for between $1.00 and $15.00 per issue.
From Hell. Moore and artist Eddie Campbell piece together all the clues about Jack The Ripper, in a huge, sprawling story of Victorian politics and Satanic rituals. The mystery isn't who killed those women — it's why, and as the graphic novel goes on, it peels back layer after layer of Victorian society to reveal more and more twisted reasons for the violence.
The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen. If you've only seen the horrendous movie, you owe it to yourself to track down the comic. A set of famous literary figures, including Edward Hyde, Mina Harker, Allan Quartermain, the Invisible Man and Captain Nemo, team up to save the British Empire from a series of otherworldly threats. My absolute favorite is volume two, where our heroes face off against the Martian Tripods from War Of The Worlds... and this time it'll take a bit more than the common cold to put those alien scumbags out of action. As with 1963 and several other Moore works, the fake ads accompanying the comics are worth the price of admission all by themselves, and Moore also includes some amazing text pieces. It's a journey into retrofuturist Victoriana. And thank goodness there's a third full volume coming soon, after the slightly disappointing hardcover oneshot The Black Dossier.
Promethea. Okay, this is blasphemy, I know — but the first 12 issues of Promethea might actually be my favorite Moore work of all time. I'm not saying it's better than Watchmen, just that it holds a special place in my heart. With Promethea, we come full circle to Halo Jones — it's another tale of an ordinary girl in extraordinary circumstances, except this time around our heroine, Sophie Bangs, is inquisitive and curious. She pieces together the history of Promethea and figures out her own way of turning into the heroine, which requires an individual act of creativity. Promethea's not just your average superhero — she's an avatar of creativity and storytelling, and she may be destined to destroy the world instead of saving it. (In the end, it's actually a lot more complicated, confusing and — yes — rewarding than that binary implies.) The more Sophie discovers about magic and fables, the more powerful she gets and the closer Moore and artist J.H. Williams come to finally taking the comics medium apart altogether. (The first two volumes are my favorites, but the rest of the series is, at the very least, fascinating and memorable.) Oh, and did I mention it's an alternate 1999 with superheroes and weird cyberculture? And an android supervillain called the Painted Doll?
Top 10. Another comic which Moore created for his America's Best Comics imprint was Top 10, the story of a super-powered police squad in a world where pretty much everybody has weird powers. In contrast to Extraordinary Gentleman's literary exploration and Promethea's magical journey, Top 10 is mostly just hilarious wicked weird fun. At times, it really does read like a version of Hill Street Blues set in a world of flying people and superstrong blue men. My favorite character: the exoskeleton-wearing canine police sergeant, Caesar. Moore gave supercop Jeff Smax his own spin-off graphic novel, and later did an amazing prequel called Top 10: The 49ers. It's all pretty addictive stuff. Science fiction writer Paul Di Filippo later did a Top 10 miniseries, which captured the inventiveness of Moore's world pretty well but wasn't quite as magnetic.
Note: I know I'm leaving out his other big ABC series Tom Strong, which I like a lot, but not quite as much as these other series. Feel free to protest and throw sharp objects in comments.