From Hell

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"From hell

signed
Catch me when you can Mishter Lusk"

"It is beginning, Netley. Only just beginning. For better or worse, the twentieth century. I have delivered it."
—Sir William Withey Gull

From Hell is a comic book series written by Alan Moore, speculating about the identity of Jack the Ripper. The series was published in 10 volumes between 1991 and 1996, and an appendix, From Hell: The Dance of the Gull-Catchers, was published in 1998. The entire series was collected in trade paperback, published by Eddie Campbell Comics in 1999.

From Hell takes as its central premise Stephen Knight's theory that the Ripper murders were part of a conspiracy to conceal the birth of an illegitimate royal baby fathered by Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence. Moore himself has written that he found Knight's theory to be rather unlikely, but felt it would make a good story.

It was adapted into a film of the same title in 2001, starring Johnny Depp as Inspector Abberline.


Tropes used in From Hell include:
  • Ancient Conspiracy: One which goes even beyond the Freemasons and the Illuminati, and stretches back to the beginnings of Human Belief when Female worship was supplanted by Male worship. Gull sees the whole of Human History as being a conflict between Men and Women.
  • Arc Words:
    • Several characters state that they "just made a little sound" at particularly overwhelming moments.
    • "What is the fourth dimension?"
  • Based on a Great Big Lie: Moore makes no secret of the fact that he doesn't really believe Knight's theory, but damned if it doesn't make for a great story.
  • Black Eyes of Evil: Sir William Gull a.k.a Jack The Ripper show these for a moment.
  • Bonus Material: Part of the experience of reading From Hell is going through the two appendices, one being an in-depth explanation of themes and scenes, the other being the Dance of The Gull Catchers, a brief history of Ripperology.
  • British Coppers
  • The British Empire: Depicted as being in a state of decline, with references to General Gordon's death in the Mahdi uprisings.
  • Comic Book Fantasy Casting: Abberline is pretty blatantly modeled after Robbie Coltrane in Cracker. This is probably a deliberate Shout-Out, as the few pictures available of the real Abberline look completely different. Interestingly, Robbie Coltrane was cast in the film of From Hell... as Abberline's Sidekick, Godley.
  • Connect the Deaths
  • Conspiracy Kitchen Sink: Royal cover-up, Masonic involvement, Police complicity, ritualistic murder, Paganism, Time Travel and Baby Hitler. It's all here.
  • Contract on the Hitman: The conspirators contemplate having William Gull killed when his mental illness reveals him as a liability.
  • Contrast Montage: The life of William Gull, Queen's surgeon, vs. the life of Mary Kelly, prostitute.
  • Crapsack World: Whitechapel is a pit of criminality, depravity and poverty. England is a decaying empire afflicted with corruption and weak rulers. Even our modern times are dull and banal.
  • A Date with Rosie Palms: A particularly tragic and depressing example, during which Netley has a brief moment of remorse and self-loathing at his part in Gull's murders.
  • Disposable Sex Worker: Very much averted. All of the victims are given significant amounts of characterisation and the main characters definitely do not forget about their murders, even if the government does.
  • Dissonant Serenity: Part of what makes Gull so unnerving is his calm and dispassionate exterior. As he butchers his final victim, he conducts himself as if conducting... well... an autopsy.
  • Doorstopper: The collected edition would probably kill you if it fell on your head. And it's a paperback.
  • The Dragon: Gull for the royal family, with Netley as The Brute
  • Eagle-Eye Detection
  • Faking the Dead: The last chapter implies that Gull killed the wrong woman in place of Mary Kelly, who escaped to live a life of anonymity back home in Ireland. Or maybe not...
  • Fainting Seer: Robert Lees has dramatic seizures, complete with convulsions and cryptic phrases which he chokes out.
  • Framing the Guilty Party: Lees tries to frame Gull as Jack the Ripper, which turns out to be quite true. Lees actually had no idea that Gull was in any way connected. Lees was just trying to get revenge for an insult.
  • Funetik Aksent
  • A God Am I: In Gull's last moments of life, he seems to believe that he's becoming a God. It might just be the hallucinations of a depraved, dying mind.
  • Hallucinations: These play a large part in Gull's story. Or maybe they are more than hallucinations?
  • * Inspired By: Alan Moore extrapolated the story from Stephen Knight's theory on the Ripper murders. The idea of conducting an "autopsy" of the period also stemmed from Douglas Adams's Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, in which to solve a crime holistically, one would need to solve the entire society in which it occurred.
  • Historical Domain Character: Apart from the central characters, most of whom are based on real people, a number of historical celebrities pop their heads in, from Oscar Wilde to the Elephant Man.
  • Humanoid Abomination: William Blake's perception of Gull's spirit.
    • The vision inspires his painting, The Ghost of a Flea.
  • Jack the Ripper: ...yup.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: Nearly all of them drawn from real life.
  • Mad Doctor: Gull, who begins to have hallucinations after a stroke, though he seems inclined to cruelty from early on.
  • Mind Screw: "What is the fourth dimension?"
  • Never Suicide: Needless to say, the police don't inquire too closely into the death of Montague John Druitt.
  • Old-Fashioned Copper: Considering it's 1888, all of them, really.
  • Ominous Fog: It's Victorian London. It's always foggy.
  • Phony Psychic: Robert Lees. He's making it all up. But it all came true anyway.
  • Poetic Serial Killer: Gull is a particularly disturbing example of this trope.
  • Police Procedural
  • Platonic Prostitution: Abberline's relationship with "Fair Emma".
  • Psycho for Hire: Sir Wiilliam Gull. He's hired for his discretion, but turns out to be quite Ax Crazy.
  • Readers Are Geniuses: The work is teeming with references to historical figures and events, a lengthy exchange on fourth dimensional theory, psychogeography, Masonic ritual and Pagan mysticism and the Illuminati. Reading the appendix is not just recommended. It's a necessity.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Gull delivers one to Lees, which ironically prompts Lees to try to frame him for the Ripper murders. Gull starts to deliver a real apocalyptic one to the Masonic Council before his dementia catches up with him and he trails off in confusion.
  • Reconstruction: From Hell deconstructs perceptions of the Victorian era in order to reconstruct them, showing where many of our 20th Century obsessions (detective fiction, sensationalist tabloid journalism, serial killers) originated.
  • Reverse Whodunnit: The Ripper's identity is revealed in the opening chapters. It's not so much a Whodunnit? as a Whydunnit?
  • Scotland Yard: The highest brass as well as a few grunts are a part of the conspiracy, some more willing than others.
  • Shown Their Work: The comics includes lengthy annotations section detailing the research he put into making the comic, and the truth (or not) behind the more fantastic elements.
  • Slasher Smile: The one which Gull flashes especially for Netley at the conclusion of their psychogeographical trip through London is horrible.
  • Stylistic Suck: Gull and Netley's letter to the police. Gull has the barely literate Netley write it so as to protect himself.
  • Title Drop: Gull very pointedly insists that Netley begin their letter, "From hell."
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Nobody really knows the truth behind the Ripper murders. There are a lot more credible theories than the one presented in this story, though.
  • Victorian London: The setting.
  • Villains Blend in Better: Inverted. When the killer briefly time-travels to the modern world, he is horrified by how soulless and banal everything is.
  • Vomiting Cop: George Godley, upon finding the corpse of Jack the Ripper's last victim. Also Abberline once he discovers the full extent of the conspiracy.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Netley has an adverse reaction to Sir William Withey Gull's Walking Tour of London.
  • Wife Husbandry: Walter Sickert allegedly helped raise Alice Crook after her mother was lobotomized by Gull, then when she came of age fathered a child with her, said child being Joseph Gorman, the man who told Stephan Knight about the putative conspiracy theory that Moore based the comic on.
  • Wrong Side of the Tracks: Limehouse, Whitechapel.

