Oh God.

Oh, God, I’m not even halfway through The Black Dossier and I don’t know if I’m going to make it if somebody finds this note please tell my family I love them oh God I don’t want to die I don’t want to


Even before I got the book, I knew I was in trouble when I read the second paragraph of Jog’s review:

“If you’re the type that finds Moore’s various approximations of period writing styles to be cloying, whether via adorned prose, or his scripts for the fake old comics that tend to dot his sequential works – please, do not read this book. You may well take your own life, and I’d hate to have your blood on my hands, True Believer.”

Alas, I am exactly that type.

Still, I’d made it through most of Moore’s extended self-indulgences before. I even made it through Promethea. Mostly. (I just skipped any sentence with the word “kabbala” or “quark”). Besides, I enjoy his faux old-timey comics scripts, as in Supreme; it’s his prose that drives me up the wall. So I could make it through The Black Dossier, right?


Yeah, maybe not.

Later in his review, Jog compares the text sequences that form the bulk of The Black Dossier to the bits in Cerebus where Dave Sim would dump page after overwritten page on the long-suffering reader. That’s a fair comparison, but you know what they both remind me of? Well, you know when you’re playing a video game, and you make it to the end of a level (or whatever)…and the big “reward” is that you get to stop playing the game for thirty seconds, or five minutes, or whatever, and watch a shitty cutscene with bad scripting and worse acting?

That’s exactly what it’s like reading The Black Dossier. Come on, can’t I just press “escape” and skip back to playing the game already? The reason I bought this video game is–amazingly–that I wanted to play a video game, not watch a shitty movie. If I wanted to watch a shitty movie, I would have hired Mulholland Drive.

And that’s what it’s like reading the text sequences: come on, man, get back to the comics. Oh man, can’t I just skip ahead–nah, I’d better read all this shit now or I’ll have to read it later. That’s not a good way to feel about what you’re reading: that it’s a burden.

Look, I’m no droog who only wants to read words if they’re in speech bubbles. I write and read dry academic prose for a living. I’ve made it through the books that break weaker readers, and I can throw down with the best of them when it comes to the literary canon. Life of Johnson? A la recherche…? Moby-Dick? War and Peace? The Faerie Queene? The Man Without Qualities? Motherfucker, I’ve done all those, and Finnegan’s motherfucking Wake.

I’ve even read A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole.

And let me say, Alan Moore, you are no John Kennedy Toole.

We get it already. You’re well-read. Congratulations, but that’s no longer as impressive as it was in the nineteenth century now that any dickhead with a modem can access most of the same information.

The worst thing about The Black Dossier is that the same self-congratulatory spirit clogging the prose seeps into the comics sections too. Hey, you know what would be really fun? A five page sequence in which some fat guy clumsily name-drops various fictional characters just to give Jess Nevins something to do. A sampling of the sparkling bons mots that fall from fat-boy’s lips:

Francis Alexander Waverly. He runs some spy-ring for the United Nations these days.

His father named him Kim after the famous spy who worked in Afghanistan.

Spider-Man can bench press 40 tons.

Oh no, wait, that last sentence is from the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe.

Bravo, Mr Moore. You’ve proved that you can write as well as Peter Sanderson and Mark Gruenwald.

And don’t get me started on Moore’s treatment of other people’s fictional characters here. In interviews Moore now decries the way so many unimaginative writers followed his lead after Watchmen by turning fun, light-hearted escapist fare into depressing deconstructions. Fair enough, he’s entitled to change his mind about the validity of that sort of aesthetic move. And he has famously railed against the treatment of his creations in stupidized Hollywood films; again, fair enough. The films do suck.

It almost makes you wonder whether it really is aesthetically valid to grittify the characters of popular fiction set in a broader continuity, and whether there may be some moral value in respecting creators’ wishes.

So what do we get in The Black Dossier? A rapist James Bond and sad, old, fat Billy Bunter. Excellent! Oh, and Ulysses, it turns out, was “a shifty little swine”. Making Moore just as reactionary as Dante, who placed the hero of the greatest epic poem in the eighth circle of Hell because, like, he lied and stuff. Yes, that’s the point. That’s why they call him Odysseus of many wiles.


