- By Alan Moore Bloomsbury, ®¯$27 (hardcover)

Alan Moore came to prominence during the 1980s scripting comic creations that o‰ered cosmic updates to Gothic horror, like Swamp Thing (1984–87), and postmodern commentari­es on superhero lore, like Watchmen (1986–87). Moore’s work had an air of self-referentia­l archaeolog­y, giving literary weight to a medium that had been used to just seeing how far it could flex its spandex. His work since has been less revolution­ary, leaning more into the pomp of superheroe­s with things like Tom Strong (1999–2006), and further into the occult, to the point where Moore oàcially declared himself a magician.

But this collection of nine stories – several written during the 80s and 90s, but for the large part new – is not magic. They are entertaini­ng enough, darkly comedic tales and pulp vignettes; some ape horror in the style of Edgar Allan Poe, and there’s a Borges–beat mashup where Moore academical­ly annotates a prose poem in the style of Allen Ginsberg.

At the heart of the book is the 270-page ‘What We Can Know About Thunderman’, an overly detailed ri‰ on the histories of Superman, comics publishers Á², Marvel and horror line ², and the overworked chumps who produced such tales. But overabound­ing all this are laboured adjectives, indulgentl­y labyrinthi­ne descriptio­ns and two-dimensiona­l characters.

And just as his Lost Girls (1991) evidenced a predilecti­on for literary smut, most stories here just feel like elaborate setups for sex scenes: a hipster Jesus bedding a property lawyer who is the unexpected steward for the Apocalypse in Bedford; an elevator that reveals a multilegge­d monster that turns out to be just a couple screwing; a pair of nascent intelligen­ces at the dawn of the universe discoverin­g their delight in what they term ‘clattersma­shtinkling’.

The interplay between words and images in comics allows for productive loss; here, laid out in Moore’s elaborate prose, there is no between-the-lines, and every metaphor is spelled out to make sure you get it. Moore’s collaborat­ions with illustrato­rs clearly focus, and hone, his incandesce­nt brain. For many of the same ideas found here, you might turn to Moore’s Promethea (1999–2005) or his illustrate­d performanc­e A Disease of Language (2005) to find some of the darkness between frames missing from Moore’s overlit Illuminati­ons. Chris Fite-wassilak

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