The Movie contains examples of:[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Johnny Depp as Inspector Abberline is more attractive than he's drawn in the comic, where he's based on Robbie Coltrane. Ironically, Coltrane was cast in a different role.
  • Body Horror: John Merrick perhaps counts.
  • Composite Character: Johnny Depp's character is a cross between Abberline & Robert Lees, though physically he resembles Prince Eddy more closely.
  • Darker and Edgier: The movie retains the sombre mood of the original and adds even more dark elements which is no small feat (in the graphic novel Ann Crook was not a prostitute, Abberline didn't commit suicide but is an elderly narrator, Gull wasn't lobotomized (although he developed dementia and was institutionalized by Freemasons) etc.
  • Doubling for London: Prague, using backlot sets rather than city streets.
  • Eagle-Eye Detection
  • Eye Scream: "I could pop your eye out...they don't care if a whore can't see."
  • Fake Brit: Johnny Depp, using the same accent that he would later use as SweeneyTodd.
  • Goodnight, Sweet Prince: Said by Sergeant Godley after Abberline dies of a drug overdose.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Uttered by one of the prostitutes before heading out for some hooch.
  • It's Not You, It's My Enemies: Averted, because it's rather her enemies. Abberline knows perfectly well that Mary survived, but decides not follow her to Ireland because, if it became clear that she survived that night, Mary would be hunted down and silenced.
  • Les Yay: Between multiple characters.
  • Madness Mantra: Ann has several, but then again, she has had a rather extensive lobotomy.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: The film's one clever moment was how it efficiently replaced the visual montage of how ordinary people wrote phony letters claiming to be from Jack the Ripper with a quick scene in which the detectives read those letters with each being read with a different voice.
  • Psychic Powers: Abberline has these in the movie, linked to opium use--hallucinations were commonly thought of as divinations.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Cute?: Try to guess which whore unfortunate is the future love interest.