I could go on, but why bother? Beside, I’ve still got another 7,000 of Moore’s thrilling pages to slog through. I’ll just add one more thing: it would be a drastic exaggeration to call The Black Dossier underwhelming.

Truth is, it’s not even whelming.


If I don’t post for a while, it’ll be because Jog was right. I’ll have killed myself.

8 Responses to “Spleenage”

  1. Tucker Stone Says:

    You’re a stronger man than I. I’ve got a copy sitting on the bookshelf, and after I opened it and took a gander at the non-stop wankathon of prose, i experienced what alcoholics call a “moment of clarity.” And that was me remembering that hey, i didn’t ever really like this series that much in the first place. So instead, i’m shoving a hard-dick eyeball into denis johnson and kirby’s fantastic four. And i’m plenty satisfied with my uncultured, not in the mood for clever horseshit, self.

    And “Finnegan’s Motherfucking Wake” may have single-handedly created you as my new hero, taking the place of…i don’t know, whoever wrote the old foolkiller stuff.

  2. Jones, one of the Jones boys Says:

    Come on, Tucker, you’ll never read the book unless you get into the pastiche spirit. Don’t say “You’re a stronger man than I”. Instead, say “You’re a better man than I”.

    In fact, don’t even say that. Just make some comment like “You remind me of a native water-bearer I met in the colonies”. How else will you impress everyone with your erudition in pre-post-colonialist literature?

    In other news: own life still not taken.


  3. Dick Hyacinth Says:

    Why can’t somebody do a pastiche of American history, where there are oblique references to “The Great Compromiser” and “The Great Commoner” and “Old Hickory” and stuff like that? Something featuring a devious Wade Hampton playing Svengali to poor old Warren G. Harding, the world’s handsomest president. I could write those annotations.

    Meanwhile, I’ve still got a bunch of unread comics and more on the way. I’ll probably be all caught up with Dr. Slump before I read another page of the Black Dossier. And I don’t even hate it, exactly.

  4. Tucker Stone Says:

    You’re right. Must. Impress. Internet. With Erudition.

    now where’s those 3-D glasses. should i watch Beowulf at the same time?

  5. Marc Says:

    I read the Black Dossier exactly the way you wanted to–skipping all the text pieces on the first pass, just reading the comics. (I did read the notes from O’Brien and Cherry, since it was so obvious they were going to convey information relevant to the story.) I have a higher tolerance for Moore’s prose imitations than you do–I seem to be the only guy, other than Steve Mattson, who likes “The Crazy Wide Forever”–but I was far more engaged by the frame story. Which led to its own disappointments.

    Good point on Moore’s treatment of those characters he dislikes. We’ve known about his distaste for Bond at least since his introduction to Miller’s Dark Knight Returns (an odd battlefied to choose for your war against violent misogynistic fiction), but if he has to make Bond a rapist in order to criticize him then something’s gone off the rails. Moore’s Bond reads more like Mike Hammer.

  6. Jones, one of the Jones boys Says:

    Actually, I didn’t mind “The Crazy Wide Forever”. Go figure. At least the goddamn allusions are kept to a minimum. We get, what, Sax, Moriarty, Paradise and a pastiche of Burroughsian themes (e.g. drugs as mechanism for control, language as virus, Aztec gods), and that’s about it.

    I guess Moore just doesn’t know much about post-war American fiction. Otherwise that sequence would have been packed with cryptic allusions to, I don’t know, The Naked and the Dead and the 87th Precinct.

    …and as I commented on your blog, I’m less than thrilled with his ultimate treatment of Emma Peel. WTF?

  7. Marc Says:

    There’s more stuff in “The Crazy Wide Forever,” from Allen Ginsberg to H.P. Lovecraft, but it all fits the tone–and the Lovecraft melds so effortlessly with the Burroughs I kind of admire it. It’s actually one of the least affected pieces, which is scary.

  8. Myk Says:

    Damn. I haven´t even started reading The Black Dossier and I don’t know if I’m going to make it.

    Alan Moore; the Soulwax of comics; putting the mash-up back into pretentious; the Hulk to Gaiman´s Bruce Banner;

    …someone on german Amazon is selling the book for 95 euros; I knew I should have ordered more than one copy…

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